The Conflicted Emotions of Having Writer Friends

Sometimes, being a writer who is friends with other writers means simultaneously cheering on your friends and being insanely jealous of them.

I want my writer friends to succeed.  This goes for all of them, from my VP17 classmates to the VPers of other years and the writers I’ve met in other venues.  Their successes do not make mine less likely, and their accomplishments should be celebrated.

But every time I hear a friend sold a book, I feel jealous. A friend sent her novel to the same Open Call I did–I got a form rejection, she got a request for the full manuscript.  I am genuinely happy for her, and I hope it gets signed. If it does, I will be joining the hurrays and congratulations she’ll be getting.  But I’m also jealous, and hearing she got a Full request a couple of weeks after I got a rejection?  That hurt, and there’s no point in pretending it didn’t.

Writers–at least, writers who’ve been submitting–know that rejection is a given.  We know that we’re going to get rejected a lot.  And as I’ve said before, every one hurts, even when you know it’s inevitable.  But what we don’t often say is that other people’s success is also sometimes painful, especially when you aren’t getting anywhere.  It’s far, far too easy to tell yourself that it’s because you’re not good enough, because you’re not a real writer, because you’re undeserving.

And that’s bullshit.

The truth is, one editor or agent could read my book and not really like it, but the next might love it.  At some point, there’s an agent who will read my book and say to him- or herself, “I really want this guy on my list.”

When that day comes?  My friends will congratulate me.  And some of them will feel that little pain.  And most, if not all, of them will then turn back to their own manuscript, steel themselves, and get back to it.

Because that’s how you get somewhere in this business.  You don’t write one book, sit back, and say “Hey, I wrote it. What more do you want?”  No, you keep going.  You revise, you revise some more.  You might send it out for another beta reading round, or you might just revise it again on your own.  And you keep sending it out.  And at some point, you get a request for more.

That’s the other truth–it’s a numbers game.  While it feels like I’m not doing well, the truth is that out of eleven agents I’ve submitted my book to, three asked to see more.  That’s not a bad ratio.  Now, it’s true all three of those rejected it, but still–I got to that stage.  Many novels don’t even get that.

So, when my friends succeed, I feel that pain, sure–but then I recognize that that’s just part of the process, and I let that little frisson of jealousy spur me on to working harder to get myself there.

Because my agent is out there–and no amount of jealousy is going to stop me from find them.

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a fifth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-six years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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