You’ve been a writer for quite awhile. You’ve read most, if not all, the writing craft books there are in the universe. You put pen to paper pretty much every day, maybe even post on your blog for a bit. Maybe even update your Patreon or come up with a new plan of attack on Twitter to bring more traffic to it.
Yet nothing happens.
And to make things worse, you notice others in your field doing superbly.
A niggling thought creeps into your mind: Why? Why them, and not me? Why do I have to work so hard just to get so little, while they don’t have to work at all to get so much?
If any of this sounds familiar, then it’s likely, dear reader, that you’ve caught a good case of Writer’s Envy, one of the most fatal modes of thought a writer can possess. It destroys motivation, writing careers, and even one’s personality.
And today, on this Make-Write Monday post, I’m going to tell you how I freed myself of Writer’s Envy so that it never happens to you.
Exhibit A: The Lovers
Take a look for a moment at the frogs on the left — the two that are hugging and kissing. Quite clearly, they have the hots for each other.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s call the kissing frog “Kissy,” and the one wearing a tie “Tie.” Now, Kissy represents the massive Twitter following of Tie, who represents a relatively successful writer. Things between them are going very well. Whatever Tie writes and puts up on their Twitter feed, Kissy gobbles up and showers Tie with love and support. With the love and support of Kissy, Tie is driven to create even more content, and the two keep feeding each other in a sort of symbiotic relationship.
Sounds logical, right? A leads to B; B leads to A. Post stuff online; get immediate traffic.
However, that is precisely where the conundrum starts.
Exhibit B: The Envious
Keeping in mind the lover frogs, let’s look at the frog staring up at them on the ground. We’ll call this frog “Ground.” Who do you think that frog represents?
That’s right. Ground is the frog that has Writer’s Envy.
Ground was me.
Instead of focusing on becoming a great writer, I was figuratively on the ground, staring up at successful writers at the very top and their followings without getting any work done. I was so focused on what they had and what I lacked that I lost sight of who I was as a writer and what I had to contribute. I became so obsessed with traffic stats, notifications on my phone from potential followers, and everything else that I became angry that things weren’t happening as fast as I wanted.
And I lost sight of what was truly important: my writing craft.
That kind of thinking is detrimental not only for writers; it’s unsustainable for anyone in any career.
Don’t worry, though. The solution to Writer’s Envy is very, very simple.
Exhibit C: The Dreamer
Take a look at the frog sitting on the mushroom, staring up at the clouds. We’ll call them “Shroom.” Shroom is sitting pretty close to Kissy and Tie — close enough to see them through their bulbous periphery vision, not in their direct line of sight 24-7 like Ground is.
Which is exactly the way things should be.
The reason Tie has the support of Kissy — The reason one writer might have a successful Twitter following — is because Tie is very much like Shroom.
Tie and Shroom don’t care about what they lack. They care about what they currently have and how they can make it better. They both spend their time daydreaming and coming up with more and more ideas for their craft and putting them out in the open.
Jeff Goins puts it best in his free guide, The Beginner’s Guide to Building an Audience:
The less you care about your audience’s affections, the more your audience will be affected by your work.
Ironically, when writers — or anybody, really — focus on their work instead of focusing on getting attention, they end up with even more attention than before.
I know. This sounds paradoxical as hell.
But you have to admit that it’s true. I’m willing to bet there’s at least one artist, celebrity, or figure that you admire because they will be themselves no matter what — no matter how much money they make, no matter how many fans they have. They keep doing what they’re doing, because it’s their passion. And they love it.
But that’s not to say the attention isn’t wanted, welcome, or needed. Artists might exist in a vacuum for awhile, but they can’t do it alone forever. Money, unfortunately, makes the world go round.
But just how far round does it get?
On the one hand, we as human beings are creatures powered by empathy and kindness. We thrive because we care about each other. Parents care for their children. Friends care about friends getting home. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why there are so many charities out in the world today. Somebody’s gotta care about somebody. Otherwise, somebody ends up dead.
Now on the other hand, if we care too much, we don’t leave any care for ourselves. And if we care too little, nobody’s happy.
Which then makes us wonder: Where’s the happy middle in all this?
I believe the most successful artists care about other people in a healthy manner. They don’t care too much, and they don’t care too little. If they cared too much about what other people thought of them and their work, they’d write in fear of reprisal and not be true to themselves. If they didn’t care at all, they risk being incoherent and alienating their potential base.
But above all, they’re like Shroom, constantly dreaming, looking at the clouds, finding ideas, and finding the best ways to express them in the world.
They don’t have Writer’s Envy or any kind of envy, because they watch their idols and wonder, “I like what they’re doing. How can I do that and apply it to what I already know? How can I make myself stronger? How can I be the best frog that I can be?”
And as always, see you next post.