Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jealousy and the writer

Recently, the American Library Association awards were announced (the Printz, Caldecott, Newbery, etc.) and some truly amazing writers won prizes. Congrats to them all. I wasn't familiar with most of the books on the lists since some were picture books and others were for young readers but I did recognize many of the names. That's the thing about this writing business: it's a small one. It just has a very wide reach. Or it can if you're lucky.

When you first begin writing seriously, you see the many books in your genre and think, "I can write as good - no, I can write better than that!" You see people getting published every day, new books arriving on store shelves every week and think, "If that guy can get published, so can I!" But the longer you go without being published, you begin to get jealous of all the writers who do, especially if they're your friends. You wonder if certain wheels were greased; whether there was a personal connection, a previous relationship, a media platform you don't have.

You are the green eyed monster. And that's okay - we all go through that.

But the more time you spend pursuing this crazy idea of yours to become a professional writer, the more words you get under your laptop, the more you realize that your friends getting published and becoming successful has less to do with them and more to do with the business itself. Over the course of a career, so many things can change for a writer: one year you get a multi-book deal at auction but the next year, the contract is canceled because the first book tanked. You may sign with a high-powered agent only to have her drop you when your book doesn't sell. A beloved agent or editor could leave the business just when you thought you were hitting your stride. These things happen to everyone all the time.

And that's when you realize that there is a massive element of luck (I think it's being added to the periodic tables soon) when it comes to writing success. You could have it this year and your friend could have it next year. Both of you could sell books - or neither could. Sure, my eyes used to be a little green. I would get frustrated when people I knew were getting deals and I wasn't - or they were getting more of an advance or more marketing dollars or awards or fan emails - but now I know my luck could change too. I have every shot at getting those things too but it's nothing I can count on. I simply have to keep writing, keeping imagining, and keep supporting my friends. Their success is good for us all. It means publishers are publishing, readers are buying, and if my friend hits it big, maybe she'll write me an awesome blurb for my next book.