It’s a new year, and with the start of a new year, we traditionally make resolutions. Over the last several years, I have focused my new-year’s-mind on being kinder, listening more closely, supporting more causes in which I believe. I think I’ve become a (slightly) better person for those past resolutions. This year, though, I need to look inward.
I’ve been struggling with a kind of lingering depression for several years, now. It has not been clinically diagnosed, but I also know it’s more than just mood swings or the odd blah feeling. I function fine at work, and I carry on my family chores and responsibilities. My creative soul has been drowning, though.
I have known for a long time that I waste too much effort comparing myself to others’ success. Others’ popularity. Others’ epicness. I had thought that the best resolution for me this year was to be more accepting of others’ accomplishments, but it has to go deeper than that. The real answer came to me from a cooking show, of all things.
The show “Chef’s Table” (available on Netflix) did a portrait on Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist nun in South Korea. In her interview, she said the above, as well as the following:
“If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly.”
Jeong Kwan said these words in regard to her cooking, but I have taken them to heart for my writing. She equates the art of making wholesome and natural food to spiritual enlightenment. I believe that the same can be done with writing. Creating characters and stories has given me strength over the years. I’ve learned from the conflicts of those characters, and letting them speak, fight, and sing through my pen has opened my eyes to perspectives and ideas that might not have occurred to me otherwise.
I know my journey to this greater enlightenment and peace will not be easy, but every journey worth making takes effort. I hope to become a better creative, and a more well-rounded person, for that effort.
How do you deal with jealousy? Have you made any resolutions in the new year?
This sounds like a wonderful thought process for me to adopt, too. It’s so easy for me to look at someone successful and think, “I’ll never be this good so why should I try?” Or, “I write better than this, why didn’t anyone like what I wrote?” Both are negative and lead to frustration and dead ends.
Thank you for the food for thought!
Thank you for being very honest here. I think you speak for so many in the arts, including myself.
I’ve found that one of the hardest things that we can do is to be happy for another’s accomplishments, especially if they accomplish the things that we want to do. It’s like we’re watching other people (sometimes even people we don’t like) get to enjoy our dreams while we’re still stuck dreaming. It hurts. It sucks.
I’ve even been asked before by someone close to me if I thought my success caused another grief. I was quite cross with this person, as I felt like I wasn’t able to celebrate myself, just because someone else “felt bad”. I told them that I played to my strengths and pursued what I wanted to pursue, and that the other person could have done the same. Despite all that, I felt like a jerk for saying anything at all.
But, when I’m on the other side of that coin, where I see others succeed whereas I’m still struggling, I’ll admit, I get pretty pissed. I even see those who once begrudgingly wished me “Good luck” on my writing career posting on social media that they’ve finished their stories and even started looking up cover art for their books.
And that’s when my ugly side come up. I start thinking to myself, “Have you edited and revised multiple times? Did you really think through every little detail of your story? Are your characters well-rounded?” and all those things. I ask myself, “Why them? Why not me? Did I not also put in a lot of effort to make my characters and my stories something incredible?”
But then I remember: I’m not them. My style isn’t like theirs. They’re vocabulary might be greater than mine, but maybe my vocabulary sounds more natural, or something.
So, how do I deal with this kind of negativity? To be honest, I give myself a chance to think about all the bad critiques I can think of for my work. Maybe this character is too idealized, or maybe this scene is so unrealistic that it’s bordering cartoon-y. Maybe I’m only an amazing dreamer, and writing is just a way to make my daydreams feel real.
But, after I stew in that negativity for a little while, I start to think, “You know what? I’m not that bad.” I end up thinking, “I can do better” or “This could use a little more work” or I focus on areas that I can improve.
Those other writers aren’t me. I can be a better writer for my style, for myself, and it doesn’t matter how much better (or worse) the others around me are. And what happens eventually is, I start to forget that those guys exist.
I’ll be honest: I don’t feel comfortable talking about writing. I’m barely comfortable talking about it with those whom I’ve talked story stuff about, because I’m so insecure about my ideas. I worry about others rolling their eyes and telling me, “It’s already been done” or “That’s a stupid idea”. I’m worried about being forced to realize that my writing’s garbage and that there’s always someone better than me.
But, I ask myself: Why do I write? I write because I love stories. I love characters. I love the intricate workings of a story. I love being transported to other worlds. When I remember that love for stories, none of the other writers matter (save for the ones I actually care about, and that includes you, dear!).
So basically, I just remember what I love, no matter what anyone else thinks. It makes me happy, and the most I can hope for with my writing is that, if anyone should read my work, that they will get something positive out of it, whether it’s encouragements in their lives or realization that a mistake I made in my story is the same mistake they made in theirs and one that they can fix.
I apologize that this ended up so long. Your post really spoke to me, where I actually stopped what I was doing so I could respond right away. Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of you. I find it encouraging that my own frustrations are shared by others.
I catch myself feeling less than generous toward those who seem to catch wins more often than I. Sometimes I am able to talk myself through it and I can let go. There are others though, that rankle.
On one level I know there is enough to go around. On another level I know that many wins are based on Luck, and have nothing to do with talent, skills, or smarts. On still another level I know that my feelings of comparison act like writer’s block for me. My creativity is never at its peak when I start the day off feeling sorry for myself.
