Social media, envy, and (RE)focusing on YOU.
Happy Friday! Let’s talk about envy.
I was browsing Instagram, as one does, and came upon the above Rupi Kaur poem. It made me weirdly emotional. And, as someone with anxiety, I like to say I’m extra tuned into my emotions—I try to capture them when I feel them and “sort them.” It’s a way for me to process feelings that are important, make sure I’m okay, and then let them go. I’ve been wanting to write this post for weeks, but every time the day approached for me to work on it came, I couldn’t. Not because I was too busy, but because talking about envy is a vulnerable act that confronts dark feelings I am often ashamed to feel.
Now, I’m obsessed with words. While revising I frequently have a tab open so I can google a word’s definition, I’m obsessed not only with words and wordplay, but making sure I’m using the *right* word. Because sometimes we think something means something but it only kinda does. Okay so here’s me doing that thing your English teacher told you to stop doing in your papers (or was that just me?): Envy, is defined as:
a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck. (noun)
desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else). (verb)
…that sounds pretty horrible. Who wants to admit they have envied someone? But, I’m going to assume we all have. I do it all the time. Now, of course, envy happens outside of social media. I see someone with bomb shoes and I want those shoes. However, social media creates this web—a vacuum—in which people’s successes are on constant loop. I hide things about current events that may negatively affect me, yet I’m obsessed with looking up books deals which DEFINITELY affect me. Ugh, that’s who bought that book I lost at preempt? Or, does that book sound like mine? And it quickly turns to, well, that imprint suck anyway or I saw her one-line Wednesday tweet and the writing wasn’t that good.
We go from envy to malice. Of course, not quite (again a time of using a word that’s only kinda right) because as a friend reminded me recently, I don’t actually wish anyone ill. I wish the best for my friends, for so many writers, and when I’m out there congratulating people it’s because I really mean it. I work in this industry because I love it. I believe deeply in the power of words, whether your book is a best-seller or not—words have power and you never know which ones kids will cling to. We all have books that are our favorites that not many others have read. So, I get it, y’all. I’m going to assume (…hope) you don’t truly wish anyone ill.
But, as I tell myself re: my anxiety, just because my “rational brain” knows that malice is not what I hold for others, when am so busy I haven’t had to time work on “that one scene” and see the successes of others on loop online, I am in “irrational brain.” AND, my feelings are valid even if I know they’re irrational, even if I know they’re from a place of envy. Recognizing those feelings, giving yourself time to sit with them (but like no more than 5 minutes, you’ve got stuff to do), and releasing them is one of the best things I’ve learned to do.
okay but what else?
Well, I use that envy to drive me. At least that’s how it starts/started for me. I used envy as a kick in the butt. Oh, well she got that then I’ll work harder and get this. The problem is that mindset assumes publishing is a meritocracy. Guess what? It’s not, honey. In case you think that I want to personally, professionally burst that bubble.
Publishing is not a meritocracy.
(Most things aren’t but that’s another story…)
Envy can drive you initially, but ultimately only you can drive yourself. When I stopped comparing myself to others. When I accepted that publishing is not a meritocracy and yes that 8-year-old just got a six-figure book deal. SO WHAT.
I can’t change time. I’m not 8.
Do you see what I’m saying? You can’t change the past.
(Tell that to my main character…she’s gonna learn though.)
There’s no point in obsessing over that, over what you could’ve done better and earlier, over who you should’ve signed with the first time, over how your path could’ve been different.
Claim it. This is not me saying if you feel stuck, well oh well you’re stuck…sucks to suck. No, I’m saying own what you have. And if you’re missing something, some tools, go buy them y’all. LOL. aka work on your craft. Challenge YOURSELF.
Okay yes Sally is over there with her fancy deal. Wave at sally, she’s doing great.* I’m proud of you girl.
Now, you’re salty and envious because of Sally. YOU DON’T KNOW SALLY’S LIFE. You only see social media. Even with close friends, it’s easy for me to see them online and think “it’s so easy for them” and then I snap out of it and I’m like yo, dude, you're friends...you know he lost his agent five times and had to work real hard to get where he is. Why are you over here like this? (omg if you actually lost your agent 5 times and are still in this business, I have no words except you’re the real MVP)
Our mind can warp things. Social media only aids to that.
Instead of looking at Sally, look at you. Compete with yourself.
