Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Letting Go

"Tyson has served time for rape, bitten Evander Holyfield's ear, tried to break another fighter's arm and threatened to eat the children of former champion Lennox Lewis."
--from an article about Mike Tyson assaulting a cameraman in Brazil
When my friend sent me the above quote last month, I had coincidentally been pondering my own fierce competitiveness. I'm so competitive, I can turn on ESPN-2 in the middle of the night, watch a sport I've never seen before, and within five minutes be cheering wildly for one side and cussing out the other.

But competitiveness has little place in the world of writing. We're supposed to be unswervingly supportive of each other, providing cheerleading squads that gush and squee when other writers score a deal. We form unions and associations to advance our rights or promote our genres. We're all in this together, right?

Experienced authors seem to love to give contradictory advice. They say, "Don't compare yourself to other writers," while simultaneously commanding us to "study the market." Studying the market means finding out what sells and, in many cases, how much it sold for. I find myself flipping through issues of Locus, Romantic Times, and Publishers Marketplace thinking, "I hate him, I hate her, I really hate them..." The only authors I unambivalently root for are the other Luna writers, because they're part of my "team." When their books sell well and get great reviews, it makes us all look good.

I could go all Mike Tyson and be the world's first trash-talkin' fantasy author. When I score a deal of my own, I'll do a little Ray Lewis-style dance over the paperbacks of my fellow writers, or I'll pretend to moon the other authors' fans, a la Randy Moss.

But this competitive instinct isn't based in reality. Publishing isn't a zero-sum game. If another author finds success with a book similar to mine, it creates or augments a market. It whets the appetites of readers for more. Most readers I know don't say, "I love this kind of book, but I can only read one, so I'll take this and not the other." More likely they'll say, "I love this kind of book and read everything like it I can get my hands on to feed my craving." Books aren't dishwashing liquid.

More important, the competitive instinct has a way of gnawing out our guts. It breeds envy, insecurity, and arrogance--none of which are great fuel for creativity or happiness.

At a New Year's Eve party Saturday night, all the guests were offered the chance to take part in a Burning Ritual. We were to write the name of something we wanted to "let go" on pieces of flash paper, which were then collected, placed in a pot and set on fire (outside, of course).

On my tissue-thin sheet of paper I wrote, "Competitiveness with and envy of other writers." It and all its friends went up in a flame so bright the outline is still etched on my retina. I'll always remember that moment, how cleansing it felt to just let go of the hateration, let go of Me vs. the World.

Excuse me now while I go yell at grown men and women sweeping ice.



I LOVE curling! When I was in Buffalo, it was always on late night Canadian TV, and I wouldn't turn it off.

I really like the buring ritual too. I feel kind of selfish now, because all I wrote down was "My job." I guess it does entail rededication to the search. I've been slacking off on lateley.

And I did write something different than the last three years.

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 1/04/2006 8:57 PM

Andrew, I don't think there are more or less selfish choices when it comes to the burning ritual. We each know what's dragging down our souls/psyches, and those things we cling to don't just hurt us as individuals.

So do you think you've let go of the one you wrote for three years, or did you decide that you didn't need to let go of it after all? (wry smile)

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 1/04/2006 9:09 PM


It was some of both, I think. All and all, though, I accomplished what I set out to do.

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 1/05/2006 9:51 PM


Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 1/05/2006 9:59 PM

Is that a wry emoticon?

Posted by: Blogger Rob S. at 1/06/2006 12:10 AM

No, it's sincere. Wry would be with a semi-colon ;-)

But I hit the Shift key because I'm genuinely happy for Andrew and wanted to express it in a succinct and friendly fashion. Any words I tried to use sounded lame. Hence the :-)

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 1/06/2006 7:27 AM

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