If you’re a writer, you’ve all been there one time or another. You’re reading a book in your favorite armchair or preparing to critique your classmate’s piece when you stumble upon something that brings awe to you. It could be the beautiful language or the vivid details or the way the author created the final twist at the end and you wonder how in the world did they do that?
So you sit there, re-read the passage, and then your heart drops. You think, “How will I ever write as well as that? Is it too late to switch my major?”
Before you slam the novel shut and stomp away, swearing you’ll never write again because the competition is too daunting, I’m here to inform you that it’s okay to feel frustrated. Jealousy happens to all of us. However, the key is to use your envy for something positive; utilize it to strengthen your own writing.
For example, what about that particular passage unleashed the green-eyed monster in you? Once you understand why, you can then focus on what you can control. Maybe you need to develop your skills at painting vibrant scenes for your readers? Or maybe your rhythm is off in your prose? Sometimes, I find it useful to read other stories and gather how other authors went about accomplishing whatever it is I consider a weakness in my own writing. Figure out ways on how you can incorporate this new skill into your work.
For me, I remember how I once had a workshop with a classmate and I was thoroughly impressed at how he managed to tell a complete story with only four paragraphs. The way he wove the characters and specific details to explore the conflict, yet still packing a punch at the end of the page, astounded me. I’m not much of a flash fiction writer, but it taught me that sometimes I don’t need to weight the story down with so many images. Sometimes being a minimalist writer can have its perks.
But beyond actively trying to better your writing, you should remind yourself that you have your own path to walk. Be proud of your accomplishments so far and know a writer’s job is never complete. There’s always room for improvement. No one’s first or second or even sixth draft is ever perfect. That’s what editing is for. So it’s unfair to compare yourself to whatever published work you’ve read because it definitely wasn’t polished in its rough draft.
Besides, you shouldn’t view other writers as your competitors. They are your allies. Writing can be a lonely activity, and the writing world out there can be harsh, so it’s best to surround yourself with people who can encourage you to improve. They’re really useful for pointing out your writing flaws in a kind way and making content suggestions that hadn’t crossed your mind before. And if you can’t find these people within your workshops, perhaps check out your local library for its writers’ group or your university’s creative writing club.
But if all of this means nothing to you and you’re still fiercely jealous, it’s okay to take a step back. Listen to music to calm down or get out of your house for a change in scenery. After clearing my head, I always realize how silly I was being. Of course my writing will one day reach the level I always dreamed it would be. I just need to keep practicing.
And remember: If you are envious of another person’s work, it means you have ambition. Don’t let it discourage you from improving your craft.
Now get back to writing!
– Amanda Matkowski