How to Handle Writer Jealousy

envyWe’ve all been there.

Your classmate’s story is praised in workshop, while yours is torn apart.

“Poorly written” romances dominate best-seller lists, while your science fiction novel languishes in Amazon’s 2,000,000 ranking spot.

The author you follow on Instagram posts their third cover reveal this year, while you struggle to finish your manuscript.

There’s a thousand ways that we writers experience jealousy of other authors. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers in writing groups, our Internet friends, or the hallowed greats like Stephen King. We long for the secret to their success. How do they write a first draft so quickly? How do they have so many Pinterest followers? Where do they find time to publish and write a daily blog?

We take other writers’ successes as inherent failures in ourselves as creatives. Newsflash: art isn’t a zero-sum game.

Let me get personal for a minute. Throughout high school and university, I longed to be a writer, but I hardly ever wrote. I seethed with self-loathing and jealousy in equal amounts. As I became more entwined in the literary community, I saw myself in competition with other aspiring writers. With each person’s success, I thought one more seat on the bus to authordom had been snatched from me. Around senior year of college, I finally wised up.

But others I know didn’t. I’ve lost friends over jealousy and unnecessary feelings of competition. I’ve had close friends flat-out ignore my writing career. I’ve had acquaintances insult or downplay my abilities in order to praise their own. It sucks. It hurts. And I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

Why do we feel jealousy?

spillEasy: because other writers have what we want. Be it a publishing contract, a movie deal, or even just a finished manuscript, if you want it, some writer has already accomplished it. When I used to see a more successful writer, I would instantly translate that into: “Well, shit. I’m so far behind. I’m never going to amount to anything.” OR “They don’t deserve X. They just got lucky. Why can’t anyone see what a talentless hack they are?”

The good news? I don’t ride either of those thought trains anymore. In fact, the moment I feel a twinge of jealousy, I actually get really excited. Why?

Because when channeled properly, jealousy can be a force for good.

The positive side of jealousy

Jealousy and competition are natural human feelings. If you acknowledge them and channel their energy into something positive, it can be motivating for you. The next time you feel jealous, take a moment to deconstruct your emotions and get down to what’s really bothering you. But don’t stop there: make a plan to fix the real issue so that this doesn’t happen again.

Here is how my jealous moments play out now:

  1. Address the feeling: Okay, Kate. You’re feeling jealous.
  2. Forgive yourself: That’s okay! You’re human. It happens.
  3. Find the “what:” Let’s see. I’m jealous that this author started writing a book after me, but is publishing it before I publish mine.
  4. Find the “why:” I wish my book were ready to publish.
  5. Take responsibility and make a plan: Well, what can you do to make that happen? How about we turn off Netflix and do some revising? Let’s eat out one less night a week so we can afford an editor. Let’s stop being nervous and contact the cover designer.
  6. Ride the high: Awesome, I know exactly what to do! I just have to be patient and work hard. I’m going to write right now.

Ways to handle jealousy

accomplishmentNotice this section is not titled “ways to quit being jealous.” That’s probably never going to happen. There will always be someone more successful than you. There will always be something you want that someone else has already achieved. But, there are ways to handle your jealousy in a healthy manner.

Act in opposition to your feelings. A writer friend on Facebook posts that they’ve signed with an agent? Like the post or write a supportive comment. At first, you can console yourself with the smug satisfaction that you were “the bigger person” in the competition your mind constructed. Eventually, your gut reaction will change to genuine excitement for them. I promise.

Figure out how they did it. I want to be Joanna Penn so bad it hurts. She writes kick-ass fiction books, super-helpful nonfiction books, and is a beloved authority figure in the self-publishing community. But instead of hating her and avoiding her, I follow her progress. I read her books. I read the articles she posts. And you know what? I’m learning how to create a career like hers, one step at a time.

