I struggle with jealousy sometimes.
When Harry Potter became a success, I thought the books sounded pretty stupid. But eventually I decided to pick one up and see what all the fuss was about. Despite my expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Twilight came into the limelight, I tried the same thing. It sounded lame to me, but I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t like it. Not even a little. It frustrated me to no end.
I’ve gone off on many rants over the years about how much I dislike Twilight. The poor writing. The repetitive descriptions of Edward’s beauty. The flat characters. The obvious wish-fulfillment. The unhealthy “love” story. And so on and so forth. But how many of my complaints are legitimate and how many stem from pure jealousy? Stephanie Meyer wrote something wildly successful on her first try but I’ve been trying for years. Maybe it’s just more comforting to my ego to convince myself that her work sucks.
More recently, as I’ve attempted to get into the indie publishing scene, I’ve acquired a different strain of jealousy. If I see someone share their new book on reddit, I’ll usually click over to the Amazon page to look at it. Sometimes it’s a matter of sizing up the competition and sometimes I’m intrigued by the title. But often, I’ll open up the ebook sample, start reading the first few lines, and be completely baffled by the writing style.
And then I’ll look at the average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars for twenty-five ratings and I’ll become even angrier. How come this guy gets all this attention and all this praise? Clearly, my writing is of a superior quality to his and if anyone should have a 4.2-star rating for twenty-five ratings, it’s me. That much should be obvious to anyone. This guy is a hack and anyone who buys his book is an idiot. There’s no justice in the universe!
Usually, after I calm down, I realize a few things. First, just because I don’t get his style doesn’t mean he’s an objectively bad writer. Second, even if his writing mechanics are weak, he can still be capable of telling a story that people enjoy. Third, he’s probably more adept at marketing his work than I am—which isn’t saying much anyway. And Fourth, my work is not Shakespeare. I think it’s pretty good and all, but it’s not as though I deserve to be a New York Times bestseller just because I’m such hot shit.
The answer, at least so far as I’ve discovered it, is to avoid the jealousy. You don’t get far by constantly comparing yourself to others. The most important competition is with yourself—to improve beyond what you were before. Too much focus on how unfair it is that hacks get million-dollar book deals and geniuses self-publish amid a notable lack of fanfare detracts from the work. If I sit around angrily thinking about how much better I am than people who are more successful than I am, what I won’t be doing is writing anything that will change anyone’s mind on the subject.
Besides, jealousy is an ugly thing in just about any context.