Dear Story Nurse,
A really awesome opportunity has come up for a writing submission, but I’m aware that it’s going to involve going up against a friend who is also submitting (and I already have some difficult emotions about due to their comparative success). I don’t know whether it’s better to avoid the chance of direct competition exacerbating my already difficult feelings by not submitting, or to try it knowing that the consequences could be extremely tough to take. At the same time, I’m also aware that if I don’t try for this opportunity, that is still going to have an impact on my mental health. I don’t want to let my bad feelings bully me out of something that I’m really excited about, but I also don’t want to risk my mental wellbeing for one opportunity.
Hopeless Romantic (she/her)
Dear Hopeless Romantic,
I don’t think this is a question someone other than you can answer, so I have some questions in return that might help you clarify what the right choice is for you.
What has made this particular situation a focal point for you?
What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you in this situation? What can you do to avoid or prepare for that scenario?
How serious are the possible consequences to your mental health of the various possibilities? What can you do to prepare for those and address them if they happen?
If your work does not get accepted, it will be because someone turned it down, or because you decided not to send it in. That would be true regardless of whether your friend was submitting; it would be true if you were the only one with the opportunity to submit, or if you were one of a thousand. So which is worse: having your work rejected by someone else, or rejecting your own work?
Why is your focus on your friend, and not on the people who are reading the submissions and making decisions about which ones to accept?
Is your friend really a friend to you? Are any of these anxieties related to being unhappy with the state of that friendship?
How common are opportunities like this one? Can you just wait for the next one, or is this something really rare and special?
What does your ideal career path look like, writing-wise? What can you do to bring it about? Will submitting to this opportunity take you in the direction you want to go?
Is there a way to devise a writing career path that never puts you in direct competition with anyone? If not, how can you become more comfortable with the existence of that unavoidable competition?
Do you have supportive writing buddies who cheer you on? If not, can you start looking for some? Mutual support is a great antidote to professional jealousy.
What can you do to help yourself feel better about your writing, and about yourself as a writer?
What can you do to shore up your mental health in general?
I hope that thinking about these questions and the ideas that they bring up will help you zoom out a little from your tight focus on your anxiety around this situation and place it in its broader context. A lot of my questions are aimed at deciding on actions you can take and plans you can make, to remind you that you have more control in this situation and in your writing career than you think you do.
If you decide that submitting to this call is the way to go, I wish you the very best of luck.