Considering my last year of literary pursuit

Since there are just two weeks left of the Jewish year of 5773, I’ve been looking back at the last year and evaluating my life on every level: spiritual, physical, and even professional. And one goal still stands out at unfulfilled:

I STILL HAVEN’T PUBLISHED BOOK #2.

This issue depressed me a couple weeks ago, as I sat in front of my journal on Rosh Chodesh Elul (exactly one month before Rosh Hashanah), scribbling about the past year. I’d submitted a few picture books and two novels to multiple publishers and had zilch to show for it.

But then I counted how many times I appeared in print in the last year for pay: over two dozen times (bli ayin hara).

And then, I counted how many words I’d written. Essentially, it was the length of a novel. Wow.

I realized at that point how many more readers — potentially thousands more people — read my work in magazines this year than in my entire previous professional life.

That’s when I felt blessed.

Okay, I still have a major unfulfilled goal. It will be top of my professional goals again for this 5774. But if success is measured in progress, I made a lot of progress last year. And I could only do it with G-d’s help, which makes the year feel very sweet indeed.

How are you feeling about your last year, professionally? What is your top goal for 5774?

How to Cope with Rejection When Your Colleagues are Coping with Success

“Expect rejection.”

     That’s what I was told as I entered the field of the professional writer. Sure enough, the vast majority of us do experience it—and in varied and often humiliating forms–and I was not exempt. I no longer sulk for days if I receive a rejection later (although it might cast a fog of discontent over an hour or two). The more mature of us move beyond tolerating rejection and even learn to appreciate it, and maybe someday I’ll reach that stage. Recently, however, I discovered a facet of the rejection experience that has been less commonly addressed, but needs some attention.
    In the space of a few days, two of my colleagues received contracts for their first books. These are two hard-working artists with talent and skill, who worked very hard to reach this point. I’d shared all the ups-and-downs of these particular manuscripts, so each phoned with their good news soon after they received it.
Meanwhile, I’d been tapping away endlessly on my first novel. I had come to a point where I feared it was unpublishable. What made it worse was that I’d been so preoccupied with writing that novel, I’d sent out far fewer pieces of writing than usual. Not one submission had resulted in a sale. I’d been feeling stuck and frustrated that week when my friends phoned with their exciting book deal news.
     In this situation, I had to make a decision.
     I could have hung up the phone and sneered, “But his book isn’t any better than mine!” or “Why is it always someone else?” I could have given the cold shoulder to my recently-successful friends. But the pleasure would be tiny, and it would be brief. Worse, it could cause the loss of a collaborator, colleague, or friend.
     But there was another choice. It’s best described by one (Yiddish) word: farginen.
     To fargin is the opposite of schadenfreude. Whereas the sufferer of schadenfreude delights in the misfortune of others, the person who fargins another delights in their good fortune.
     There is a tendency in artists of all kinds—writers are not exempt—to experience envy, envy in a deeply unattractive shade of green. Somehow, someone else’s success feels like it has prevented your own. Or maybe you believe your work is more deserving than your friend’s.
     You hear about “fair weather friends,” but some people are “foul weather friends.” There are individuals who like having other people around only when they can feel equal or even superior to them. They feel life is a competition, and they always want to be the one on top.  Taking pleasure in someone else’s successes and good fortune, regardless of your own state of being, is just as much of an expression of unconditional love as is sticking it out with a friend in need.
     To be fargin isn’t always a spontaneous emotion. In most people, it requires practice. You remind yourself that your friend’s success doesn’t prevent your own. You cheer for your friend. You spread the word about their new project. You buy the book as a gift for other friends. You let their success remind you that yours is possible at a future date. After all, G-d can hand out as many book deals (or sales or whatever) as there are people, all at the right time. 
     The more you practice this spiritual muscle, the stronger it will become.


(Update: I wrote the original draft of this piece a couple months ago. Don’t worry–I got some writing/coaching gigs after the dry spell.)