Move from writer envy to inspired student

The Princess Bride. You’ve probably seen the movie, but have you ever read the book?

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a story as much as I did reading The Princess Bride this past week. William Goldman wrote his novel of “true love and high adventure” back in 1973. It was later made into a movie which has gone on to become a classic. I’ve seen the movie, but this is the first time I’ve read the book.

I could not put it down.

As I read the novel, I saw everything that I’ve learned about the craft of writing good fiction, there on the pages of this story. Goldman wrote the story in a unique way: he is abridging the manuscript of a story to the way his father told it to him when he was a boy. Whole chapters were never read to him and his intent is to rewrite the novel to his father’s specs. The joke is that all of this is fiction. The Princess Bride didn’t exist before Goldman created it. He uses this literary device to write the novel in a wildly entertaining way.

It’s novels like this one that cause me to be both inspired and want to give up writing. For in the same breath I find myself saying, “Oh, how I’d like to write a story that people will love, too” and “No, I’ll never have anything published with writers like this out there.”

I’ll bet you’ve felt that way, too, after reading an excellent piece of writing.

The good news is that you and I are not called to write a story like The Princess Bride. William Goldman is the author of many award-winning stories and screenplays. Read his biography here. He’s prolific, well-seasoned, a writer in constant demand.

Wishing we could write like this author or that author is vanity. Imagine if everyone could write like William Goldman or if everyone could write like you. Where would the delight be in reading a novel, short story, poem, or anything else written, if you could pick up another and another, and read the same?

After I got over my initial jealousy, I began to read like a student rather than a competitor. I paid attention to how he made it a great story.

You and I will never write stories like Goldman (or insert your favorite authors’ names). And that’s okay. What we can do is aspire to write stories like Goldman wrote his: with a desire to entertain the reader. How can we do that? Just like Goldman did: with a love for writing and telling stories, and with our unique styles, experiences, quirks, and ways of seeing the world.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the great writing you read, and ugly jealousy and envy cause your creativity and confidence to wane, remember to make it a learning experience rather than a competition. There’s nothing to win when there’s no one playing against you.

I think William Goldman wants me to admire his work and use it to spur myself on as a writer. He’d probably hate to know that it caused me to doubt myself even for a moment.

Let’s ignore that temptation to writer’s envy and jealousy. Instead, let’s allow great work to inspire us to great works of our own.

I have a feeling that Goldman is rooting for us.

How do you deal with envy and jealousy in your writing life?


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