In the space of one week I received three notifications from authors regarding publication dates for their new books. I would like to think I’m above jealousy. I would like to think I’m always supportive, positive and evolved. But by the time the third email arrived announcing a major book deal, I could only see green. I wish no misery on anyone, even people I strongly dislike. I want the best for everyone. As long as that includes me, apparently.
Most writers know how easy it is to enter the “I suck” spiral and how hard it is to get out of that terrible twisting typhoon. It is easy to question whether what you do on a laptop has any meaning to anyone. It is easy to justify how other writers “made it” (they got lucky, they had a friend who was an agent, they went to an esteemed writing program, and so forth), and it is hard as hell to face down hours and hours alone in front of a blank screen, wishing, hoping, trying to get out what must be said. What must be written. In order for you to go on, to continue through the murky shadows of your life. The shadows that won’t go away; the very reason you can’t not write. If you don’t write, you wither and spoil inside. Your fragile garden within requires exposure. As writers, we question things – everything– including ourselves, especially ourselves. We ponder and process, we observe and stew, we type and delete, then we retype what we just deleted, and perhaps we scream loudly or silently or bang our fists or smack our foreheads, but then…we get back to it and keep writing. Again and again. And we hope, beyond hope (even if we don’t admit it), that someone will hear us. Validate us. Offer us a book contract.
If we’ve worked for years and years on a project, perhaps have even submitted a complete manuscript, perhaps have even acquired an agent but not yet sold the darn thing, we try to put it out of our minds. We shrug off questions, like “What’s the latest with your book?” We downplay it, answering, “It probably won’t happen,” but of course we only say this to protect ourselves. We tend to our fears rather than our creative garden within. We try to keep those demons at bay, in the closet on a shelf up high, where the scratchy woolen blankets reside. Keep them covered up, sheltered, don’t let them tumble down.
When the first email arrives, you can handle it. “Good for her,” you tell yourself. The author’s success has nothing to do with yours (or lack thereof). You quickly snap off a cheerful congratulatory email and move along with your day, which, you note later, did not include writing one solitary word.
After reading the second email, which includes tour dates for the author, you wait a while to fire off a note, but you still do it. Then you sit and contemplate the wall in front of you. You notice how much dust is on the TV, how the picture frames aren’t lined up satisfactorily on the mantle, how hairy the dog bed is, as well as your smelly yoga pants. You tell yourself to get a grip, to write your way through this. You remind yourself that the author is a very nice man, a very kind and thoughtful person who provided encouragement to you when you attended the reading of his first book. “I am happy for him,” you say out loud, trying to convince yourself.
The third note comes. You are in no mood whatsoever to reply to this one. You snap a leash on your dog and walk at a pell-mell pace that leaves you panting for air. When you return you drive to a consignment store and paw through rack after rack, snatching up a gently used cashmere sweater that will keep you warm during pity parties. Back home, you are too keyed up to do anything but walk the dog again. Your envy is of such magnitude that you’re ashamed to reveal it to your husband or your close friend. You go to bed that night torn up and worn out from feeling so little. You obsess all through the night, unable to sleep or think of anything else but the third author’s book deal. The following morning as you brew a cup of espresso you glance at a quote from Vince Lombardi that you left on the kitchen table for your children the other day: The harder you work, the luckier you become.
You flip open your laptop and Google all three authors. You want to review their credentials: their publishing credits, education and whatever else might serve as their magic sauce. You search for commonalities that might suggest you too have a chance but you’re also searching for cracks. Maybe they’re not as great as everyone seems to think, either as a person or a writer. And then you flip your computer closed and hang your gnarly head of hair in your hands. You are going nowhere fast.
A host on a radio show is talking up the Super Bowl, weighing in on Peyton Manning, quarterback for the Denver Broncos. “What I’ve always admired about Manning is that he supports other quarterbacks,” says the host. “He’s not threatened by competition.”
You pick your head up, remembering your long-ago goal, the mantra you tell your twelve-year-old twin boys and college-age nieces: Run your own race.
You think of your first writing instructor you had several years ago. The tall graceful woman with a smile dancing at the corner of her lips. The one who doesn’t tout her own book or upcoming novel on Facebook, the one who constantly and continuously praises the work of other authors. Who posts photos from their readings with warm, eloquent captions that urge friends to buy their books. Their books. Not hers.
That, you think, is the type of grace and humility you aspire to. You want to be like that. And so you craft a heartfelt note to the third author. You take your time writing it, pausing now and then to make sure you’re communicating exactly how you feel – that she’s earned and deserved her book deal. And that it obviously required a lot of hard work and you wish her every success imaginable.
And you mean every word of it.
An earlier version of this essay appeared on medium.com