Let It Burn Like Acid

January 28, 2015 § 15 Comments

Barcelona145I open up Facebook—I’m not avoiding writing, oh no, I’m maintaining connections—and spot two status updates, one right after the other:

Friend Horror Writer: Second book tour starts Feb 1 in NYC!

Friend Urban Fantasy: Can finally tell my great news!!!! MS sold in a four-book deal with Noted Publisher!!!! First one out next year!!!

That sick, heavy feeling in my stomach? That’s vicarious joy. That’s me being proud of my friends’ accomplishments. Of course I’m happy for my fellow writers, my colleagues, IT WOULD BE MEAN TO BE JEALOUS FUCK THEM FUCK THEM ALL.

Selfish Businesslike Me says, “Hey, any of us getting a book deal means they’ll blurb for the other ones when the time comes, introduce us to their agent if the project is right, we can do readings together when their fourth book comes out the same time as my first, right? This can do a lot for me!”

But I’m still sick about it, my insides burning with acid. What do they have that I don’t?

A finished novel.

In fact, several finished novels.

Friend Horror Writer finished a couple of books before the one he thought was ready. The Ready Book made two agent rounds and was roundly rejected, then sat in a drawer for ten years. He came back to it and an agent’s assistant—the assistant, mind you—said, “Why don’t you take another pass at this and then maybe I’ll show it to the agent?” Friend Horror Writer went through three rounds of revision, including rewriting the whole book from third person to first. Then it went to the agent and he revised twice more. The payoff? Friend Horror Writer got representation from the Big Name Agent, the book was accepted by a publisher right away, revisions requested by his publisher were the work of an afternoon, and they signed him to a three-book deal. Poof! Overnight success.

Friend Urban Fantasy has at least two novels in a drawer, I gave feedback on one before it got rejected enough to set aside and move on. While working on his current book, he joined a circle of young adults writing Young Adult and did group blogging and online video, started his own blog, went to grad school, worked as an unpaid flunky for a couple of big-name writers who treated him like crap, and kept writing. Now his series—he’s written the first two and planned out the second two—has been acquired in “a nice deal”, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Poof!

Buddhism says “All anger comes from ‘should’ thoughts, and the biggest one is that should be mine.”

Friend Authors worked hard. They both wrote for years, as a full-time job on top of their full-time jobs. I read multiple drafts of their work, and I wasn’t the only one scribbling notes on their manuscripts. They rewrote heavily. They changed settings and killed main characters and sucked it up when the feedback was harsh and deliberately got critique from people they knew wouldn’t just say “It’s so good!” but would give them stuff—big stuff—to work on.

They earned it.

I don’t have any right to be envious of that. I haven’t done that much work yet. I just finished a manuscript, I just got an agent, I’m not even writing every day. Even E.L James had to churn out 300,000 words to get to Fifty Shades of Grey, success deserved or not.

You really want it? Put the time in and make it happen.

And that’s the power of envy—it’s fuel. Every time we look at someone else’s accomplishment and get that sick, hollow, feeling of that should be mine, that’s the universe saying, You’re right. They aren’t any more special than you are. It means you’re getting closer. We don’t envy people whose success we’ll never have, we envy those only a few rungs above us on the ladder. So work harder. Make a plan. Get better feedback so you become a better writer. You’ll know it’s better feedback, because under the initial flash of pain and defensiveness, you’ll feel caught — “Shit, I thought I could get away with that” —  and know in your heart that if you address the issue, your work will be better.

So I’m writing more. More days, and more words at a time. I’ve set specific goals for specific projects. I’m recruiting fellow writers to be accountable with me, to each other, for getting work done.

Excuse me, sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?


Whose success is making you sick, and what are you doing about it?


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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