HerTake: Struggling With Writer Envy

HerTake: Struggling With Writer Envy

This month’s HerTake friendship question is all about envy. Can you relate to feeling jealous of a close friend’s success? Can you help our letter writer with your experience and advice?

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

Dear Nina, 

I’ve been blogging for three years. About 18 months ago I started submitting to larger websites and have been somewhat successful. My close friend started a blog recently, and while I want to help her, I’m jealous of the success she’s already achieved in a short time.

In high school we were inseparable. We were on the same sports team and competed in the same events. She was social and well-liked. I was (and still am) shy and difficult to get to know. She was a year behind me and ended up attending the same small liberal arts college. She introduced me to my husband because she had a major crush on him. (I only pursued the relationship with her blessing.)  

Throughout our friendship, she has been one of the few people who I can really be myself with. She is loyal and supportive and makes me laugh. We can talk for hours and it feels like minutes. We live far apart and I miss her.

About a year ago, she began blogging when her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her mother’s illness was swift and brutal. After my friend’s first blog posted to her Facebook page, she texted me to say she’d had 500 page views. That’s more than I ever had on a single post in the three years since I’d been blogging. Her mother was dying of brain cancer and I was getting jealous of page views. I felt like a horrible friend.

My friend has now begun submitting to many of the same sites I submit to. She asked if I could share my “secrets” to getting published. I am reluctant and again feeling horrible about it.

I am reluctant because I’ve gotten where I am through hard work. There is no secret. It’s countless hours of researching sites and other writers and writing and revising and writing and revising and researching some more. It’s making yourself completely vulnerable and getting rejected. It’s about getting accepted but still not feeling very accomplished.

I am reluctant because I am jealous and petty and scared. I’m afraid she’ll be more successful. I’m afraid I’ll be watching her live out my dream. I’m jealous that she gets more likes and comments on her posts than I ever do. I don’t feel this way about other writers I don’t know. So why can’t I support my best friend?

I am working on my jealousy. (It’s the unflattering emotion I wrestle with far too often.) I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism and looking inward. I feel better every time I let go and give more than I get. I know what the right thing to do is. I know there is enough for both of us, and for us all.

I guess what I want to know is, can you understand my reluctance? Or am I really just being a complete jerk about this? And why am I more threatened by her success than by complete strangers’ successes?

I’m feeling like the worst friend in the world.

Signed,

Struggling With Envy

Dear Struggling With Envy,

Your letter was admirably honest and probably more relatable than you suspect. One time when I was feeling especially envious about another writer, a wise relative told me that envy is like a wrecking ball destroying everything in its path. She helped me imagine the strength of envy ruining everything it touches then swinging back around to ruin the person who released it first. Your letter shows that you’re still on the safe side of the wrecking ball because you have mostly held back its potential to ruin your friendship. However, I do suspect that your friend has felt your hesitation to help so it’s time to decide how you’re going to handle her future requests.

In April I received a letter that reminded me of yours, but the issue was flipped. It was from a writer who felt supported and applauded by the bloggers she’d connected with online, but she felt discouraged and dismissed by a close friend of hers in town who is also a writer.

Many commenters told the April letter writer (let’s call her “April”) that her friend was flat-out jealous. I agreed, but I told April to forget about what was keeping her friend from applauding her work. Instead, April needed to focus solely on her own goals and her own writing because obsessing about her friend’s jealousy was getting in the way of her writing. Similarly, I believe that your focus on your friend’s success is getting in the way of your writing.

WHERE ENVY CAN BE USEFUL

In A Writer’s Guide To Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice, author Jordan Rosenfeld dedicates an entire chapter to envy. She says, “Focusing on what others have is a form of procrastination and distraction from your own writing.” She suggests that when you’re feeling jealous of someone it helps to write down five steps it would take to get in a similar position to that person. We’re usually more jealous of the achievement than the person. I especially like her advice to reframe the envy into something useful. She writes, “Envy is a signpost pointing you toward what you really want.”

BUT WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT?

It sounds like your friend’s writing motivation, for now, comes from her desire to share the tragic experience of losing her mother. Perhaps the writing process is helping her work through her grief. Perhaps she wants to help others who are experiencing the mourning process. Either way, I suspect that your friend’s success comes from the passion in her message as opposed to a clamoring for more likes and shares. I suspect that readers share her work because her story feels authentic and because her story helps others.

You said, “I’m afraid [my friend will be] living out my dream.” But then you mention that she gets more likes and comments than you do. I wonder if rather than envy about the likes and shares, you’re jealous of your friend’s underlying passion and clear motivation. Maybe it’s time to go back to the roots of your writing dreams. Were those roots based on likes, shares, and comments? I bet the dream did not start there. What do you enjoy and crave about writing as opposed to the publishing side of it all? If you can spend some time answering that question, you might point yourself in the right direction.

WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW

Some of the advice I want to give you has already been covered by YOU in your letter. As you know, your friend’s success has nothing to do with you. She did not become a blogger to spite you, and her success has no bearing on your abilities or career trajectory. I know that you know this already as evidenced by your astute and self-aware analysis of the irrational worries that come into play with envy. As you said, there is enough for everyone. As you said, if you would help a stranger then you ought to help your best friend. And as you said, in life, the more you give, the more you get. (Usually.) 

You know what you should do, but something is still holding you back.  

DON’T BE ASHAMED

Before we delve further, I’d like to alleviate whatever shame you’re feeling about the jealousy. I will answer some of your direction questions, all of which seem to come with a layer of shame.  

Can you understand my reluctance [to provide contact information for editors, etc.]? Yes, I can. You worked hard to get your writing published and on some level you feel that your friend should “climb the ladder” at the same pace or that she should not benefit so easily just because she knows you and can piggy back on your contacts. And by the way, you can feel reluctant, but do the right thing anyway. Both can be true at the same time.

Or am I really just being a complete jerk about this? No, not yet, but you’re tempted and that’s what I hope to help you avoid.

And why am I more threatened by her success than by complete strangers’ successes? That is something I would need more information to answer, and I do think it’s worth you exploring that question with someone who can help. My goal here is to influence how you treat your best friend more than how you personally feel about her success.

SHOULD WRITERS HELP OTHER WRITERS?

I think you should help your very close friend and even acquaintances. I agree with you that there are no major secrets to getting published and it’s mostly hard work. However, many of us do find help along the way so why not fall into the camp of someone who is helpful?

Rosenfeld similarly warns writers not to hoard information. She points out that most information is available when writers look hard enough or ask around enough. Your friends and acquaintances will either get it from you or from someone else, but they will certainly remember that you were unwilling to share what you know.

Rosenfeld asks readers to consider this: Can you honestly say that you didn’t learn some helpful tidbits from other writers here and there? Can you say that hearing about another writer’s experience didn’t somehow inform the way you pitched pieces? Were you never given the email address of an editor in the position to publish your work? Were you never pointed towards sites where writers like Erika Dreifus and Susan Maccarelli share tons of resources? (I have a section like that on my site.) Rosenfeld suggests that making a page like that on your site is a worthwhile exercise in generosity. Even if you don’t always feel like “we’re all in this together,” acting that way may eventually change your perception. Which brings me to . . .

BEHAVIOR OVER FEELINGS

So “Struggling with Envy,” while I might not be able to help you alleviate the envy you’re feeling, I hope that I’ve kept you from doing any damage to your friendship. It is so natural to feel jealous when success seems to come easily to the next person. (And I’m willing to bet that your friend’s success was not really “easy” considering the tragic nature of her writing material. You also noted that truth in your letter.)

Be gentle with yourself for feeling envious, but be vigilant about keeping yourself from acting on it. Nobody, including your friend, can blame you for feeling jealous. It’s what you do with the envy that matters.

Wishing you much success in your writing journey and many more years of a close relationship with your friend,

Nina

34 comments

  1. Alison says:

    I understand the struggle with envy and jealousy! As someone who entered the blogging world in 2011 and started writing for other sites soon after, I did feel secretly bummed to see bloggers who only just started writing, write for bigger sites, grow their Facebook pages so easily, get a million blog comments, and so on. But my mantra is always kindness. Using that as a base for all my online (and offline) behaviour and attitude, it’s easier to let go of the envy/ jealousy, and be happy for my friends, and be generous with sharing info/ knowledge, and applauding their achievements.

    Great answer and insight, Nina.
    Alison recently posted…11 Ways to Let the Light Back InMy Profile

  2. I can really understand the emotion behind this struggle. Although I’ve never felt like not sharing information, I do feel envy at times. (I think it’s hard not to in this kind of business.) I try to remind myself that we all have our own paths, in writing and in life, and what someone else is doing really doesn’t affect or take anything away from me. I love this advice: “It’s what you do with the envy that matters.” For me, it’s important to offer as much help and encouragement as I can to my writer friends because it’s the friendship that really matters to me.
    julia munroe martin recently posted…Summer, How I’ve Grown to Love TheeMy Profile

  3. Allie says:

    Nina, I think this is the best response you’ve ever written – I read it twice. First, yes, I have experienced envy – hell ya! I think it goes along with the gig. I know you’re probably sick of me noting this – but it was your generosity when I started out that made me realize helping people is not only the right thing to do, but it feels good. I think it’s true, what goes around come around. It’s best to support one another. I’d also point out that her friend is writing about grief – which is universal. I can understand the likes and page hits. I’m not sure what the letter writer writes about, but I’m assuming it’s not grief. They’re really not competing. And as we all know, there really is room for all of us – so many places to submit. Off to check out the writing book to referenced:).
    Allie recently posted…Summer Road Trip Update # 4: Days 24-31My Profile

  4. Ann says:

    Nina,

    Another great question and answer!

