When I was a young girl in school there was a teacher who used to say, “Keep your head down and focus on your own work.” I’m pretty sure she was trying to dissuade us from cheating off of one another’s papers, but I think this saying applies equally well to maintaining sanity while pursuing a career as a writer. It’s terribly easy to become distracted by the noise: the manuscripts that other writers are publishing, the amount of money they’re being paid or the grants or accolades that they are being honored with, sometimes even just the book that they are finishing when you are feeling stuck. But being a writer is not a race, or, though it may sometimes feel this way, a competition. There is plenty to go around. It’s not easy, by any means, but try to keep your head down and focus on your craft, on the project that inspires you, on the kind of book you want to be writing. Measuring yourself and your work against other people’s success is not a healthy way to live a life, or create a career. I’m not suggesting you write in isolation or avoid ambition, but I think that it is easy to get sidetracked by what everyone else seems to be getting and doing. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for your career is to turn your attention on your own work, and make your book the best that it can possibly be.
—Julie Barer of the Book Group