I saw a post on Twitter the other day that really summed up what I’ve been thinking for some time now. It was this:
‘I promote other writers and encourage aspiring authors because I believe those other authors are my colleagues, not my competition. Their success is necessary for mine, in that it keeps the publishing industry alive and keeps people reading books’.
I don’t think of myself as an envious person. I don’t resent other people or scowl and mutter behind their backs that they don’t deserve all they have. I’m genuinely happy for my friends and peers when they have successes, I really am. But I’ve always struggled with insecurity and the feeling that I’m not good enough. I’m sure it goes back a long way – the older sister who was favoured by my parents, my first two ‘proper’ boyfriends who both dumped me for other girls. I never excelled at anything – I wasn’t the brightest in any subject, I wasn’t popular, wasn’t good at sports, wasn’t pretty, or funny – there was nothing I was ‘best’ at. I was just mediocre, a lot of people are and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is so much more to life than being better than somebody at something! (Although, try telling this to Donald Trump…) But even now, having long moved on from the insecurities that plagued me as a teen and young adult, I was finding I still had to catch myself and watch my thoughts as so not to allow myself to sink into that old feeling of inadequacy and not being ‘good enough.’
When your Twitter feed is awash with book launches, glowing reviews, awards and accolades, it can be very hard not to compare your journey with others, especially if your tweets consist mainly of what you ate for lunch and cute photos of your pets. You know you shouldn’t compare yourself because everyone’s journey is different, but sometimes it can be disheartening. I’m sure we all realise people don’t post their failures on Twitter, that all these successes we’re seeing are only part of the story. But this knowledge doesn’t make things any easier. I’ll freely admit that I actually DO want to be really good at something for once in my life, and writing is that thing! So I was finding myself being drawn into a negative frame of mind easily, and that wasn’t where I wanted to be.
Most writers I know will say the journey is one of massive highs and crushing lows as far as self-confidence is concerned. One day we think what we’ve written is the best thing ever and no one could possibly find a single fault with it – and we simply MUST submit it NOW! The next minute- usually right after we’ve pressed ‘send- the feeling has become one of despair, that what we’ve written is utter trollop, riddled with faults, and a pointless mess no one could ever possibly like, let alone want to publish. I don’t know if this roller-coaster ever ends, and from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t. It would be easy to look at the successes of others with resentment and jealously, to say, “Why them and not me?”, “My writing is just as good/better than that”, or “How did they get so lucky?” But none of this is actually going to help you get any further on your journey. In fact, I’d say it only serves to delay it. If you believe in the universal laws of the power of attraction, you’ll understand that when we focus on the things we don’t have, the universe produces more of the same. And even if you don’t believe in the laws of attraction, you’ll have to agree resentment and jealously only serves to make YOU feel like crap.
This little post on Twitter summed things up for me. For some time now, I have been trying to look at other writers as my peers and colleagues, rather than as my competition. Although my family and friends are very encouraging of my writing, the best support I’ve had in my journey so far has come from the writing community because they ‘get’ it. My critique group have been my rock in tough times, pushing me not to give up, lifting me up when I’ve needed a boost, and giving me a reality check when I’m not producing my best work!
I used to look at published authors with a kind of revered awe, but having had a chance to get to know some of them on a personal level, I’ve learned they are real people – NICE people – who are only too happy to share their knowledge and their experiences. And hearing the stories of their journeys to publication, more often than not I’ve discovered that they’re not all dissimilar to my own journey. Looking at other authors as colleagues rather than as competition helps you to see yourself as an equal, rather than as the poor cousin scrambling for scraps. I believe this kind of outlook is helpful in setting yourself up for success rather than for failure.
That little ping of jealously deep inside when seeing the latest publication day, contract signing or award nomination – it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be turned around simply by converting that, ‘What about me?’ into a, ‘Good for you!’ I’ve been training myself to immediately quench any self-doubt that arises when I see other people’s successes. I’d much rather retweet their successes and promotions, buy actual copies of their books, and recommend their books to others. This is a better feeling than sitting around asking ‘Why isn’t it me?’
My own self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough have deeper roots than seeing somebody else be more ‘successful’. There will always be someone who arguably writes better, that’s life. But wanting to be the ‘best’ isn’t my aim – once you’ve figured out HOW to write well it becomes a very subjective business, where what one person loves another might hate. If you’re doing all the right things – seeking feedback and taking it on board, learning to sharpen and refine your skills, READING lots of books in your genre, all the time improving your work – eventually it should come down to personal taste, and there’s not much you can do about that.
Yet, keep in mind that the world is a big place. There is room for all kinds of stories, and for all kinds of writers. If we really work hard at our craft, there is room for ALL of us to be successful. Supporting peers and lifting one another up is a huge part of making sure it becomes a positive journey.