Envy and other people’s writing

Have you felt envy as a writer?

I often come across blog posts or books that I wish I’d written. They explain, clearly and in depth, ideas that I’ve been noodling about writing.

I want to have written Aaron’s “What’s better than reading? Re-reading”. Jon Snader (Irreal)’s summaries of Emacs chats, like this one with Karl Voit. Kate Stull’s guide to taking notes at work.

And that’s just from three days of blog posts.

My inner critic goes, “What have I been doing with my life?” and “How do I get there from here?” Then I remember: I’m learning. It’s okay. It’s not a waste of time.

And I haven’t been scooped, haven’t lost an opportunity to explore that thought for myself and create something possibly useful for people. One look at the library shelves or my blog reader, and I remember that there is room in the world for many people writing about the same things.

When the frustration fades, only delight is left.

Reading other people’s words means I can benefit from other people’s perspectives, research, experiences, and styles. I get to write the next step, linking to what’s already been written instead of explaining it myself. I get to recognize what I like without the hard work of writing and revising it myself.

Here’s what I’ve learned from other people’s writing:

I like short paragraphs and short words. I can think of blogs that are more verbose, and those have a different flavour in my mind.

I like practical application. Kate Stull’s guide is packed with tips.

I like specifics and personal experiences. Aaron’s post draws from his life in a way that I’d like to do. When I try it, I feel like I use the word “I” too much, but rewriting sentences can feel awkward.

I like flows. Jon Snader’s summaries go to just the right level of detail to draw interest, I think; much better than my terse list of links and topics.

There will always be a gap between what I can do and what I want to do, and that’s a good thing. It gives me a way to see what I want to practise and learn.

Who makes you envious? Why? What are you doing about it?

Update 2015-02-11: I noticed that one of my recent sketches takes this topic one step further:

2015-02-03 Scooped -- index card #writing #sharing

  • A African proverb: if you wanna go fast, then go alone, if you wanna go far, then go together.

  • Sasha! You are the best. :) It’s an honor for me to appear on your site. Thank you for your kind words.

    To drive your point completely home, I experience this fear all the time. (I think at root, it *is* a fear, of not being good enough or not mattering.)

    Your reflection on your envy is right on the money. A quote I really like is: “don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

    For me that comes in handy by reminding me that everyone else struggles over what to write, too. Even though all I see is the finished product.

    Sometimes I get a feeling of possessiveness over my ideas. As if it was a zero-sum game. “No, that was *my* insight!” But more and more, I’m able to notice when I’m doing that and consider the opposite viewpoint, like you’ve done brilliantly here.

    It’s actually a chance to connect. To engage. To continue the conversation. As James Altucher or Seth Godin would say, it requires moving from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. And it’s a reminder that every person has a unique and valuable perspective.

    I’ve heard James say this, and now I can really understand: your favorite posts aren’t always going to be the ones that resonate the most. I wasn’t as sure about this post in particular as some others I’ve written. What I learn from that is to be generous, not hold out, and be confident in sharing my work.

    James has been a big influence on me in terms of sharing personal stories. I don’t see myself as a great storyteller or metaphorist (that’s a word now ok?), but I am learning!

    That’s the #1 thing to consider in response to envy or fear: understand that the feelings are telling you that you’re on the right path.

    Finally, I wanted to say that Sasha, I enjoy your writing for your insightful introspection, your empathy for yourself and your readers, and your desire to provide helpful tactics that are backed with strategy. I think some people are great at strategy or tactics, but very few are as good at you at illuminating both.

  • jcs

    Thanks for the kind words. Oddly, I wasn’t really satisfied with my summary of your chat with Karl Voit. Ironically, that was because the flow seemed choppy to me so I found your take on it interesting. That goes to show, I think, that we tend to be harsher critics of ourselves than others are. I, for example, find your writing excellent and have often wished I could write longer form posts as easily as you seem to. And as much as you may deny it, I wish I had your seemingly endless energy.

  • JoelMcCracken

    I feel the same way. There have been a ton of times I’ve been thinking about something in the back of my head and seen someone come up with something else. Its a tinge of regret, and indeed jealousy.

    You’re quite right, though. Its great that other people are thinking about and talking about the same things!