When my friend J.R. moved to Texas in order to take a new job as a pastor, he started tagging every related post on social media with the hashtag: #Texodus. I had the simultaneous reaction of absolutely loving that tag and hating myself for not being so fresh, clever, and inventive.
It’s as if all of the creativity in the world had been bottled up and shipped to Texas that week. Creativity had taken its own #Texodus…
And then the other day, author Jen Hatmaker shared that her family had just discovered this parody of hipster parenting on Pinterest, complete with a fictional child named Quinoa. Hatmaker mentioned on Facebook that she both loved it and hated it because it was so clever.
It was basically a transcript of my own thoughts… just with the implied southern drawl that I add to everyone from Texas on social media.
I love how author Anne Lamott writes with bracing honesty about both celebrating and lamenting the success of other authors. This isn’t just about the fear of fellow authors filling up the coveted spots at major publishers—though I’m sure there’s some fear of that too. This is about guilt and comparison and the fear that we’re never doing enough or never writing anything good enough. Fellow writers become our anecdotal evidence.
See! She’s publishing articles in those journals! I’ll never keep up with her!
He just wrote an amazing book for my favorite publisher. I can’t match that!
It’s also really easy to overestimate the success of other writers. Perhaps I see a writer publish a great book, and I’m filled with envy at his talent and notoriety, but he’s on the other end lamenting that the book hasn’t sold enough to earn back an advance and is looking at the writers above him who are getting bestseller stickers slapped on their books left and right.
And let’s not overlook this: it’s hard to sell books—especially if you want to do everything ethically. Some of my favorite books aren’t bestsellers, and some of the books I hate—I mean with a white, hot, passionate hate—are bestsellers that make someone’s list of amazeball books every year. So when you’re struggling as a commercial or indie author, it’s easy to start making comparisons and to start wondering if your book would do a bit better if you had half of the resources available to another author.
I can’t speak definitively on this, but as I try to sort out the state of my own soul with all of this book publishing envy, jealousy, and carefully controlled hatred, I think most of my restlessness is based on a low opinion of myself. I lack confidence most days in my own calling and in my own developing talent. I forget all of the times that I’ve felt God giving me a steady shove to keep at this writing thing.
Perhaps I even begin to envy the gifts or callings of others. I forget that I have my own style, stories, and messages to pass along, and so long as I’m offering them to others as a gift, I don’t have to worry about the success that others have.
That feels like the kind of cliché line a loser writer believes when he can’t measure up to “successful writers.” However, I always have to remind myself that someone will sell more books and achieve more success. Comparison is its own never ending punishment. You can only break out of it by writing out of a sense of conviction and always improving your work because you’ve been called to do your best as a service to others, not because you want to hit a bestseller list or ten.
As with most things, there’s a fine line here. Every writer needs to read in order to improve. I’ve flipped through memoirs and novels and marveled at how a particular author wove the various storylines and characters together. Those books challenged me to become a better writer.
However, if we aren’t rooted in God’s presence, calling, and strength, we’ll move from disappointment to envy to self-loathing over and over again.
We each have to sort out our own paths to peace and contentment within the callings God give us. What works for me may not work for everyone else. But I do know what has failed me over and over again. I know what other writers have shared with me.
The envy and jealousy that comes with comparing ourselves to others minimizes the work God is doing in and through us. God can work through us, but sometimes we have to turn our eyes away from what everyone else is doing so that we can say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
29 thoughts on “You’re an Amazing Writer and I Hate You”
“The envy and jealousy that comes with comparing ourselves to others minimizes the work God is doing in and through us.” Great insight. Loved this Ed.
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This: “You can only break out of it by writing out of a sense of conviction and always improving your work because you’ve been called to do your best as a service to others…” This is why I began writing in the first place. Whenever my writing feels “off” it’s usually because I’ve lost sight of this.
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This is such a good insight. Yes.
This is so Great! Made me chuckle and perhaps…a bit envious. 😉
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Every talent we each have been given to share with our Family by our Parent in our Parent’s image carries with it the childish possibility of envy, coveting and sibling rivalry. As we mature it becomes obvious that the most joy we find in serving our Parent is first serving our Parent’s Family within which we joined and supported together by love first from our Parent.
It’s never easy first having to learn the chore of doing the dishes following each meal that our Parent serves to our Family. Nothing, though, can compare in joyous reward than when at the table the following night our Parent quietly shares that all may hear how pleased our Parent is with my contribution that made possible the beautiful service upon which our Parent has placed this meal. In my exuberance I might wish that I could be so competitive with my siblings that I get that no longer a chore but a source of ever so divine joy every night. I could plot to sabotage those who are better than I to get the job full time or I could volunteer shared time to glean from their efforts what I think makes their dishes more beautiful than mine so as to earn the job forever more. I might find that I will never be the best for there can only be one “the best”. I might find just to be able to competently fill in to support the best has more than sufficient rewards. If I finally got the dish duty full time would my Parent always be so inclined so as to note my efforts before the Family like maybe at that moment of thankful grace? Would my joy each repetitious time be able to compete with that first time?
