Monday, December 26, 2011

The Dangers of Rivalry - Part 4 (To My Rival(s), With Love - Or, How Letter Writing Helps Us Heal, Whether we mail them or not

To read Part 1: Click Here
To read Part 2: Click Here
To Read Part 3: Click Here

Hope everyone had a good holiday. I really felt at peace this Christmas, something I could not say with any honesty last year, and DEFINITELY not the year before that, and while I wish I were less touchy than I was, it was the first Christmas since the start of my 20s when I never cried once, and I truly was grateful for what I have in my life, yet at the same time, not punish myself for feeling empty of things I missed.

I know many of you find cooking at the holidays stressful, but I truly love it, the only real stress is sharing a frustratingly small kitchen with two relatives, who wish I could attain the physics-defying speed of Sonic the Hedgehog in terms of cooking and cleaning, otherwise I've felt nothing but joy from the kitchen. 

For those of you who've been following my rivalry series this month, you know that I've touched on how rivalry stopped my growth as a writer, and how it stole the joy of reading the books who inspired me to write myself. I knew I had to resolve this issue or I'd never move on in a healthy way.

That said, I had NO IDEA how, even as I began this series on the dangers of rivalry, but over the weekend, on Christmas Eve in fact, I made a decision, that for me, will be the first proactive step I've made this year to lay the foundation to getting my joy back: writing letters to my rivals.

In part 3, I suggested ways you can calm and eventually revert the negatives effects of rivalry and turn them in to something positive.

Let's take that a step further. Write a letter to the writers you feel envy or rivalry towards in the first place.

Since it's not likely the writers you feel inferior and/or envy to are people you know or can contact (Especially if they're dead)  and you really don't want to be a jerk, especially if envy aside, you love their books and you wouldn't have learned the love of storytelling if not for their work, but you're just tired of being compared or accused of copying them, when you are trying to be you, and at the same time "learn" from them without becoming a paranoid mock-scholar, and unless you're really sure of yourself, doubt and frustration can turn the most sensible writers into envy-ridden maniacs.

Writing them a letter, yet not mailing it, may give some sense of closure, or at the very least lets off steam in a private way.

I've been there more times than I care to admit, but I admit it often on T.A.A. Not to bore folks with my ranting, but in hopes that other writers who've had to suffer similar frustrations, know they aren't alone, especially if you don't respond well to the "Boot Camp" style of instruction/feedback found in many critique groups in workshops. 

While no one likes to deal with whiners, the same is true for people who come off as self-absorbed know-it-alls, who have no empathy for others who struggle at something that's common sense to them, and it's no way to treat anyone, especially when they're doing their best, even if it's not at your level or conforms to your way of doing things. We all need to be mindful this. You'd be surprised how easily you can become the type of person you despise most yourself. 

Trust me. I've been there, hard as I tried to avoid it, but I've learned from that ordeal, and now I just have to put into practice more often...

Anyway, here's some pointers to keep in mind to make this letter writing a positive experience in self-discovery and self-healing-

1. Put Out an I.D.T. R. ( a.k.a. I.D. the Top Rivals)
Make a list of all the writers you admire/envy/get compared to in critiques. Of those writers, pick a top list of 6-10. It can be less than 10, but go for an even number, the reason why brings us to step 2 below-

2. It's time to play "Which Writers are not like the Others"
Narrow down the list down to writers whose books you've actually read. It's easier to be honest with yourself in this exercise if you've read book by  the writers you're compared to and/or admire. It also keeps you from demonizing them, which is something that's easy to do, especially when you feel the writers you're being lumped with aren't as similar to your work as others claimed.

3. Write each writer a personal letter
That's right, a simple, informal, business-free letter. You know, the kind our ancestors wrote before e-mail and Skype. Now if you're handwriting sucks like mine, feel free the compose on the computer. The point here is to write our rivals a personal letter, something we'd write to people we know, and for the purpose of this exercise, LIKE or respect, but don't have to be all business with at all times.

4. Be Honest
This simply means to be real with why you feel animosity towards certain writers. Things they do better than you. 

-Aspects of craft they just get on a deeper level than you at present.

-Are able to dig deeper into emotions and experiences you aren't able to yourself.

-Can push the envelope in ways you simply can't conceive of doing yourself--and not necessarily for lack of trying on your part either.

-Are simply more business-savvy than you. (Even if unlike me, you understand it without going nuts, even if you still recoil at this aspect of the process)

Even though you know (Exceptions to the rule aside) most writers had to start at square one, meaning that they were rookies at the very aspects of the craft or business you and I a struggling with right now, and many are happy to tell you still are, it can still be a bit sobering to watch others in your field find things you're having self-pity conniptions over "no big deal" since they exude such confidence and/or respected reputations, and have satisfied readers to prove it.

That doesn't mean they don't put in the same level of care to raise the bar on their goals, but I do think the way writers measure, and think of success changes over time. 

While you know achieving this level of grace, humility, and understanding took time, unless you started writing yesterday, you've been at this for some time yourself, and if you're stuck at a level that's not helping you, but not hurting you either, you can't help but ask yourself: What don't I get?

Only you can answer this question for yourself.

For me, while I get nothing about this is easy, it would be nice to not feel so lost all the time, don't you think?

5. Be Respectful
While we're not going to actually mail these letters, electronically or otherwise (Even if the writer's still alive), it's important to write these letters with respect for said writer(s), especially if we loved reading the books they wrote in the first place, yet now find it hard to remember how much we did, and still appreciate the joy or solace they gave us when we read them, and I suspect many writers were strictly readers first, and the passion to write came later--at least in terms of making a career in this field.

This is certainly true for myself.

Remember, the point of this exercise is to face our fears and frustrations, and set ourselves free of the pain we carried, and being honest yet respectful in these letters will help you get real, and at the same time, allow yourself to get these feelings out so they don't eat away at you, move on from them, but acknowledge they were no less real than if someone you know personally had hurt you, directly or otherwise.
Think of it like giving or receiving (non-abusive) feedback on others work. 

Hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you plan to try this experience for yourself, feel free to share your general overall results as well, but remember, these letters are for your eyes only. 

Though if you have a writer's group, it might be a fun exercise to share amongst your members, with the strict understanding that these letters are only meant for the eyes of the group.

Until next time,


  1. Taurean, I'm glad you enjoyed Christmas this year, and I'm also glad you are in a better place writing wise. It seems like you are finding ways to get past the things that were blocking you, and the fact that you are sharing what helped you is a great way to pay it forward to other writers. :)

  2. Thanks Kelly. I am hanging on as best I can.

    I'm glad of your successes this year, you deserve that new 2-book deal, and you've worked hard and long for it.

    I know you'll return the favor when my time eventually comes, won't you?

    I'd wanted 2011 to be the start of a revolution.

    Instead, it was another year of slow evolution, and even some regression thrown in.

    But as I said in my post today, it was what I needed to go through, or I'd never learn to move on in a healthy way.

    Now with the holidays dying down, I can better focus on my writing.

    I may have began 2011 as mopey, self-centered child, but I can end 2011, and go into 2012, as a grateful, and less manic person, who's at least a smidgen more grown up.

    Ciao for now,

  3. Taurean, you know I'll return the favor. I'm in your cheering section. :)

    Thank you very much for the gift too! I have to figure out how to work it since I've never used that before, but I am sure I'll love it. It was so sweet of you to think of me.

  4. Good to hear you've had a nice Christmas, Taurean. :)

    (Seawater from WR)

  5. Merry Christmas, Taurean. I'm glad you had such a lovely Christmas. I absolutely adore Christmas, so I always want people to love it as much as I do! :)