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.”