One good thing about a year’s worth of quarantine? A lot less FOMO. We’re less afraid of missing out because everyone is missing out. We aren’t worried about being left off the guest list because there is no guest list. And for many of us who were trying to be everything to everyone, this has been a huge relief.
But…now that our attention and focus has been narrowed even more tightly to the screen, we might be noticing a different kind of FOMO creeping up. We’re maybe noticing there are other writers doing a lot during quarantine: publishing or producing with a seemingly endless supply of creative juice, while the project you were working on was cancelled, or postponed, or just feels irrelevant now in this plague world. Maybe all your writer friends seem inspired and you’re stuck. And you feel that nasty green-eyed monster putting his hand on his hips again.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, despite our very best efforts, artistic jealousy affects us all at one time or another. If you’ve never felt the green monster, then you’re a better person than me. Mind you, I genuinely like my colleagues and I want them all to succeed. Most days I subscribe to the “we all win when we all win” mentality, and I truly believe it’s the only way to have a long, rewarding artistic life.
But… no matter who you are, there is probably somebody out there who is kicking more butt than you, and it seems to be happening effortlessly.
Over the years I’ve been jealous of many situations. When I was overworked, I was jealous of those with open, breezy writing schedules. When I was broke and raising two small children, I was jealous of those who had the means to support their writing. When my creative well was dry and parched, I was jealous of those whose muse never seemed to grow tired. When I couldn’t get published by a dream journal, I was jealous of those who did. When I was struggling to sell a manuscript or get a publisher/agent, I was jealous of all the new books birthing.
And…on and on.
I think most of us would never deny anyone else their successes. But in these moments of green it can be tempting to take a snapshot of the process rather than seeing it as a continuum. Instead of congratulating ourselves for what we are accomplishing or where we are in the creative cycle, we compare ourselves with others who may have entirely different circumstances and rhythms.
You might have noticed that the common denominator in all the above examples is me! When I was feeling low, then I was jealous. And for me, that’s the key: if we were having our own gold-star day, then our colleague’s success, muse, money or time wouldn’t affect us at all.
To deny these feelings only stuffs them down deeper and then you end up with hemorrhoids and worse. But thankfully over the years of learning to ride the ebbs and flows of the creative process, I have also learned a few tricks and reframes to keep myself from going down the green spiral:
Don’t pretend you aren’t feeling it. Name it. Call it out. It only has power if you ignore it.
Do something nice for yourself. You wouldn’t be feeling green if you were having a gold-star day, so you probably need a little extra something. I suggest banana splits in the face of all rejections, FOMOS, jealousies, or creatively hard days. Hot fudge helps everything go down easier.
Celebrate yourself. Not the future version of you. You now. We often forget to acknowledge or celebrate what we are doing. Maybe in our discovery, our creative risks behind the scenes. In showing up to the page, even if we don’t feel inspired. At the very least, we can celebrate our ability to be alive and making art at all. Celebrate you.
Learn a new thing. Read. Study. Get curious. Curiosity is the antidote to so many things: jealousy, fear, boredom. And getting curious is not only good for your head, it may also lead you back to a creative discovery. The best way is to try something completely new. Try poetry. Try screen plays. Maybe finally try your hand at flash fiction?
Take a break. It’s okay to mute or unfollow people whose success isn’t bringing you joy. This is not an endurance race. You can change the channel. It doesn’t mean you don’t love others and wish them well. It’s about curating your online experience to support your creativity. Or what about a regularly scheduled social media break? Social media free Sundays?
Creativity is like the seasons. Periods of discovery might be followed by periods of generation, which might be followed by rest and recovery. What we see on our screen is never the whole picture. That woman producing so much material might actually be struggling to write behind the scenes. That writer getting all the accolades today will be quietly looking for their new idea next year.
And finally, if you find yourself feeling a little green this month, like you should be doing something else or that everyone is doing it better than you, remember Georgia O’Keeffe’s best advice ever: “I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”
Meaning: Take all the good days and all the bad days and flush them both down the same toilet and get back to work.
Nancy Stohlman has been a writer, editor, publisher, and professor for more than a decade, and her latest book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, is her treatise on the form. Her other books include The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories and Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, a finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award. Her stories have been anthologized widely, appearing in the W.W. Norton New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and The Best Small Fictions 2019, as well as adapted for the stage and screen and nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. She teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder and at workshops and retreats around the world. Find out more at nancystohlman.com.