How I deal with professional jealousy as a writer

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

I just want to put something out there, in the full knowledge that it might make me seem like a spoilt brat. But being a writer is hard. Really. It is.

Let's take away the never-ending financial insecurity (which most people would find incredibly stressful), the loneliness, the fact that so much of your success is completely out of your control, the long hours, the late nights, the backache, the lack of exercise and consumption of too many snacks. And let's focus on the hardest thing of all: professional jealousy.

I've always thought that I was quite lucky, as I seem to be missing the jealousy gene. As a general rule, I don't get jealous of other people. Or their success. I suspect that the reason for this is that I am far too self-absorbed to really care what other people are doing (this is probably not a good thing!). I'm too focused on my own life, my own success, my own happiness. I don't really notice what other people are up to in anything more than a perfunctory way, and I usually just think 'good for them' and move on.

no matter how well you write, how well your book ‘performs’ in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a ‘bigger’ book

However, when it comes to writing, I think even the most self-absorbed person struggles just a little bit with professional jealousy. Because no matter how well you write, how well your book 'performs' in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a 'bigger' book. A 'better' book. And you will sit back and wonder why it isn't you. And you will be pleased for them, but then you'll also start to panic that your book is going to get lost, because surely there's only so much room for big books out there, and what if yours isn't one of them? What does that make you? Who wants to be second rate? Who wants to 'nearly make it'? Who wants to be the one that people look at and think 'Oh dear, guess it didn't work out for her then'?

The reason I write this post is because recently I've had to remind myself of the most useful tool you have for defeating this green-eyed disease: abundance mentality. I have noticed my bouts of professional jealousy come and go in waves. Usually, it's when things are quiet, when I'm just sat at home doing the part of writing that people ignore when they see it as a 'dream' career: the actual bloody writing. Sat at home alone day after day, struggling with my characters and the ever-present imposter syndrome that seems to be just an inevitable part of this job, and I start to look at other writers with 300 five star Amazon reviews and tons of praise on social media and I think, why am I doing this again? The world doesn't need my books. I’ll never be as successful as them. What do they have that I don’t? Why are they so brilliant/lucky/talented?

I read about abundance mentality a few years ago in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and it’s probably one of the most helpful concepts I’ve ever come across. I'm not usually one for self-help books, but this particular concept really struck a chord with me. Put simply, people who believe in abundance - that there is enough happiness, success, love and joy for all of us, are much happier than those who believe in scarcity - that if you're eating the cake then I can't eat it too.

I'm no philosopher, and I am terrible at explaining things like this so here’s a diagram that really neatly sums up this way of thinking:

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just because a reader likes someone else’s book, that doesn’t mean they won’t like your book too!

If you see success as something scarce, that can't be shared, all you do is make yourself miserable. Because the truth is there IS enough space for everyone. To be specific about writing, just because a reader likes someone else's book, that doesn't mean they won't like your book too! Just because an agent has sold someone else’s book for six figures, doesn’t mean they can’t do the same for the next book you write. There's no limit to the amount of books or writers that readers can admire and enjoy. 

putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you’re feeling negative

It's easy to write this down as a theory - something that's nice on paper, but it's more difficult to change your mindset. So on the days when I'm really struggling with self-esteem and find myself slipping into a scarcity mindset, I have one trick that really works for me. Fake it til you feel it. And the best way to do this is to support others. On the days I'm feeling really down about myself and my writing, I make sure I praise other writers, share their posts on social media, am supportive and helpful to them in any way that I can. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it, sometimes I really just feel like locking myself away and eating a whole packet of Maryland cookies and simmering with envy, but I always feel better afterwards. I really believe that putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you're feeling negative. It's the ultimate mood lifter.

I also try to go back to the writing and remember what I love about it - because for me, it really is the best bit about being a writer. When I’m writing and it’s going well, I find I don’t care at all about how successful or not the book might be. Instead, I’m completely focused and absorbed in my own little created world.

Of course, you can also choose to avoid social media, and lots of people I know do that, but it’s quite hard to do that completely (especially if you have your own book to promote). It’s also tough if lots of people you know are writers too, as you’ll inevitably hear about their success one way or another. So really, I think supporting them as best you can is the healthiest thing to do. Because they will, of course, have felt the same way you are feeling at some point in their writing career - it’s par for the course. Are you even a writer at all if you haven’t felt like a massive failure at some point?!

