Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Nasty Feeling of Not Being Quite That Awesome

I'm a lifelong reader. My mom broke her back slipping on a pile of little Golden books that I had been reading the night before and tossed to the ground as I finished each one.

OK, that's actually a lie - but you're listening now, right?

Because I do have some guilt associated with reading, but it's got nothing to do with my mom. As a reader who decided over 15 years ago to jump into the deep end of the pool and become a writer, I figured out pretty early that the reading experience isn't the same anymore.

It's kind of sad, really. Pre-publication, whenever I read anything that I thought sucked I got angry. Really angry. This person wrote something that (in my opinion) sucked, and yet they had a book deal? Seriously? I could pee a better book. Note - this was before I had actually re-read any of my self-proclaimed glorious and gutsy WIP. I've since read it, and with the benefit of hindsight can assure that I actually sucked worse than the people I was berating at the time.

But there's the flip side of that too. Sometimes when I read something absolutely fantastic, something so mind-blowingly good that I want to read it more slowly to make it last... well, I can't just enjoy it anymore. Now I have to get jealous. I have to think, "Wow, I will never, ever be as good of a writer as this person. I should call my editor and tell them to stop the presses because I'm embarrassed to call myself a writer after reading this. I should write an apology letter to the author of this book, just because I suck. I need to make sure they never read anything I write because I'll be mortified."

Yes, I have those moments. After reading books like THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST series by Rick Yancey, JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey, or THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND by Margo Lanagan, I think to myself, "Yeah Mindy, hang it up. You suck."

So I usually eat a snack and take a nap. Then when I come back to the book I go at it from a new angle - what are they doing that makes it so awesome? Is it the dialogue? Is it the characterization? Is it the plot? Is it their unique voice? What IS IT that is making this book so much more rock-on awesome than anything I've ever done?

And how can I emulate that?

Take your green monster and flip it on its head. Learn from the people that are better than you. Rather than having Writer Envy turn it into a Talent Crush.

And then hope someday they'll blurb you :)

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK is set in a world where freshwater is worth killing for and will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs From the Write AngleBook PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Class of 2k13. You can also find her on Twitter Facebook.


  1. Awesome post :) Soooooo true, too! I have thought the same things many, many times. I love the wisdom to flip jealousy into a talent crush. Superb advice. Thank you.

  2. Oh, wow, how I do know this feeling! After the shame spiral, I usually dig in and figure out what I liked and what might work for my writing style. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Chris - thanks so much! I honestly have moments where I'll read an excellent paragraph and go back over to see *how* they pulled that off. Stuff the jealousy, it just makes you gain weight.

    Romily - "shame spiral" - so apt!

  4. I like the way you pulled the old switch-a-roo on jealousy. Reading a great book just makes me jump up and down and say, "I want to write that way too."

  5. Leslie - me and jealousy, we don't get along so well. I figured out a long time ago it just gives you wrinkles.

  6. So true! Even now, with two of my own books on the store shelves, I still have both of those reactions. I'm still hoping to outgrow them. Yet...

  7. I don't think we ever out grow that little voice of inadequacy inside of us -- but we sure as hell can try!!