As writers, how do we handle it when others succeed? How should any professional handle it? You know, the lady two booths over from Jan Karon who was writing the romance? And still is. Or the guy whose submission came in right after Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October?
You know the story. The fame-train is rolling down New York tracks, pulled by that annoying little Engine-That-Could. Inside car “Celebrate,” some giddy gal or loopy guy is waving a book in one hand and a contract in the other while the publishing porter pours “I’ve-never-been-so-happy” into crystal fairy glasses.
But you put on a smile that’s wearing thinner than last year’s political promises and tell them it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. Ignore that Grand Central P.A system in your head, booming, “You! Success should happen to you!” The scene fades as we politely applaud from the platform and their train pulls out.
Meantime your dream Pullman has been hitched to “Wreck of the Ole 97” for the short, dark ride to the “slush pile” where ink goes to fade and stories go to rust. The only drink served in your honor is warm soda without the fizz, and agents remind you the industry’s shrinking and kids don’t read anymore.
Given this scenario (and keeping sharp objects out of reach), how do you make your salutary expressions heartfelt? How do we congratulate without one’s nose going all “Cyrano de,” and turning that shade of green everyone associates with bitter limes? There are some methods, my friends. Some not quite as serious as others.
Stop hanging with crowd “success.” Avoid J.K. Rowling’s coffee shop, Jan Karon’s writers clique or anyone who’s won an award for anything. Remember a small fish looks bigger in a small pond. Or put another way, a glamor shot can lift anyone’s spirits, but not if you insist on having it taken at the Miss America beauty pageant. (Or Mr. Universe for the males.)
You could remember a line from the 2012 movie, Unfinished Song. "What makes a song beautiful is not always the quality of the voice but the distance it has had to travel." The same hold true for writing. Learn from others’ success and your failure. Each failed attempt, every rejection adds a bit of character to your writing voice. True, some of us must sound like John Wayne gargling bourbon over broken glass by now, but we are getting more unique.
Or you can steal a chapter from a guy named John, who had the unenviable task of lead act for Jesus Christ. John watched the people who had listened to him turn and follow the Nazarene. When his disciples complained, John told them, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
For a Christian writer, this doesn’t necessarily mean we go nowhere. It does mean that every voice in the market on behalf of Jesus Christ is a victory for all. It means success is getting someone on that train to promote His Golden Rule, via story. It means every successful book out there grows readers who will want more.
Finally, it means that just the act of writing is enough. It’s our labor’s fruit to offer God. Our spikenard broken over Him. And if our Pullman doesn’t leave the station in this world, it will in the next, and to greater acclaim. All aboard?