There is an eternity of joy to be had when we learn to share the chores and to glean from each other improvements all the while reminding each other how much more our Parent serves us than we could possibly serve our Parent.
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I need this. Thanks, Ed!
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I’ve experienced this feeling in the music world as I watch my friends – who I love and are gifted and wonderful! – have more success than I imagine I am having. It’s a terrible feeling (and one that makes me relieved when I find friends who are of a different voice type than I am!) I’m sure as I move deeper into the world of writing I will start to feel that way about my writing friends too. I’m looking forward to it?
“That feels like the kind of cliché line a loser writer believes when he can’t measure up to “successful writers.’”
Hahaha! Nailed it.
If success is nailing your own neurotic issues for others to learn from–and I like to think it is–you’re climbing over a heap of lesser luminaries here, Ed. So there, awesome and talented so-called “successes!”
Also, where was this Quinoa Pinterest page? 🙂
Great post Ed!
Writing, music, anything else creative, but also true for ministry, business, and other endeavors.
For me, it all boils down to how content I’m willing to be with what God has given me in life. I look forward to the day when there is no longer any comparisons!
I totally hate you for writing so many books and for going to seminary.
The truth here made me laugh. And cringe a little. Thank you.
Confession is good for the soul!
And would you like me to ship you my box of seminary files and a box of seminary books! You may not be quite so jealous then… 😉
“Yes, actually,” says the girl who loved law school more than anything and whose favorite activity is outlining for exams on brand-new legal pads with blue-ink rollerball pens.
Are you ever driving through Columbus?
I love this exchange (and totally get it!). This is from a girl who refuses to let go of any of said seminary files and books (divinity school in my case).
I was reading someone a short while back who pointed out that whatever someone else has certain gifts and can do something better than I can is entirely based on God choosing to give them that ability. It’s not a matter of why I can’t be like them; it’s a matter of recognizing that god has given me other things to do, or similar things to do but to do with different abilities. Those geniuses or uber-talents are not inherent in that person’s worth, and they are no lacking in me because I lack some sort of inherent worth. Once I see that, then there is no reason to continue in my jealousy.
Sometimes I still get jealous anyway.
This was just what I needed to read this afternoon. 🙂
Thank you for this, such great thoughts.
Oh, we all struggle with this!! I constantly remind myself it is all about God at work. Maybe I’m led to write a certain piece to help just one. Christ would have went for it, I’m certain. Thanks for the reminders, Ed.
Paul warned us, in 2 Corinthians 10:12, against comparing ourselves among ourselves. Thanks for the reminder.
Read this with a cringe for it hits me square between the eyes. Just the other day, while murmuring over this very thing, I heard quite clearly, “The time you’re spending focused on them is time wasted with Me.” OH!
Great insight — ouch.
I relate to this on so many levels! Insecurity, self-doubt, the fear of not measuring up…God called me on it a few weeks ago and I had to fall on my face and confess the sin of idolizing other people’s opinions. I’m learning (day by day) to rest in grace and trust the calling. Thank you for sharing what so many of us feel!
WHY COULDN’T I HAVE THOUGHT UP QUINOA???? WHY GOD WHY??????
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Maybe if you were a vegan it would have become clear to you?
This is a fantastic confession. I have been here 1,000 times.
Full disclosure: the #Texodus came from our friend Diana. She made it the theme of our going away party and we kept it.
She is hilarious and I am routinely jealous of her wit 😀
Lol… You are so sweet JR, but “Texodus” was totally stolen from Pinterest. I can’t take the credit for the brilliant word play… But hijacking someone else’s clever idea… That I can totally do. All DAY, son. 😉
Full disclosure: Tricia is the one who found the term on Pinterest…. I just made it into a kick a** banner. 💃
Ed, this is so refreshing. Thanks for your candor about something that so many of us feel.
My favourite bit was this:
“Some of my favorite books aren’t bestsellers, and some of the books I hate—I mean with a white, hot, passionate hate—are bestsellers that make someone’s list of amazeball books every year.”
HA!!! Yes! That’s when I despair about the state of humanity. I mean, as writers, we so often console ourselves with, ‘I am so original and different. Here is my unique perspective on the world. My voice is one in a million.” And then we wail, ‘why does no one like my unique and different voice, and instead the masses buy generic bland things in their tens of thousands???’ Special/good doesn’t always equate to popular.
I’ve been thinking about jealousy recently, too – ever since I traumatised my boy by making him watch Toy Story. Really interesting discussion about jealousy in the comments, if you’re interested http://tanyamarlow.com/on-jealousy-and-toy-story/
That was a great post! I read a lot on my tablet these days with one hand while holding a baby, but I really enjoyed that post!
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