    There are so many good points here, I hardly know where to begin! But, I particularly love your comments encouraging the writer to “go back to the roots of your writing dreams.” I so believe that if we are not sure of our own goals and motivations, we can get distracted by what everyone else is doing…and it all looks appealing! If we stay focused on ourselves —and, as you point out, our own writing— we can do our best work, and be happy for others as they do theirs. Sometimes dealing with jealousy and envy is just a matter of acknowledging and being thankful for our own blessings instead of someone else’s. So while it’s easy to let jealousy or envy creep in, it’s less likely to impact me if I stay confident in my abilities (as much as an insecure wanna-be writer can!!), and keep focused on my own motivations, goals, and successes.

    Thanks for another great post Nina!
    Ann recently posted…Have I Disappeared Since Becoming a Mom?My Profile

  5. Interesting . . . I just wrote about something similar, about seeing fellow authors receiving rave reviews and being nominated for (and often winning) prestigious awards, and feeling simultaneously thrilled for them but also wishing I had some of that success too. I wrote about the dangers of comparing ourselves to others, and that sometimes we get exactly what we wanted, which brings on a whole new host of issues. Here’s my take on writer’s envy: http://booksandbeliefs.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-ups-and-downs-of-being-author-or.html

  6. Paula says:

    This is a great post Nina. And I’m sure it’s one that everyone can relate to, because who hasn’t felt envy? I’m competitive by nature and I know that sting when someone at work achieves a goal before I do especially when they haven’t been around as long as I have. So I love the idea of using envy to as a way to figure out what you really want.
    Paula recently posted…Ten Finished Series I Have YET to FinishMy Profile

  7. Pam says:

    This was great to read- the question, the response, and especially the comments. Just knowing i am not the only one to feel this way sometimes is HUGELY helpful, and I hope it is for the person who asked the question. In particular, I understand how it feels very different to see a close friend who is new to blogging succeed, versus someone you don’t know as well, or at all. I agree, it is really important to go back to the reason why you began writing/blogging in the first place, when you start to lament where you are with it… I started blogging in 2007, and so I have had a LONG time to wonder what everyone else is doing that I’m not in order to get more pageviews, likes, FB engagement etc.. But like you say, those were not the things that probably motivated Struggling to write in the first place, and they certainly weren’t mine, either. I write because I love words, I love to create, and I love to connect with people through my words. Would I love to connect with more people than I currently do? Sure. But I am also pretty sure that a) no matter how many people were reading me, there would always be someone to be jealous of and b) if and when I am ever serious about growing my readership, there are steps I can take that I haven’t ever prioritized before.
    Pam recently posted…Workout Wednesday Vol. 23: Event Recap-Venus de Miles 64 Mile RideMy Profile

  8. Dyane says:

    I —love—- this post and your answer, Nina!

    I’ve blogged about writer envy several times; it’s a very relevant topic. Yes, I can certainly relate to this woman’s issues. I haven’t had a close friend hit the big time in the writing world yet, but it did happen for an old “friendquaintance” I had back in 7th grade. (Terrible “word” – please forgive me!) With that writer, I’ve had more of a fleeting envy because we never kept up the friendship.

    If she and I were best friends it would be difficult for me to have the perpetual reminders of her myriad successes: the New York Times bestselling books, the prestigious writing awards, the devoted following, the film based upon her book, the professorships, and just when I thought she wasn’t going to add marriage and children to her resume, she got married and had twins in her early 40’s!

    But would I want to be this person????

    No! At 45, I finally like who I am, warts and all.

    Would I want her for my BFF? No.

    And I’m glad I don’t have that dilemma in my life. 🙂 It’s one less thing to worry & obsess about. But I know I need to show compassion towards her and everyone else, and be (truly) happy for her success. I’m working on it! (It helps that my counselor has been a Buddhist for 20+ years!)

    There are great comments and I look forward to reading more of them.
    thanks again for providing a rich perspective and awesome advice.

