Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Handle Writer Jealousy

envyWe’ve all been there.

Your classmate’s story is praised in workshop, while yours is torn apart.

“Poorly written” romances dominate best-seller lists, while your science fiction novel languishes in Amazon’s 2,000,000 ranking spot.

The author you follow on Instagram posts their third cover reveal this year, while you struggle to finish your manuscript.

There’s a thousand ways that we writers experience jealousy of other authors. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers in writing groups, our Internet friends, or the hallowed greats like Stephen King. We long for the secret to their success. How do they write a first draft so quickly? How do they have so many Pinterest followers? Where do they find time to publish and write a daily blog?

We take other writers’ successes as inherent failures in ourselves as creatives. Newsflash: art isn’t a zero-sum game.

Let me get personal for a minute. Throughout high school and university, I longed to be a writer, but I hardly ever wrote. I seethed with self-loathing and jealousy in equal amounts. As I became more entwined in the literary community, I saw myself in competition with other aspiring writers. With each person’s success, I thought one more seat on the bus to authordom had been snatched from me. Around senior year of college, I finally wised up.

But others I know didn’t. I’ve lost friends over jealousy and unnecessary feelings of competition. I’ve had close friends flat-out ignore my writing career. I’ve had acquaintances insult or downplay my abilities in order to praise their own. It sucks. It hurts. And I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

Why do we feel jealousy?

spillEasy: because other writers have what we want. Be it a publishing contract, a movie deal, or even just a finished manuscript, if you want it, some writer has already accomplished it. When I used to see a more successful writer, I would instantly translate that into: “Well, shit. I’m so far behind. I’m never going to amount to anything.” OR “They don’t deserve X. They just got lucky. Why can’t anyone see what a talentless hack they are?”

The good news? I don’t ride either of those thought trains anymore. In fact, the moment I feel a twinge of jealousy, I actually get really excited. Why?

Because when channeled properly, jealousy can be a force for good.

The positive side of jealousy

Jealousy and competition are natural human feelings. If you acknowledge them and channel their energy into something positive, it can be motivating for you. The next time you feel jealous, take a moment to deconstruct your emotions and get down to what’s really bothering you. But don’t stop there: make a plan to fix the real issue so that this doesn’t happen again.

Here is how my jealous moments play out now:

  1. Address the feeling: Okay, Kate. You’re feeling jealous.
  2. Forgive yourself: That’s okay! You’re human. It happens.
  3. Find the “what:” Let’s see. I’m jealous that this author started writing a book after me, but is publishing it before I publish mine.
  4. Find the “why:” I wish my book were ready to publish.
  5. Take responsibility and make a plan: Well, what can you do to make that happen? How about we turn off Netflix and do some revising? Let’s eat out one less night a week so we can afford an editor. Let’s stop being nervous and contact the cover designer.
  6. Ride the high: Awesome, I know exactly what to do! I just have to be patient and work hard. I’m going to write right now.

Ways to handle jealousy

accomplishmentNotice this section is not titled “ways to quit being jealous.” That’s probably never going to happen. There will always be someone more successful than you. There will always be something you want that someone else has already achieved. But, there are ways to handle your jealousy in a healthy manner.

Act in opposition to your feelings. A writer friend on Facebook posts that they’ve signed with an agent? Like the post or write a supportive comment. At first, you can console yourself with the smug satisfaction that you were “the bigger person” in the competition your mind constructed. Eventually, your gut reaction will change to genuine excitement for them. I promise.

Figure out how they did it. I want to be Joanna Penn so bad it hurts. She writes kick-ass fiction books, super-helpful nonfiction books, and is a beloved authority figure in the self-publishing community. But instead of hating her and avoiding her, I follow her progress. I read her books. I read the articles she posts. And you know what? I’m learning how to create a career like hers, one step at a time.

Do something about it. If you have a moment of jealousy, then you know what you want. It frustrates you that your writer friend has a finished book and you don’t? Go write your damn book. That Twitter author has better sales than you? Read up on book marketing and business strategy, arrange advertising or book reviews, or publish more books. Outside circumstances may prevent you from achieving 100% of your goals, but if you’re not putting 100% of possible effort in, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

Remember that someone out there is jealous of you. If there is someone ahead of you, then there must be someone behind you. Maybe you don’t make enough money to write full-time yet, but there is a writer out there who has only one book published who envies your five-book series. Moreover, the person of whom you are jealous was once in your position. Keep it all in perspective.