Do something about it. If you have a moment of jealousy, then you know what you want. It frustrates you that your writer friend has a finished book and you don’t? Go write your damn book. That Twitter author has better sales than you? Read up on book marketing and business strategy, arrange advertising or book reviews, or publish more books. Outside circumstances may prevent you from achieving 100% of your goals, but if you’re not putting 100% of possible effort in, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

Remember that someone out there is jealous of you. If there is someone ahead of you, then there must be someone behind you. Maybe you don’t make enough money to write full-time yet, but there is a writer out there who has only one book published who envies your five-book series. Moreover, the person of whom you are jealous was once in your position. Keep it all in perspective.

Be kind to yourself. Often, jealousy goes hand-in-hand with feelings of inadequacy. If you are nicer to yourself throughout the entire creative process (keeping your inner critic quiet during drafting, forgiving yourself for missing your word count goal on a busy day, etc.), your self-respect will grow. When it is healthy and happy, you are less likely to be dragged down by bitterness.

And if all else fails? Step away from the situation and eat some ice cream. It really does make everything better.


How do you deal with feelings of writer jealousy? What do your moments of jealousy reveal about your goals? Share your experiences in the comments.

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips
41 comments on “How to Handle Writer Jealousy
  1. Kara Jorgensen says:

    Author jealousy was definitely something I struggled with after publishing EoB. It started to eat me up, but then I realized I hated when other people did it and made an effort to stop. As you said, force those status likes until it’s natural. It’s an ugly trait.
    Now, I’m facing the opposite issue of feeling that other writers I know (more so in real life) purposely don’t cheer me on or like my stuff. It’s rather demoralizing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve had both of those experiences as well, and they both really suck. It’s especially discouraging when you work so hard to support others and overcome your jealousy, and you feel like (or suspect that) they don’t return that support or genuine enthusiasm. I hope that you’re able to bring other writers around to this way of thinking, or figure out a way to keep their negativity from affecting you. You are far too talented to let other people’s pettiness taint your work. Keep being you and I’ll at least keep liking your statuses…even if I’m totally jealous of your audiobooks and translations. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • Kara Jorgensen says:

        Some days it bothers me more than others. It depends on when I saw the aforementioned people last. Luckily, I think we both have a lot of supportive people online cheering for us.
        In regards to the audiobooks and translations, you should totally go for it. Just don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t settle for an audiobook narrator. I wish I could dump my first guy and start over.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I will definitely pursue audiobooks and translations in the future, but for now, I want to get a few more books in my series out. Once that happens and my sales improve a little, I’ll have more reason to justify it. For now, I’m happy to grow my written asset list. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice post. Well said!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post Kate, and some very sound advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mirymom says:

    Reblogged this on Mirymom's Blog and commented:
    I do indeed get jealous, but mostly I think I handle it well, like Kate talks about here. I use it to motivate myself and to learn from others and keep any of the more bitter tastes of jealousy to myself. Sour grapes aren’t good for any of us.

    Like

  5. amo says:

    This is awesome. [Determines to stop feeling jealous of Kate and Kara for their sales numbers and do something about it… 🙂 ]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. amo says:

    Reblogged this on amo vitam and commented:
    This is such an excellent post by Kate M. Colby, I had to reblog it to share with you all. Her advice is actually good for all kinds of jealousy, not just that of one writer for another (so don’t think you have an excuse not to read & apply it). I shall now try to stop feeling jealous of Kate’s writer & blogger success, and do something about mine instead…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ofopinions says:

    I won’t say its jealousy most of the time for me, as it is envy. I check myself if I am jealous but then they have to get something I really, really want (often a singular object and not something we both can achieve. Like winning the top spot at something we both participated in, as opposed to both of us writing something.) I feel envy, but it frequently changes to admiration. I went to university with someone, who is the most organized person I’ve ever met. Any competitiveness or jealousy she had, she kept under wraps, because she always had everything under control. You want someone like that to do well, and not feel resentful.

    When I started blogging here, it seemed like the average age of publishing novels seemed to be 19, made possible by indie publishing, the rise of YA and so on, that wasn’t there when I was around that age. Though, people are probably more confident from 16-25! I should feel jealous, but as you suggest, the better thing to do is to learn from their experiences. I know I have a long way to go as a fiction writer, and I am not saying that out of modesty or self-pity. It would be stupid of me to not learn, or even try to get good, than sit around here forever, resenting everyone else who made the effort. I certainly admire your author journey and learn from it, instead of resent it because you are a few years younger than me!

