August 17, 2022 § 10 Comments
By Caroline Stowell
After years of “maybe someday,” you’ve finally started submitting your essays. You’ve even had some small successes and can actually say you are published. (Pause to enjoy that.)
Except, while you’ve continued writing and revising and submitting, you haven’t heard from an editor in some time. Or, when you do, it’s to say, “We’re going to pass on this one.” You can’t decide which is worse – the rejection or the nonresponse. No reply at all allows the fantasy to continue, that, no matter how unlikely, your piece about what it was like to wear a mask at the beginning of the pandemic will stay timely.
But then, you notice that the girl you went to college with has published yet another essay in the New York Times – on parenting no less, a topic surely you could handle as a mother of four, including twins, including kids on an IEP, and likely for several other reasons. But she’s been a writer since graduation all those years ago, and you’re just starting out. These things take time. You try to reassure yourself, and yet, you have many writer friends who are just starting out too. And suddenly, it seems like every week this group of up and coming essayists is announcing several new publications. Also, some of them are actually getting paid for this.
I have started to notice that when this happens, I respond in very predictable ways. I find myself needing a guide for how to handle the big emotions of jealousy and despair so that I can find my way back to excitement, and, in the end, renewed hope for my writing dreams.
So here it is: my guide to kicking publication envy:
- Let out a guttural sigh.
- Send your Congratulations! to the writer. Retweet the news and post on Facebook and Instagram before your emotions make you lose your nerve. After all, your generous gesture gets your name out there too and connects you to their fame.
- Vent to your partner / best friend / cat – or whoever will listen to you – about how this whole situation gets under your skin and makes you worry you’ll never publish again.
- Immerse yourself in the despair that you will never again have a brilliant idea for an essay. Let your emotions steep like a tea bag until you embody the potency of feeling that is required to act.
- Journal. Write down all of your worries in the most honest way and in the most private place so you can be sure no one will see it and use it against you.
- Take a few deep breaths / pray / do yoga / take a walk – whatever clears your head.
- Make a list of your own goals – or revisit that list if you’ve already made one. Places you want to submit pieces to? Classes you want to take? Writing groups you want to meet with? Book clubs and events and readings you want to attend? Remind yourself that there are many ways to be involved in the writing community aside from publishing.
- Read. Read anything you can get your hands on, but particularly in the areas you want to write about.
- Create another list, remembering the projects / essays / books / ideas you put on the back burner while you were focused elsewhere. See what excites you now, what you might revise, or if new ideas inspire you.
- WRITE. This is the big one. This is the hardest and most important step. Pick up that pen. Don’t put it down again until you’ve written 1000 words, or until 15 minutes have passed, or whatever goal you set for yourself. Then, do it again.
Writer, this is who you are. This is what you do. It’s just between you and the pen and the paper. Celebrate that, first and always.
(You’re feeling better about things now, right?
Even though your next thought might be this: I could have written this essay!
That’s true! You could have! Sorry!
But jealousy, hush. Now, go write something else.)
Caroline Stowell’s writing has appeared in The Other Journal, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, the Brevity Blog and Pangyrus, and is forthcoming in Boston Globe Magazine. She is a graduate of GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator program and is currently working on a memoir called Cadaver Tea Party. You can follow her at evenincambridge.com and on Twitter @evenincambridge.