Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Bitter Truth # 8

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 23•13

Bitter Truth # 8

Someone is always going to write better than you.

Make that a lot of someones. And I’m not talking about famous dead authors and Pulitzer Prize winners or high up there writers you can never hope to meet. I’m talking about the cranky oldster in your writing group or the whippersnapper prodigy down the block. Or the woman across town who just landed the 7-figure advance. Since there are millions of people working at writing these days there are bound to be many that write better than you.

You can dwell on this, allow envy to make you judgy and twitchy, or you can acknowledge the facts and write anyway. You see writing brings a lot of joy and solace into our lives, but then along with those cheery aspects there is anxiety, doubt, and envy.

And envy, my friends, is a bitch. It’s your true enemy who needs to be shown the door.

Now you can wallow in envy, or you can write anyway. You can curse the fates that your work will never appear in the New Yorker, or you can keep writing.  Then write some more. Especially on those days when your writing path is potholed and your creativity is choked, this offers little consolation. Keep at it. Write for love, to witness, to  capture truth, or simply to tell a great story. Without looking over your shoulder at the competition, without feelings of jealousy, or competition.

This isn’t fifth grade. This is the writing life. Play the long game.

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  1. True. And no one else can tell your story.

    Really good writers simply delight me. I actually sigh and moan and laugh. What does peeve me sometimes is reading stuff that isn’t that good but somehow hit the big time anyway. Ah, it’s a minor crotchet.

    • Jessica says:

      I didn’t know you crocheted.
      You’re so multi-talented.
      Seriously, hate it when crappy books make money.
      See below my many and sincere gripes about 50 Shades of Grey.
      But I’m getting too old for envy….

  2. Just what I was thinking about this the past week as I prepare to submit a couple of piece. The motivation has to be so strong. Internalized. Stubbornness counts for much and love.

  3. Novelists have two ways of talking about themselves. One in which they do a very good job of pretending to be reasonably modest individuals with fairly realistic opinions of their own powers and not atrociously ungenerous in their assessments of their contemporaries. The second train of thought is that of the inner egomaniac; your immediate contemporaries are just blind worms in a ditch, slithering pointlessly around, getting nowhere. You bestride the whole generation with your formidability. The only thing your contemporaries are doing—even the most eminent of them—is devaluing literary eminence. Basically they’re just stinking up the place. You open the book pages and you can’t understand why it isn’t all about you. Or, indeed, why the whole paper isn’t all about you. I think without this kind of feeling you couldn’t operate at all. The ego has to be roughly this size. I’m not sure it’s true, but I was told by a poet friend that even William Golding can come into a literary party at six-thirty and do a good imitation of a self-effacing man of letters, but at nine o’clock the whole room may be brought to silence by his cry of I’m a genius! Just give him a bullhorn. They may have their little smiles and demurrals and seem twinkly and manageable characters but really . . . Is there anything you’d like to add? Yes. I’m a genius! End of interview.

  4. To be faithful to someone who deserves the acknowledgment, the other thing that kept me going was a man. From 1993 to 2002, I lived with a man who believed in me even more than I believed in myself, and whose determination not only in his own life but on my account was also more ferocious than my own. This was a man—is a man—who doesn’t take no for an answer, and he wouldn’t let me do so either. I owe him a huge debt. I do not believe I’d have been able to keep writing in virtual obscurity nearly as long as I did without him.

  5. Jeff Bailey says:

    You could. I remember at school in the sixties we were being taught Ted Hughes by our English master, who was a bright young man just down from Cambridge. (He was the one who gave me the reading list.) He said, Of course everyone’s worried about what happens when Ted Hughes runs out of animals. We thought it was the wittiest thing we had ever heard. But of course Ted Hughes never did run out of animals; he may have run out of other things, but not animals. If people want to go on writing about historical figures, they can always find some.

  6. Sam Orez says:

    To me it is not important whether others can write better than you. What is important is that there is someone out there who can only hear the story that only you can tell. It is like a lock and a key. And sometimes a story can save your life. So write on.

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