    Great post, Kate!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences, Amrita. I’m sure a lot of people can relate (I know I can.). And I think you hit on a very important theme: no matter where you are on your author journey, there will always be room to learn and grow. Self-improvement is the best place to put our energy (jealous or otherwise!).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you Kate for an excellent post! I may sound a bit naive, but I am not–I think the best way to deal with writer jealousy is to support each other. A very successful writer said at a conference that the more writers who succeed, the more it helps all. I agree. This is not a limited area: as more people read and write, the larger the audience grows. So I celebrate other writers’ success, and I think we all should do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more! And you hit on an important issue that I didn’t fully address in my post. So many writers view others as competition and act as if more published books equals fewer readers, when in reality, more books just breed more passion for reading and more exposure for a genre as a whole.

      Liked by 1 person

      • frenchc1955 says:

        That is one of the great strengths of the blogging world, that we can find other writers and support each other. And we can spread the message that we all benefit whenever another writer has success.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Great post Kate. 😀

    I feel more insecurity than jealousy… The feeling of this will never happen to me, there are so many people out there so much better than me I will never be like them. But eventually it stops and I just go back to my notepads and have fun writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. adeleulnais says:

    I tend to do what you advise when I feel jealousy but sometimes the boot is on the other foot. I made the decision to step away from a situation last night which has plagued me for nearly two years. I write short stories for a group, I put my best in, time after time and the only instance when I was recognised and put through to the anthology slot was when no one else had submitted. I get ignored when I ask for things to be changed, my friend request was ignored. I finally got the message and backed off last night as it was hurting me and my writing career because I actually became so full of self-doubt about my own writing I cried buckets. Thankfully my wife made everything better and said why do you continue to push against something which hurts you so much, your writing is read by a lot of people who love it and are not normally into the genre you write in. I took her advice and stepped away from the void.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you made the right decision. Sometimes, no matter how much you try, a door just won’t open, you have to move onto something new. Best of luck going forward. I hope you find somewhere where your work receives the respect it deserves.

      Like

  11. Helen Jones says:

    This is a popular post, Kate, and rightly so 🙂 I think it’s something we all experience as writers – I know I’ve certainly been there. But you are so right in all that you say, and instead of being jealous I’ve learned to celebrate other writer’s successes, just as I celebrate my own. If we can learn from and support each other, we are richer for it as a writing community. We are all on our own journey, after all. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you very much! I have been on both sides of the coin with author jealousy. I am often frustrated by the success of authors who I don’t perceive as talented as I am. Why does their book have more rave reviews than mine when clearly it isn’t written that well? Why is he a best-seller and I’m not? I appreciate your advice on how to get through this because I don’t want to be a sore loser.

    On the flip side, I have a close friend who has become jealous of my being published, even though my sales suck. He/she rarely shares my posts, retweets my book sales ads, or even comments to my blog unless I asks for it. It’s so frustrating and hurtful.

    This article helped me put things in perspective. Appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. theryanlanz says:

    Hi Kate! Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article to be featured as a guest post this Thursday. As usual, it includes your credit/bio/link. Feel free to hop in on the comments. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wonderful post, Kate! I really like that you emphasize the naturalness of jealousy and how to channel it positively, rather than simply condemning it like a lot of people do. Jealousy is already painful enough – feeling ashamed of our jealousy doesn’t help! I especially like how you reminded us to look at the “why” behind our feelings, and to focus on that rather than another person. That’s such a good tip, and applicable to life in general.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. […] That author writes faster/has better books/earns better reviews/makes more sales than me. That author is doing really well. What can I learn from them to improve my own writing? (More on dealing with jealousy here.) […]

    Like

  16. […] has written six books this year and Joe has landed a major publishing deal, it’s difficult not to feel jealous and shame yourself for what you are/aren’t […]

    Like

  17. […] Jane has written six books this year and Joe has landed a major publishing deal, it’s difficult not to feel jealous and shame yourself for what you are/aren’t […]

    Like

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