I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’ve been sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #10.
The success of others doesn’t mean your failure; it can mean your success as well.
At this point, you may have noticed a theme here. I think as professional writers, all of us, even those who go around with those moony-eyed looks and dreamy, contented smiles, have experienced jealousy so fiery and bright it almost blinds us. When someone gets a book deal, our first reaction is to seethe before we write a begrudging “congratulations” and “happy for you” in an email or on a Facebook wall. If someone gets an article in the New York Times, it must have been for reasons other than talent/she isn’t that good anyway/that newspaper is going downhill and they’ll take anyone these days. I’m guilty of it; guilty of it all. And I’m sure you are too.
At a certain point, however, I realized that, not only was this line of thinking doing me absolutely no good, it was also keeping me from taking advantage of new and valuable sources of information, usually people fresh from the high of getting said book deal or writing for said influential newspaper who were more than happy to share the story of how they did it. When you were little, perhaps your parents assured you that they loved you and your siblings equally; that their love was not a pie with different sized slices cut out of it; you and your brother or sister each had a whole pie of your very own. Well, success is like that pie: just because someone else got an article published in the New Yorker or the Atlantic doesn’t mean you are any less likely to. The pie doesn’t grow smaller because a fellow writer you know took a piece out of it and you can only take what’s left. You have to bake your own pie (am I taking this metaphor too far?) with ingredients you already have in your own kitchen.
Again, the writers’ groups I belong to have been crucial here. When a writer happily posts an article she has written for The New York Times travel section, I don’t have to give her a half-hearted congratulations while trying to keep that simmer of frustration inside me from boiling over. Instead I can say, “congratulations; tell me how you did it” and she’ll be more than happy to oblige; no one will think the worse of me, or anyone else, for having asked that question, because we are all here to help each other.
We are all here to help each other. Sometimes I think if we were just to remember that phrase and follow it, freelance writers would face higher payment for their articles and more responsive and helpful editors when we pitch and write. If someone else is successful, that means you can be too. Be happy for them and seek to emulate them; it means you’re on your way.