    Dyane
    Dyane recently posted…My Brother-in-Law Died TodayMy Profile

  9. Dakota Nyght says:

    Oh goodness Nina, this is an amazing answer. I’ve struggled with envy off and on for the last couple of years. I’ve been blogging for eleven years – ELEVEN – on various platforms, and still haven’t “cracked the secret” (as it were) to attracting page views/followers/etc. I’m also relatively quiet in real life, and was taught not to toot my own horn, so I’ve wondered if that holds me back a little. It does seem as though you have to have something tragic (a child’s illness, a death in the family, a really difficult upbringing) to attract attention. At least, that’s the pattern I often notice.

    In my experiences with envy, I’ve started looking hard at what part of their success I’m envious of. Is it the attention? The connection? The subject matter? Usually I find it’s the connections with others that I’m envious of, not the subject matter or “viral-ness” of the piece.

    I finally decided I wanted to and reach out to other bloggers/writers based on connection and what I like to read rather than trying to be popular. I’m a lot happier about it, and more fulfilled doing this, for sure, because I genuinely like/care/am interested about/in the people I connect with (there’s not a lot of folks I don’t follow back in some fashion). It’s made the experience richer, and I really do feel heard when I post, as opposed to it going out into the ether.
    Dakota Nyght recently posted…Turtle StretchMy Profile

  10. Well said, Nina. You and the commenters really made terrific points. It’s tough to feel like you’ve been struggling to make headway only to find someone (especially your BFF) soaring past you with apparent ease. But success isn’t a finite entity. Trying to hoard information comes from a position of scarcity. It’s usually much better if we believe that there is enough success to go around.
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…Friday Five (or More)My Profile

  11. Rivki Silver says:

    Well, this is certainly timely! Your advice to return to the roots of why she loves writing is so helpful. I get so easily distracted by the desire to have an audience and the work in getting one that I got completely derailed from the joy of the craft. Reading the other comments from more successful bloggers than I was very grounding, and reminded me that it is such human nature to always look up to those who are doing better and to then feel as if our own success is somehow diminished. Thank you for the tools to stay focused on the writing, and to utilize the natural feelings of envy in a positive way. xo
    Rivki Silver recently posted…That Time I Thought I Could Be a FashionistaMy Profile

  12. Tamara says:

    What a great answer. I can really relate to both sides, probably. I’ve had moderate success every now and then, but like.. painfully slowly. My friend started a blog and her first post got 700 hits. I think it took me four years to get to that. Her post was about domestic abuse, though, and it was helping people. And I… was so blessed to never have had to write that post, page views and all.
    So I guess it’s all a give and take. And we should all be kind and lift each other up, because you never know when you’ll need it the most.
    Tamara recently posted…Keeping It Real For School Lunch.My Profile

  13. Mimi says:

    I loved how you handled this topic Nina! You are so right that in the end this is about how we manage envy rather than whether or not we feel it. Envy and jealousy are part of being human. We can’t really help it at times. But we can choose whether we act kindly our not.my our answer provides wonderful guidance on how to make the generous choice, regardless of how we might be feeling.

  14. Dana says:

    What a thoughtful and thorough answer, Nina. The envy is like many other emotions – they aren’t right or wrong, they just are. But as you point out, what Struggling does with that envy will determine the future of her friendship. It’s worth remembering that her friend’s blogging success was prompted by the death of her mother, and no amount of success can undo that loss.
    Dana recently posted…When no one is lookingMy Profile

  15. Amanda says:

    You are so good Nina. You uncover truths, or rather, help me find insight to myself, time and again, in ways that never make me feel less than. Thank you for this. I think it applies so far beyond blogging. I try in my professional life to truly embrace the idea that the success of people I have mentored or work with is not a threat, but a badge of pride. I changes life to see things that way.

    I really do delight in the things you show me.
    Amanda recently posted…The Distance Up CloseMy Profile

  16. Joy says:

    This, I think, is very relevant and something that everyone, especially writers, might really be familiar with. None of us is immune to jealousy or envy. But you’re absolutely right in pointing out that acting on it is an altogether different thing. My guiding principle with this (envy/jealousy) is always the thought of Karma. I know that if I don’t support someone in their endeavors, no matter how painful it might be for me to see them get what I’ve been pining for, that negative decision will come back to me. In the same way, I’m a firm believer that helping out others is ALWAYS an investment in MY good karma. ALWAYS.

    Thanks for another interesting and relevant post, Nina!
    Joy recently posted…A Summery SummaryMy Profile

  17. Great question, great answer. I’ve been envious a couple of times. With one friend I was able to confess it and apologise and she forgave me and related. With the other friend, it wasn’t appropriate to confess because of the circumstances surrounding it, and so I worked on my own heart and let it go. I am constantly working not to be petty or envious – and it’s so hard! But it’s a struggle worth grappling with. I don’t want this to define me.
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