I love this thread:
People think I’m lying about the hard work necessary. They say how did you get your agent, etc. I usually laugh it off as being super lucky and say he stalked me. (my agent is not a stalker, this is very much so a joke, Pete just paid extra close attention to all my ridiculous tweets) but the truth is, I had years of writing behind me. I worked my butt off. 4 trunked manuscripts. I was RUTHLESS about abandoning projects that didn't work for me. I sent out so many queries. I had so many near-yeses. I got better when it became my job to edit others because I had to hone my critical reading skills. But also, I really did sit down one day, nearly depressed and say okay, let’s say we take “Sally” out of the picture, what else could be wrong (we have a tendency to blame it on others, which is sometimes but not always true and certainly not the solution). After examining the notes I’d previously received and using “editor brain” I realized people kept saying great premise, bad execution and I wasn’t listening. Great characters, spotty pacing, and I didn’t change that. That was on me, not Sally.
I received my newest edit letter from Pete at the end of February and I’ve been working since then mostly on plot because I realized I wrote a book that was all character and no plot. I’m horrible at plot. I was talking this over with a friend and she kept being like those are character problems not plot, Patrice. I didn’t do as strong of a plot revision as I could have. I’m not blaming myself because I needed to work on character in that draft. Now, I’m working on plot. And it’s taken me nearly a month to really write because I have a billion plot tab resources open and I’m pulling everything out my brain and putting it in a “plot doc” where I was drumming out the beats to my story. Now, I have that done and can write this story how it needs to be. But, that took time and I had to challenge myself to really reexamine my plot and work on myself versus worrying about where everyone else is.
Take Sally out of the picture. Look into yourself. Examine your weaknesses. Latch onto your strengths. I don’t think looking critically at your craft is being hard on yourself. I think that’s saying, “Sally got this and while I envy her I can’t control how I also get that. Right now I’m not there and I could spend more time envying her or I could say I’m going to work on myself, on my own writing. I know publishing is not a meritocracy, so I might not get what Sally has (YET) but again, I will control what I can control (see: Julie Dao’s amazing post on attainable goals) and what I can control is my craft and finishing this draft.”
I challenge myself to make this the best thing I’ve ever written. On good days, that’s what I do.
On bad days, which are more like bad moments now with social media, I take a deep breath, I acknowledge and process those feelings, and then I still get back to work. Sometimes the feelings are so strong work is hard. Take a walk. Take another deep breath. Forgive yourself. Don’t hold that guilt—it’s dangerous. Examining your weaknesses isn’t about blaming yourself for being less than. It’s about challenge. Reframe all this as challenge.
[As a side note: I know a lot of people recommend social media breaks, but social media is literally how I grew my network. When I first moved to NYC, I scheduled meet-ups with people I’d only ever interacted with online and made in person friends that way. So, I say you do you. This I how I manage—I accept that I like social media as a constant and rather than try to take it away, and have the same problems exist because I never learned how to manage the feelings that come along, I learn to manage them. I also have all my notifications turned off, which helps me to focus on other things when I’m not actively on the site/app.]
When I stop competing with others, I feel the most whole, body and soul. I am at peace. I’m in love with myself and my story and I’m proud of what I do. Because even 500 new words, during the morning before work, or an evening of plotting is step in the right direction, a re-centered direction in which I’m owning my path and I’m challenging myself every day.
As, Yesika Salgado, goes on to say, much to Arvin Ahmadi’s chagrin (who literally called me out in his acknowledgments for not showing my book to people…I still love you bud and you will get this newest draft) I don’t show my work to many people. In fact, I’ve shown this book to maybe 5, aside from my agent. (I only have 2 people who have consistently seen it because I like to stagger readers, so that the material is fresh for them.) When I was starting out, I used to show it to everyone. People would warp my story with their opinions. I let them and tried to take in all the feedback. Know yourself, know your worth--as Drake says--and develop a trusted circle. One of my weaknesses is wanting everyone to like me / pleasing others. I’ve seen that “want” negatively affect my craft so I’m precious with how I give my work away AND in which stage I allow people to read it.
Today, let’s not say goodbye to envy; it’s not going to magic away. I think that’s the wrong approach. With social media, it’s “naturally” going to creep up. Let’s instead work on ourselves, on challenging ourselves (again, Julie’s post is great for setting those goals) so that when envy does creep up we can register and then release it and turn back to who really matters most… You, not Sally.*
How do you combat envy?
*Sally was the most basic name I could think of, it just popped into my head, apologies if your name is Sally. You do matter. Also, as an editor I've seen my share of splashy deals. Sally's is gonna have problems of her own to deal with. No path is without problems. The amount of money given in advance doesn't change that.
*here’s that Julie Dao post, one last time. I’m linking to it so much because I just read it and I ALWAYS set the most unattainable goals and then guilt.
*speaking of which, here’s a post I wrote on guilt.
*and here’s a post from a few years back on this "comparison game" by Susan Dennard.