One of the best pieces of writing career advice I can offer is the simple observation that everything is relative. This includes your level of success in this business; no matter what you’ve achieved, you’re somewhere on a ladder of success whose rungs are defined by your own perception. And as a result you’re never wholly satisfied, and you always feel like you’ve got a ways to go—or at least I do.

The first rung was finishing a story, any story. That moment when you realize you’ve actually created a narrative with recognizable characters, plot, and resolution is pretty thrilling. Then you think, gosh, it would be nice to see some of my work in print. And then you get a story published in some non-paying zine or something and you’re thrilled!

And then you think it would be nice to be paid for a story. And then you get a few dollars for a story, and you realize you’re now a working writer, even if you just got less than a penny a word and might not be able to buy a coffee with the check. And so on—you get your first pro-rate paycheck, you publish a novel, you sign a contract, you get an advance, you sit on a panel, you’re invited to an anthology—all of these are rungs on that ladder. You ascend to one and realize you’ve achieved something not every author manages.


It’s easy to look up at all the rungs above you and the writers hanging out there and get wound up about it. Your book sales are middling. Your awards shelf is empty. You didn’t have that genius twist that everyone is talking about. You don’t have that many Twitter followers, your book wasn’t adapted into a film—there’s always a rung above you. Usually a few dozen rungs.

But, and this is important, you have to look back and realize how many writers never finish that first story. Never sell—or, sometimes, even try to sell—that first novel. You might feel like your career isn’t going so well or as well as it could or should be, but to someone further down that ladder you look like an incredible success, you with your many publishing credits, your actual checks for actual money, your award nominations and name recognition.

The point is, if you’re even on the damn ladder someone is jealous of you.

None of this means you shouldn’t be jealous and ambitious. By all means, scheme to become as rich and powerful in the writing business as possible so you can crush

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