On Professional Envy

I’m embarrassed to even admit it, but damn all, I’m jealous of Tamsyn Muir. I’ve finally gotten my shoulders into Gideon the Ninth, and it’s now a whirlwind of blood and bone and evil hauntings and it’s just FABULOUS. I’m loving the hell out of it, and it’s flying, and HOLY CRAP–she’s my age?!


This happens a lot less than it used to, to be honest. Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, I used to have convulsions of envy over other writers’ careers, particularly people who started around the same time or a little after I did. I remember thinking almost hysterically about the career of one person I was in an anthology with early on, appalled to discover how much they’ve gone on to do, how successful they’ve become, how many starred reviews and award-nods they’ve received. It was hard not to shovel that kind of shit into the gaping maw of my self-doubt, feeding the inner critic until it was bigger than a rancor and about as drooly.

Intellectually, I knew that no one’s path to writing was the same. I knew that certain people hit on what they needed to know earlier than I did. Some people got the opportunity to take excellent workshops. Some people had an intrinsic understanding of story and how it worked.

But the most painful truth–and indeed, the only cure for professional envy–was that I wasn’t doing the work. I was writing all the time, pouring words onto the page. I was even finishing rough drafts of things to set aside and “let cool.” But I wasn’t submitting anything. Whenever I’m talking to folks who dream about being published writers, I tell them there are only four things they need to do: Read. Write. Edit. Submit. (And then do that ad nauseam.) Set small goals, and start forming the habits that will help you get there.

It’s surprisingly hard to do sometimes, but that’s the job. That’s the work. I can guarantee to you Tamsyn Muir has done the work. She’s read. She’s written. She’s edited. And she’s submitted. Maybe she’s done that on an elevated level to me. (Duh.) Maybe there were craft lessons she learned faster, or understood more easily than I have. It’s very likely, in fact.

But if I’m not doing the work, I’ve got no legs to stand on, envy-wise. I have nothing to complain about, because I haven’t done even the baseline of what a career like that requires, and they have. I’ve known people who worked and worked and worked and read, and written, and edited, and submitted, and their stars are rising. But it requires work. It requires effort. It requires learning and trying things and doing the best work you can and taking the risk of getting it out there in the world. It’s literally the only thing you control.

It’s not attractive to admit you’re envious. It’s not fun to admit to yourself that you haven’t done the work that others have. It’s not enjoyable to feed the beast in one’s own soul, to doubt your capabilities, to doubt your potential.

All you can do is work. All you can do is make sure you’re getting things out there, over and over and over again. All you can do is remember (and if this is all you ever remember about this post, let it be this): be your own friend. Don’t tear yourself down. Don’t pick away at your self-confidence; don’t undermine and devalue what you’ve done so far, even if it’s at a slower pace than other people. They’re just doing the work.

So today, when I was getting a little envious because HOT DAMN this book is so good–and it was written by somebody who’s my age, who’s a genius, and holy crap, how come I haven’t been able to produce something even close to this good, will I ever produce anything even half as good, oh shit oh shit oh shit–I put on my friend hat. Instead of the rancor, I was Chewbacca. Sometimes you just need a giant, fuzzy shoulder to cry into when you feel terrible.

And then you know what I do?

I get back to work.

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