Be kind to yourself. Often, jealousy goes hand-in-hand with feelings of inadequacy. If you are nicer to yourself throughout the entire creative process (keeping your inner critic quiet during drafting, forgiving yourself for missing your word count goal on a busy day, etc.), your self-respect will grow. When it is healthy and happy, you are less likely to be dragged down by bitterness.

And if all else fails? Step away from the situation and eat some ice cream. It really does make everything better.

How do you deal with feelings of writer jealousy? What do your moments of jealousy reveal about your goals? Share your experiences in the comments.

Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Why I Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

scifi syllabusIf you follow me on social media, you may have seen this month’s exciting announcement: for the second semester, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) will be taught in a university classroom.

This time, TCD features in a Science Fiction & Fantasy literature class. When I saw the syllabus, I nearly cried. To have my book read alongside such legends is an incredible honor — and one I do not take lightly.

In fact, it got me thinking…what is it about Science Fiction and Fantasy novels (and TV shows, movies, video games, etc.) that I love so much?

Why, out of all the genres, have I chosen to commit my creativity to Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

Well, I think the answers are one in the same.

First, I’ve never had a good story idea that doesn’t fall under one of these two genres. Yes, I’ve got a contemporary romance bumbling about my brain. Yes, I’ve conceived of a historical fiction tale, and even a crime novel or two. However, again, I don’t think these ideas are worth pursuing, and more importantly, they don’t really excite me.

But the apocalypse? Steampunk gadgets? Fantastical lands with mythical creatures? Now they rev my motor.

So why do Sci-Fi and Fantasy appeal to me so strongly? It’s how I was raised. A few flips through the family photo album and it becomes pretty obvious: young Kate dressed as Xena the Warrior Princess for Halloween, college Kate getting the Supernatural tattoo, present-day Kate rocking out to the Buffy musical episode soundtrack…I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

contaiment zoneUpbringing aside — the best part about Sci-Fi and Fantasy? There are no real rules. The only rules are the ones you create for yourself. This character has X-ray vision? Sure. The fuel source on this planet is a primordial sludge? Heck yes. A giant steamship is moored in the middle of a desert? Obviously.

As a writer, I can do whatever I want. My only limits are my imagination and the prescribed order of the universe I create. Beyond that, the novel is my oyster (or alien or demon or talking hedgehog).

And as a reader or viewer? Sci-Fi and Fantasy offer the ultimate escape. What can take you away from your everyday troubles more than a trip to Rivendell? What can make that exam or that work drama seem less significant than the Mad Max apocalypse? And what’s more fun than dressing up as a comic book character of your invention and attending a rock concert? But that’s another story…

So, yeah, sign me up for a lifetime of engineering new worlds, weaving complex systems of magic or religion, and creating lovable (or hateable) inhuman characters. I’m on it. And if I’m ever tempted to stray over to romance or thriller, maybe I’ll just slap some fangs on my brooding heart throb. I hear that works well.

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Filling the Creative Well

Zebra by George Stubbs, 1763

Ever since our move to New Haven, my creativity levels (and if we’re being honest, my emotions), have fluctuated more than normal. One day, I’m happily whipping out a new chapter for Desertera #2 or proudly revising The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) for the umpteenth (but next-to-last!) time. The next day, I’m moping around the apartment with barely the energy to lift my Kindle but plenty of energy to suck Daniel into yet another round of Netflix.

One of my creative “mentors” (unbeknownst to her, which sounds much creepier than it actually is), Joanna Penn, talks about the duality of art. Above her workstation, she has a sign that says “Have you made art today?” But she also notes that it is just as important to consume art as it is to make it. After all, if we let our creative well run dry and never take in new inspiration, how can we continue to make fresh and invigorating art, whatever our chosen medium?

the unborn
The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer, 2001

Most writers I know (and several of my non-writer friends) turn to books when they are feeling bored or uninspired. Sometimes this works for me, too. However, my reading has revolved around my book review queue lately, and while I have been enjoying those novels, it’s made reading feel more like “work” than play (one of the many reasons I’m not taking new requests).

