Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rejections and Writer Envy

When a rejection letter arrives, allow yourself an hour to grieve, then get thyself back to the computer and query that same editor with another story idea. Or, if the rejection was harsh, dig out your list of editors and begin querying again. Don’t think that John Grisham was immune to rejections. His first novel was rejected nearly thirty times before it was accepted for publication.

If it isn’t happening for you right now, don’t let the green-eyed monster invade your soul when you read congratulations to other writers who announce a sale or writing award. They’ve been where you are any number of times before they were discovered.

Professional envy seems to be more prevalent in writers than other professions because we invest more of ourselves in our work. Psychologist Eric Maisel, the author of Coaching the Artist Within, says the wide gap between successful writers and those still struggling to succeed enhances feelings of envy. And, unlike most occupations, there is no linear path to success.

You may have been writing steadily for years, selling sporadically, when you notice that someone half your age is on the bestseller list. How could that happen when you’re a much better writer? Maybe she’s the editor’s cousin or she happened to meet a top agent at a cocktail party. Luck does play a role in publishing successes. So you’ve got to put yourself out there and make your work known. What better place than the Internet?

Diana Burrell wrote that “envy is a real burden for writers because it can derail a promising career. Envy manifests itself in two destructive ways: as psychological pain, such as lowered self-confidence or depression, and acting out behaviors that include self-sabotage (sending out sloppy query letters, for example) and withdrawal (failing to network with other writers for fear of reading or hearing someone else’s good news).”

Mansel said, “It becomes a vicious cycle. You have more to envy because you have fewer successes because you’ve been hiding out.” In the long run, depression and negative feelings can cause writers to develop creative blocks and they may stop writing altogether. The good news is that you can conquer your feelings of envy by admitting them aloud to yourself, which helps to dissipate the power they hold over you.

“You must take action in spite of how you feel," Mansel said. Burrell defined that action as transforming envy into desire. Begrudging a shameless self promoter only causes you pain. Instead, study how the writer works his or her press and create a promotional plan of your own.

Success is relative. For some it’s getting a single book published. For others it’s the bestseller list. Create your own list of goals you wish to achieve and figure out how to get there. Some writers consider themselves successful if they earn enough money to quit their day job. What are your writing goals? Write them down and paste them to your computer so that you never lose sight of them.

Now, what if one or more of your writer friends is envious of you and it’s ruining your relationships? How do you handle that? Mansel advises us to “Be your best self. Act as a mentor, freely giving advice to those who ask for it, and try to be of help. It can be painful when you sense other writers are rejoicing in your setbacks, so take a deep breath, smile and remain compassionate. If you take your successes too seriously and notice that your relationships with other writers are becoming difficult, he advises: “Get over yourself.”


  1. Worthy post! There are so many ways for writers to become frustrated, the last thing we need is envy. Fortunately, we are part of a very nurturing community. I've seen writers bend over backwards to help others, and I've gone out of the way myself when called to do so. I think that can go a long way to getting rid of envy.

    William Doonan

  2. Thank you, William. I couldn't agree with you more. Writers helping writers has become a traiditon over the years. I'll never forget my two mentors. Without them it would have taken me a much longer period of time to make the transition from journalism to fiction.

  3. I love that bit, "Get over yourself." I think the best way to do so is to go out of your way and congratulate the writer, and then go and work on your own stories. All envy does is bring you down and make you lazy about your own writing.

  4. Yes, "get over yourself" is big with me too!!! 'Grow up' might be another. What really helped me was being confident in my abilities and work, and doing just what's written here. Congratulating and supporting others on their achievements.

  5. I agree, Cat. Envy can also cost a writer valued friendships.

  6. Wise words, RYCJ. "Grow up" and be happy for our fellow struggling writers because they had to earn their stripes to get where they are.