The St. Patrick’s Day Green-Eyed Monster

StPatrickHappy St. Patrick’s Day everybody!

We just got back from a visit to our local winery, Orfila. OK, not the typical beer-swilling venue you’d expect for today, but after wine tasting we had a great picnic with bread and cheese, and yes, I had a great Irish Stout to wash it all down.

I didn’t have anything Irish to write about today (what with being an English/Norwegian Viking and all), but let’s talk about green. Consider the Great Green-Eyed Monster!

So much of our western culture is unfortunately based upon jealousy. Think about it – mass marketing is basically the art of convincing us that our lives are incomplete without ‘x’ or ‘y’, and that we should be the first in our hood/block/street to have these things, outdoing our neighbours. It’s an instant gratification society. We want things now, and then we want to flaunt them. In turn, we all secretly wish that those we flaunt them to will be a teensy bit jealous. Look at my new sportscar / 60″ TV / computer / RV / House / Boat. Consider that flaunting is of no value other than to make someone else jealous, and to feel inferior to us.

Material objects are not the only things that we get jealous about. We can become envious of someone’s position, either in society or corporate life. Why do they have seemingly endless success and we do not? But is that really how we want to measure success? Are we jealous of someone with more children, or who take exciting vacations, or people that retire early, or have the lifestyle we dream about? I’ll grant that a certain amount of envy and competition spurs us forward, gives us something to aim for, provides role models; but we all know that the Green-Eyed Monster is not that gracious. He breeds resentment.

I want to focus on a particular form of jealousy that we writers are highly susceptible to, more so in the new age of Indie Publishing. Almost every writer I know has suffered an attack of the GEM, often on a regular basis. You’ll find a lot of posts about it. We all know it is flawed thinking, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Look at her, her first book took off like a meteor and landed her on the bestseller list. My first book was better but my sales are languishing.
  • Why does he have so many followers on Facebook and Twitter, and authors and readers alike visit his blog in droves?
  • How does he write so fast? How on Earth can he write two good books a year, and it takes me 3 years to write one.
  • Why are her characters so deep and full of emotion? I’ll never be able to write like that.
  • How does he sell so many books with so little marketing, when I spend 3 hours a day marketing and just can’t gain an audience?
  • What did she do to get 300 reviews on Amazon? I’ve had to fight to get a dozen in the same time period.
  • How does he write such clever plots? Mine seem overly simplistic.

Last month, I had just such a bout of jealousy when it seemed that everyone around me were churning out books – good books – and yet I’m such a slow writer. How would I ever carve a niche for myself among such prolific authors? I sat and analyzed my feelings, and realized that I wasn’t really threatened by those writers so much as simply languishing in self doubt. I was revisiting my regular feelings of inferiority as a new author. So I set out on a fact-finding mission and determined that all the folks I felt inferior to were more experienced writers than I, had been doing it longer, often did not have a full time job as I did, and that while writing fast was a skill they had developed, they were perhaps deficient on other skills, skills that perhaps I had, but had taken for granted. I then found many more examples of writers in the same boat as I, with jobs, and only on their first book. Their audience numbers and sales very closely mirrored my own. I guess it wasn’t just me after all. Luck also plays a major part in this game. You never know when word of mouth, a particular marketing campaign, review, or giveaway might launch your book to another level. We all advance in our craft at differing rates. The market changes every year too, so its just one big scary unknown out there.

I forced myself to focus on the other side of the GEM, the other side of jealousy: Use other writers as role models, celebrate their successes, use them to inspire me. This is much easier when most writers are incredibly humble, and will be the first to admit that they don’t know the reason for their success, other than that they just kept writing the best books they could. And I am inspired by other writers, for if they can do it, then one day, if I work hard and listen well, then I can too. We aren’t competitors, we are peers, always eager to help each other.

Will I succumb to a visit by the GEM again? For certain – it is human nature, but I know that is me that I should work on, it is my subconscious that is the enemy, not those other writers.



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