But, even when reading is purely for my own enjoyment, it’s not always the best medium for me to gain inspiration. For whatever reason, I feel inspired to write after seeing visual art (paintings, sculptures, etc.) or listening to music. Partly, I think this is because I cannot paint or make music, much to my continual despair, and partly, I think my brain or subconscious or muse (not that I think I have one) likes to “translate” these forms of art into a new one — writing.

divination book
Divination Book (Pustaha), Batak, Sumatra, mid 18th-19th century

Yesterday, Daniel and I finally decided to get out of the house (I keep saying “house” when I should say “apartment,” and the inaccuracy is driving me nuts!) and enjoy some of New Haven’s free entertainment. First, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery, where we saw everything from ancient Greek pottery to Islamic tapestries to African statuettes to colonial American furniture to just about everything else you can imagine.

I found myself moved by several of these pieces, which you can see throughout this post. In the British art section, I found my spirit animal. In the Indo-Pacific section, I found several pieces that filled aesthetic gaps in my to-be-finished novel, Desert Child. And in the Modern Art section, I found my favorite piece of all, The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer — inspired by the Jewish myth of Lilith and meant to evoke all the lost souls resulting from The Holocaust.

shakespeare in the parkAfter the art gallery, Daniel and I drove (a rather unheard of and dangerous task on the East Coast) to Edgerton Park to see a Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. I have read several of Shakespeare’s plays (and poems) as well as watched productions on television, but I had never actually seen a live performance of one of his plays. I’m not a theatrical critic by any means, but I will say it was a lovely production, and I really enjoyed myself.

There is just something so beautiful about humanity, the way we can manipulate materials and language and create entirely new meaning out of familiar objects. Sometimes, we just get so caught up in our lives, or in trying to create art ourselves, that we forget to stop and appreciate what others have done. Even if we don’t understand it (the art itself or its effect on us), it’s worth taking the time to just exist among what others define as beauty, if only for an hour or two, and let it sink in to our subconscious. What comes out the other side will likely be entirely different, but it will be equally beautiful and equally as worthy in the world.

So do I think my creative well has been refilled? I hope so. But the proof is in the pudding. I’m off to go make my art for the day.

What inspires you when you’re feeling “uncreative” or down? Which forms of art do you make? Which art forms do you prefer to consume?

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips, Writing Updates

The Writer’s Dream: My First Dream with My Characters

Two nights ago, I had a bizarre experience. I had a dream featuring two of my characters from The Cogsmith’s Daughter, Aya (my protagonist) and Dellwyn (her best friend).

The dream took place in one of my novel’s settings. The conversation Aya and Dellwyn had did not align perfectly with my plot, but it fit in with the Desertera world. It was like watching a “deleted scene” from my novel, like glimpsing what my characters’ lives are like while I’m busy processing customer payments at the office.

I could see the women so clearly. I saw Aya — her tan skin, bright green eyes, curly brown hair, petite frame, trying to preserve her modesty in her provocative work clothes. Dellwyn, unfortunately, was not the voluptuous, ebony-skinned bombshell from my novel, though. She was replaced by an actress from a TV show I had watched earlier in the day, which was highly disappointing.

Regardless of this minor unconscious-blunder, the dream was splendid. I mean, I dreamed about my characters and my world. My mind summoned the details I have imagined thousands of times in my waking state all on its own. Isn’t that just cool?

Now, I like to analyze my dreams. I have a lot of apocalypse dreams and a lot of dreams about school, and I like to lie in bed in my barely-conscious morning state and suss out their meanings. Unfortunately, I’m not sure exactly what this dream means. However, here are the (logical and inflated) potential conclusions I’ve drawn:

  • My book has become a huge part of my life and thought patterns (obviously).
  • must have a strong concept if I can imagine it so clearly while I sleep.
  • I have passed into some mystical phase of creative proficiency, like when people learning a foreign language start to dream in the new language.
  • Some spiritual power (the sandman?) is telling me that my book is worth publishing.
  • My creative abilities are growing and working overtime.
  • I am meant to be doing this, writing, that is (though maybe sleeping, too).