I hope this doesn't sound super preachy. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live their life - everyone has their own ways of coping with things. But I thought it was worth a blog post, because it is something that helps me, and if there's any chance it might help you too when the green-eyed monster comes to call, then that's gotta be good, right?

And if you have any other tips for coping with professional jealousy, please do share them in a comment below!

You can order my debut, THE RIVAL, hereUNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How losing my job while pregnant inspired my debut novel

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t really talked about the inspiration behind my debut, The Rival, on my blog. So, I thought it’d be good to remedy that! Let me start by saying The Rival is a work of fiction. However, the seed of the idea came from my own experience of new motherhood. One of my friends once told me that giving birth was like being in a car crash, both physically and mentally. It stuck with me before I gave birth, and it proved to be surprisingly accurate.

I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point

I was 33 when I got pregnant, and although my daughter was very much longed for, I was shockingly naïve and had no idea what to expect. I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point – I was a successful journalist and PR consultant and knew nothing about babies, or how to care for them. Once the first few months as a new mum were behind me, I was amazed not to be able to find any novels on this subject, given all the women I knew who were also struggling to forge a new identity as a mum after so long in the world of work. And so I decided to write about them – a story for women who have struggled with this transition, in the face of a working world that is still so stacked against us.

I didn’t suffer from postnatal depression but like many women, my sleep deprivation in those early days reached the point where I started hallucinating at night, imagining the baby was in bed with me when she was actually asleep in her cot, and my moods swung from euphoric to desperate with exhausting frequency.

To add to my stress, I unexpectedly found myself on maternity leave without a job to return to. Sadly, this is an all-too-common situation. It was utterly terrifying: this open-ended new ‘life’ that was completely alien to everything I had ever known, and that I was woefully underprepared for. And when I did secure some freelance work when my baby was only four months old, I was averaging three hours’ sleep a night, none of my ‘work’ clothes fitted me, and I felt exactly as Helena does in the book: a misplaced lump between two stools. Not yet confident as a mother, no longer a career woman.  

... despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become.

It was the strangest time of my life. I had been the old me for 34 years by then, but a mother for only a handful of months, and despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become. I’d never really realised how much my identity was tied up in my work and independence.

Not working was very strange, and in the middle of the night I’d panic that I should be doing something with this time ‘off’. I read on someone’s blog that when you have a baby, it’s OK for you just to be looking after the baby. You don’t have to be trying to hold down a part-time job too, or finishing a long-neglected novel (!), or doing charity work, or whatever it is that you think is necessary to justify your existence as a stay-at-home-mum. That helped, a little. But it was still hard to give myself permission to do ‘nothing’. Even though I was exhausted and probably working harder than I had done in ages – just in a very different way.

I feel like I really lost myself in those early months. In fact, I would say it took a year for my confidence to return. Thankfully, Oli is super supportive and, thanks to the nature of his career, is around a lot more than most fathers. I genuinely believe my situation might have been very different were it not for the fact that I had him by my side every day during those life-changing early months.

Because this is what it boils down to, in my opinion. Support. New mothers need support. They deserve support. It can make a crucial difference - can truly determine whether they sink or swim.

Since The Rival was released last September, it’s been fascinating seeing how readers have responded to it. Many mothers have written to tell me that the feelings Helena experiences in the story echo those they experienced too. Many more people have said it made them cry. Other people have complained that it’s not a thriller, and despite my frustration that no one ever said it was (!), it actually just makes me sad that my message was completely lost on them.

I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world

It’s strange, your debut novel. You pour everything into it - it feels intensely personal, in a way that your second and third novels don’t. I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world, even if it was through a character who isn’t me (I promise!). Those feelings seem so far away now - my whole personality has changed over the past three and a half years, as my daughter has grown, and I’m more than happy in my own skin these days. In many ways then, I’m grateful that I managed to capture those feelings - the raw emotion, the little kernel of truth that was so painful to admit to at the time.

The Rival will always be a special book to me, a marking of time that reminds me how far I’ve come.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.