Meditation or positive thinking first thing in the morning has helped wonders. It sets the tone for the day. I just think of one good thing that is happening in my life and one hopeful thing I’m aiming for and tell myself that I can achieve what I want as long as I work hard and believe in myself AND clap the other writers on the back when things go well for them.
It’s not easy, but when I am able to do it, my whole day is brighter.
Ah yes, the comparison of ourselves to others. For me it’s not really envy, rather it’s frustration with myself that I should be further along in my writing than I am, that I’ve put too much time into social media and marketing and not enough on producing product.
That quote you posted is a wise one. Will serve as a good reminder the next time I see someone with six or seven or eight books out in the time it took me to get three.
No need to apologize, spooney! You know I always love chatting with you, and hearing your thoughts.
I think the rationalization you bring up – where we try to break down in our heads what we do versus what we see other people doing – can be a safety net. That’s a good thing and a not-so-great thing, at the same time. It’s good because it can help us distance ourselves from internal negativity, which can lead to stopping before we start. It’s not so great because it can create blindspots where our egos can actually explode. That’s what happened to me, anyway.
During my writing of 1MC!, almost any negative critique I got was met with defensive backlash from my inner Ego. That made writer-me double-down on the “My way is the best way” attitude. It led to a lot of pages that did nothing except soothe my inner injury. Looking back years later, it’s easier for me to recognize who had genuinely valid criticism that has made my writing process better, and which ones were just petty complaints. That sense of writer’s superiority is one fault I am hoping this new perspective on creativity will help me overcome.
I’m glad to hear that we share a love of stories that burns bright still. Do keep us posted on what new stories come from your pen!
You are so right, JM: negativity leads to frustration and dead ends. My hope is that, by letting go of all of the (senseless) comparisons to others, the stories will become better and stronger. It’s weird that I am genuinely happy for my close friends to have success. It’s the outer circle of farther-out connections and randos I see on social media getting hits and clicks and likes and promos that make me want to curl up and die in a scratched-out, dark, little hole. Something I have to work on, no doubt about it. We all have our own stories to share, and I do believe that all of those stories are worth it. To somebody. Maybe that’s part of it, too: just because I don’t like a story doesn’t make it worthless. Oh, the Ego never ceases to rear its head!
Thanks for commenting, and for giving me more to think about!
Thanks for the solid advice, Kate. There is a reason you are a coach. 🙂
Meditating on goals sounds like a good way to start the day. One good thing that is happening and one hopeful thing that I am working toward. I will have to remember that.
Three books is awesome, Carrie! It’s great that you have made that commitment and seen those stories through to their climax. It is something for many of us to work toward, following your diligent example. 🙂
I mentioned to JM below, it seems weird, in a way, how I can be genuinely happy for my friends who have success like yours. Yet, when I see people on the outer ring of my awareness (friends of friends, random folks) getting success, that itches under my skin, fostering doubts and negative thoughts. Part of it might relate to the ability to recognize and appreciate the little triumphs – writing a satisfying scene, discovering a new plot point – as well as taking a wider look at creativity, and being able to free ourselves (myself) from what we can’t control (luck, other people, the readers’ market).
Thanks for stopping by!
This….holy cow, this! I don’t think I can count how many writers I have compared myself to, intentionally or not. And most every time, I have come away disappointed in what I’ve come up with to date. And, while I know it’s no ones fault, it can still be intimidating. Or, maybe it’s been jealousy all this time, just under a different mask.
I’m sorry to hear how deep your creative soul is mired in the muck and I wish I could toss it a lifeline, but I am thankful that someone much wiser than I found the words you needed to hear.
If I have one resolution, it would be just to do. Less thinking and overthinking. Less waiting for the stars to align. More power to the engines and wind under the wings!
May this year be the year of your fortunes!
On the flip side of slow productivity, another thing I fight to submerge is the sense of “what’s the point”? There are soooo many books published each year now that it’s hard to make even the tiniest ripple and get noticed. I think to myself, “Why am I putting another one out into the universe.”
Ah, the insecurities of us writers…
You raise a good point about the “safety net” part. Perhaps all I was doing was putting up walls to protect my ego. I’m going to need to work on that.
Doing is a great choice For a resolution, Chase. It is one we can all appreciate, I think. Just doing, in fact, can help push us forward out of our muck. And who wouldn’t be for that?
Thank you! I hope this will be a great new year for all of us!
Jealousy is tough. I find that social media tends to inflame it. My mind feels much better when I limit my time online and focus on doing things I love like writing and cooking and taking hikes. This year my resolution is to get the migraines under control and get healthy again. So anything that undermines that is cut or severely limited for this year. 🙂
Yes, social media makes the envy/jealousy streak worse for me, too. I’ve done a lot of pruning of my social media feeds. It’s definitely a sign of my privilege that I can cut out or ignore chunks of social media, but it’s also helpful for my health and mental wellbeing. Your focus on the activities you enjoy is good advice. I always feel much better about myself when I’ve had a workout, made a nice meal, or done some art. Here’s to a better year ahead for everyone!