Blog Academics, Faculty, The Arts
Dealing with writer's envy
Monday, June 5, 2017
When I began writing online, something dormant inside me broke through earth, and I tended its fresh greenness with time and connection to other writers. I occasionally teared up when a new writing friend used an apt metaphor when we talked. My childhood desire to be a "writer," the kind of writer who someday would write books her friends would read had been reawakened.
But what I didn't expect in my friendships with other writers was that my desire on its bad days would branch out toward a noxious weed, envy. While celebrating the art of writing is life-giving, the business side of writing—especially the publishing industry—can seem dismissive and capricious. I have watched some of my friends' book proposals be selected by editors for publishing, but mine has been overlooked even if I believe we all have good ideas and similar abilities and platforms.
This envy of other writers is life draining. Like King Ahab who was obsessed with his neighbor's garden, I can be obsessed with my friends' successes. Bitter and frustrated, I can find it hard to read and promote my friends' books. I can question God—"C'mon God, I thought you called me to this." Because envy (also called coveting) is the denial that God has provided well for me, my relationship with God is adversely affected.
Here is how I am attempting to deal with envy.
Lay Your Desires Before God
Although envy is toxic, I remember that my desire to write and have my words read doesn't have to be the same. In the past, my temptation would have been to kill my desire so that I don't have to experience the pain of trying and being rejected. But unless I feel called by God to set my desire on the shelf for a time, I won't withdraw from it or my writer friends.
I also ask God to help me sort out my motivations. Stirring inside of me is not only a love of words and their expression but admittedly a compulsion for my voice to be heard because of my upbringing in an alcoholic family where voices were suppressed. My fear is that like a young Katherine Hepburn, I'm saying I don't want to be just a writer, or in her case an actor, but "I want to be a star!"—with all the narcissism and insecurity that goes along with that kind of ambition. I trust that the Holy Spirit moves within me to sift and heal those emotions.
I share my frustrations with God believing He's big enough to handle the rancor that, if left hidden, may wrench through somewhere else. I talk about these dark feelings with a close friend or my husband. On Sunday I pray with the rest of my church, "We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves," sometimes with an inward nod to my envy. Would I not want my neighbors to rejoice with me if my book were being published? Then, I need to push past my envy of newly published friends to do so.
I thank God for what I do have. As a mother and a professor, I have influence over young people that is a great privilege. My husband has looked at me and said, "Heather, your students are your ministry," wondering why I can feel desperate for more. When lying in bed at night, I thank God for just that one person who openly shared a blog post I wrote. Maybe ultimately, my writing was a timely gift to one individual, and knowing that can be a gift to me.
Pray for Others' Success
Because my envy deters me from engaging in my friends' successes, I have started treating them as enemies, not neighbors. To restore this unspoken rift, I pray for them. For many of my online friends, I am able to pray for them in the moment and say so on our shared social media platforms. When I feel envy weighing me down with frustration, I pray that their books will minister to their readers' hearts, and I pray for their success to flourish even more.
Despite discouragement and envy, I keep moving in the direction of my writing. If it seems as if my book proposal isn't being accepted, I ask God, "Is there another venue for putting words to this idea?" Following Psalm 37:3, I cultivate faithfulness by maintaining my relationships with the blogs I write for. I take notes on my new ideas and write down quotes and thoughts on revision for old ones. Unless God calls me to something else, I am faithful to what he has given me.
It's been tough to disclose the ugliness of my envy, hard not to hide my shame, but ultimately, God is using it to remind me of my deep need for his transformation. Dependence on him even in this issue is beautiful.