Dear Writer: WELCOME TO JELLYTOWN

Here is the painful truth:

Now matter what you have, you will always want more.

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I used to think writing a book would be enough.

Then I thought getting an agent would be enough.

Then I thought selling a book to a traditional publisher would be enough.

Then I thought seeing my books in the bookstore would be enough.

Then I thought selling more books and getting into anthologies would be enough.

These days, I tell myself that if I hit the bestseller list or see a movie or TV show of my book, that will be enough.

But I know well enough that it won't be.

Bad news, kids. Nothing is ever enough. You will always want more. And even if you got to a place where you had all the success, fame, and money you think you want, you would be utterly miserable. Why? Because then you have more to lose, and because there's nothing worse than getting everything you ever dreamed of and having nothing left to strive toward. 

When you're first beginning your publishing journey, it's very easy to spend your days seething with jealousy and feeling like time is against you. Every sale or offer of agency announced is one chance you've already missed. If you'd just finished that mermaid book in time, it would've been on trend and sold for mad bank. If you could only get to that con, you'd meet the right person and get your foot in the door. You feel impatient and hungry and like you deserve your shot, too. But this time crunch? Is a lie.

If you're not getting what you want, it's not because of time. It's because you haven't written enough yet, you haven't failed enough yet, or you aren't ready to level up.

From this side of the process, having been there myself, I see it clearly.

And yet.

When I see other authors announcing a new book sale, that they've hit list, that they've sold foreign or movie rights, that they're being shipped off to standing-room-only book tours, I get jealous. Sooooo painfully jealous. Enraged, self-critical, self-pitying jealous. And I feel that old time crunch again. I feel like these successes are something I deserve, too, and that it should be happening right goddamn now.

I suspect that, a few years from now, I'll see it for what it is:

I haven't written enough yet, I haven't failed enough yet, and I'm not ready to level up.

So here's what I do when that green-eyed bitch Jealousy breathes down my neck:

  1. Get off social media, where we only see the high points of someone's career and life.

  2. Rekindle my own creative passion and find a way to fall in love with the work again.

  3. Take in more media—more books, more non-fiction, more comics, more TV and movies.

  4. Get out of the house and reconnect with nature and other people.

  5. Remember that there are people who are desperate to be where I am and be supremely grateful for my friends, my art, and all that I have accomplished.

  6. Help lift other people up.

It can sometimes feel like publishing is a fancy, exclusive room where people hang out without you. That there is a secret handshake or code word that will get you past the doorman, and everything will be Easy Street forever after that. It's not until you're sitting face to face at the bar with other professional writers that you realize that WE ALL FEEL THIS WAY ALL THE TIME. We all feel like loners trying to claw our way past that velvet rope, and everyone who actually gets in that room suspects they are an imposter who will soon be discovered and kicked out.

You know how the Hulk's secret is that he's angry all the time? The secret of most pro writers is that we're jealous. All. The. Time. When we actually get what we want, we have a few brief, shining moments of celebration—carefully presented with beautiful filters and appropriate levels of surprise and modesty via social media—before we're back to worrying and wanting. And working even harder to stay where we are.

I'd like to say that I have an easy solution for you, but there isn't one. In order to be a writer, you must be consumed and obsessed and driven by the work, and that compulsion doesn't typically come from a place of comfort and zen. Great art comes from discomfort and disequilibrium and daring. Leveling up comes through hard work. And all of that takes time.

How long does it take to write a book? It takes what it takes.

How long does it take to get published? It takes what it takes.

How long does it take to be satisfied with your art, your career, and your success?

It takes forever, broken up by small moments of mercy.

Savor them. Savor that partial request. Enjoy The Call. Take lots of pics signing your first contract. But never forget that none of it will ever feel as good as opening a document and starting a new book, your heart full of hope and your eyes sparkling with the thrill of adventure. That's what you need to live for. Not the money, not the fame, not the success. It all comes down to who you are when you sit down to write and if you're willing to keep doing it, even when you feel like you're not enough.