Piecemeal Manifesto #7 – Raise All Boats!
There’s an aphorism that’s generally attributed to JFK that goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” When Kennedy said this, he was referring to the economy…zzzzzzzzz.
Sorry, I must’ve dozed off there for a second. Economics talk does that to me.
I like to use this phrase when I think of one of the great productivity killers in writing–jealousy.
I’ll be blunt–plenty of writers are hate-worthy. Some you try to talk to at a conference who only give you a weird look before walking away. Some can only talk about themselves and love to recap their success. Some sell a lot of books that you think are terrible. Some have their books made into movies that you don’t think should be put on the big screen. [Insert your own here. I know you have one.]
I’m guilty of thinking writers who do those things are assholes for all of those reasons and more. In fact, for years I’ve wasted plenty of energy and writing time by having silent arguments in my head with these writers. I’ve made dinner or laid in bed or walked at night putting them in my place with my witty and cutting put-downs. I’ve won arguments against them that make their fans burn their books and blow up their car. I was the Clarence Darrow of imaginary arguments with writers I was jealous of. It’s really, really embarrassing, but true.
But here’s the thing I finally came to realize–This is all a me problem, not a them problem. I can’t tell you the moment I stopped this energy-sapping babyish behavior. I do know, however, I finally got sick of it and realized the complaining and jealousy was only hurting me. My brainpower was going to these stupid silent arguments and I’ll-show-you! fist-shaking proclamations instead of to my creativity and writing time. I wasn’t getting any better as a writer; I was getting better at being a jealous idiot, and it was drowning me like this:
So I shutdown being jealous. It wasn’t easy, and it took some time, but I did it for the most part. A lot of the ways I knocked it off was with logic–It wasn’t helping me advance at all; Writing isn’t a competition; It’s unhealthy–but sometimes I did some practical things as well. Here are two specific tools I used to stop being jealous:
1. I “Unfollowed” the people I was jealous of. If I was getting angry every time I read a post by certain writers, I stopped following them on social media. I mean, the goal is not to be angry, so why feed it? Those writers are just out of sight, out of mind. (Also the name of a great Wilco song, by the way.) Try this, it really does work.
2. I raged against the world for five minutes, then got back to my real work. Sometimes I would type out my pissiness, other times I’d put on a few songs that make me rage nicely (Fucked Up’s “The Other Shoe” or Rage Against the Machine’s cover of “How I Could Just Kill a Man” works well if you need a suggestion), wallow it in my anger for a bit, then put my exhausted self to work. This is pretty healthy, I’m told now after the fact.
Look, some people need to have the attitude of “it’s me against the world” as motivation to write. If that works for you, cool. It doesn’t for me. What does work for me though is being the rising tide–supporting writers as much as I can. Not to go all socialist on you, but all writers benefit when other writers are successful. The more people who are buying books and seeing movies based on books will only make publishers want to buy more books and be able to buy more books. And that’s the goal, right? To sell books? So support as many writers as you can. As Chuck Wendig said at one point somewhere on his fantastic blog: Don’t be an anchor.
Here are ways I’ve learned to be a rising tide: 1. Interview authors and review their books. This is what I’ve come to love most about this blog–the interaction with authors about their work, their process, and whatever else we chat about. Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think it’s not only helping them sell a few additional books, but also motivating them forward.
2. Buy books! Because I have four kids, I can’t Scrooge McDuck-it and swim in gold coins, but when an author I like or know puts a book out, I buy that sucker. In fact, I pre-order them when I can because that helps. (This is a subject for another day.) And if I get the opportunity to read an arc copy, I still buy the book when it comes out. Every sale helps.
3. See movies based on YA novels. It’s simple–studios will only continue to make movies from YA novels if people are seeing movies based on YA novels. The chances of DON’T GET CAUGHT being made into a movie are so small that if I used a font to illustrate the odds you’d need an electron microscope to read it, but having other YA novels succeed in the theater definitely helps my chances.
4. Review and recommend online! Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter–when I read something I like, I let everyone know about it.
5. Be helpful when possible. It doesn’t happen often, and maybe it’ll happen a little more regularly when DGC comes out, but on occasion I get an email from another writer or aspiring writer asking for advice or just wanting to connect. When I get these emails I try to answer them as quickly as possible because I’ve sent emails like this before, and was always so grateful to get a response. Hell, I have a whole list of authors who’s books I’ll buy until their finished writing because they’ve been helpful to me.
So look, I’m not telling you all of this so you drive to my house to pat me on the back or give me a cookie (although cookies are always welcome). And I’ll be honest, a part of me also does these things in hopes someone will return the favor someday. But ultimately the real reason for this is because I just know there are writers out there who struggle with the jealousy thing, and as someone who’s dealt with it, I thought I’d share. I’ll admit there are days I still get jealous about other writers, especially when I read something so good I want to bloody their nose (good naturally, of course), but I have it under control much better these days.
To wrap it up, here’s a visual to copy and paste to your desktop or show to your local tattoo artist to keep you focused:
Immediate Homework: If you have any tools you’ve used to quash jealousy of other writers or ways you recommend being a part of the rising tide, I’d love to hear them. Comment below!