Several years ago, when I was writing some children’s stories, I asked a friend to read them and give me her feedback. I had read her novel several times and given her a lot of feedback, so I was completely unprepared when I got her email saying she just couldn’t bring herself to read my stories, because she felt sure I’d be successful and it would only shine a light on her own “failure.” Of course, anyone who has read this blog knows that I don’t think not getting published is a failure, that the act of writing a book is itself a huge accomplishment. But not everyone sees it that way, and she just wasn’t able to move past her disappointment.
Despite the surprise and hurt I felt at the time, something truly wonderful came out of that experience. I realized that I never wanted to be keeping score with other writers, that I never wanted to hold back out of worry that someone would be more successful than I was. I was at a crossroads: I could either decide to say to hell with everyone else and never reach out to anyone again, or I could open my heart.
Thankfully, I chose the latter. I love helping other writers and giving them feedback and guidance, and usually they’re wonderful to work with. A few times I’ve gotten no more than a cursory thanks or haven’t heard from them again, and it’s hard not to feel regret at the hours I spent on someone else’s work that could have been spent on my own.
But that’s not the point, because it’s not about me. By opening my heart and helping others, I am contributing to the flow of creativity in the world. And I think that if you truly care about your art, contributing to that flow is the entire point. If you’re focusing primarily on what you can get for yourself—money, recognition, whatever—you are not going to be the best writer you can be. Only by opening your heart can you receive the full power of your muse, which suddenly makes professional jealousy seem pretty ridiculous.
So if you find yourself experiencing a pang of envy when your writing buddy lands a publishing deal, try to remember that his accomplishments are also yours, and that whatever efforts you put into helping him polish his writing are part of what made him successful. If you read a book you really enjoy, instead of comparing it to your own work, email the author and tell her how much you liked it, focusing on feeling joy for her success as you compose the email. I’ve done this with a few authors, and they all really appreciated it and wrote back. Even one wildly successful author responded--it took her a year, but she eventually did write back, and she too was grateful for my email. By supporting other writers, we become part of the flow, which helps remind us that we’re all in this together, and that there really isn’t such thing as being an outsider.
And remember, if someone becomes jealous of you, don’t close your heart. On the contrary, open it wider and keep the flow going, continue to offer your help where you can, and wish them all the success in the world.