No matter what my dream “means,” if anything, I am so thankful that I had it. On one hand, it boosted my confidence, making me feel creative and empowered to keep pursuing my novel. On the other hand, it was simply fun to get a sneak peek at my characters when they’re not “onstage” for their roles in my plot. Either way, my dream has left me inspired to push on with editing my novel and keep working towards publication!

Have you ever had a dream featuring your characters? What other ways do your characters pop into your mind at unexpected times?

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

8 Ways to Make Exercise Benefit Your Writing

We all know that exercise is good for us. It improves our physical health, eases our mental well-being, and (especially important for we writers and readers) boosts our creativity. However, for we intellectual types with sedentary careers and hobbies, it can be really difficult to gather the time and energy to exercise. After all, wouldn’t we rather curl up with a good book? I know I would.

exercise shoesAs part of my New Year’s resolutions, I am trying to make exercise a more frequent part of my life. There are several reasons that I do not commit to exercise like I should. However, the biggest is that my time is very limited. I don’t like to squander my sparse free time on activities that don’t involve writing, reading, growing my author business, or spending time with my family. Because exercise doesn’t fall into these categories, it frequently falls to the wayside.

Therefore, I’ve done some brainstorming, and I’ve come up with eight ways to combine exercise with my writing career so that exercise will benefit my writing. I’m not sure if I will use them all, but I’m sharing them all, in hopes that they will be useful to you.

1. Listen to Audiobooks

I’m not a huge audiobook fan, but my husband is. Whenever Daniel goes on long jogs, he almost always listens to a book as he runs. He says that they help pass the time and kill two hobby birds with one stone.

2. Old-Fashioned Reading

If you are on a treadmill or stationary bike, bring your physical book along. As long as you have basic coordination and aren’t overly prone to motion sickness, you should be able to read while you walk or pedal! (This idea courtesy of Brittany.)

3. Listen to Podcasts

As you all should know by now, I love podcasts for learning about writing and publishing. Like audiobooks, podcasts can help the time go quickly and keep you entertained. They are the perfect way to exercise your body and your brain in harmony.

4. Brainstorm

When you are at the gym or out in nature, there really isn’t much else to do but think. (This is especially true if you do yoga.) So take advantage of this sacred thought time and brainstorm your novel. Take notes on the people and objects you see. There is inspiration all around you if you just stop and look!

5. Dictate Your Novel

Take brainstorming to the next level and dictate your novel into your phone’s voice recorder (or a tape recorder for you hipsters out there) as you exercise. Sure, it might be hard to gasp out those words as your body works, but, for you seasoned exercisers, this might be a good way to write while you work out.

6. Bring Exercise to Your Desk

If you don’t have time to go to the gym, bring the gym to you! Ditch your old chair for an exercise ball and work your core while you write. Splurge on a treadmill desk and take a nice walk while you make your character outlines. For more ideas like these, check out my article, 10 Tips for Creating a Healthy and Productive Writing Space.

7. Watch YouTube Videos or Webinars

Most gyms feature televisions for a reason: they are a great way to get your mind off your screaming muscles and into a happy place. If you are a writer, do the same for yourself. Except, instead of watching the news or bad reality TV, enjoy an instructional YouTube video or webinar about growing your author business.

8. Use Exercise as a Break

When you sit at your desk for hours on end, your body gets stiff. When you write for hours, your brain gets stiff, too. Give both your body and brain a break. Stand up and do a few stretches or squats or bicep curls to get your blood pumping and loosen you up. It only takes a minute or two to do one exercise, and an exercise break is much better for you (and probably gives you more real energy and focus) than a coffee break.

These eight ideas are simple ways to make exercise benefit your writing. Of course, exercise on its own has creativity-boosting powers that will help your writing. However, if you are like me and have difficulty “justifying” exercise time when you could be writing or reading, adding in a few of these writerly activities may help improve your writing even more. Worst case scenario, at least your heart will be happy!

What helps motivate you to exercise? How else do you make your exercise time benefit your writing or creative activities?