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On Jealousy

One of my least favourite things about being a writer is the comparisons that we make with other writers.

Things like ‘they won an award – and I want one! Preferably the same one’. Or that a writing friend has a new contract with a big 6 publisher, or snagged the agent we wanted. That when they post something on facebook it gets fifteen likes to our eight. That they have more Goodreads reviews than us. Or have a higher rating. Or they got on a panel and we didn’t.

A few weeks ago, someone told me I was living the life they wanted. I blinked. This crazy life of writing at a beat-up kitchen table on a very old computer (with no F key – I wore that one out writing Inish Carraig), fitting writing around work and life and chaos? Were they mad?

But I have books out. I have an immensely enjoyable time as a writer: even if it’s not making me anywhere close to a living, it’s all great fun. Why not want to be me, instead of the award-winning Big-6 published Jo who no doubt exists in another dimension? I can’t be that Jo. (I hope she’s having as much of a blast.) I can only be this one. And to try to be otherwise would break my heart.

Jealousy is soul-destroying behaviour. (It’s also human nature, of course.) It will not help your career or your writing one little bit. So, how do you deal with it?

1. This is your path, your journey and your life.

I know, I know, look at me, all Zen-like. But, really the writing career trajectory is different for everyone. So it’s not you getting the awards this year? It might be tomorrow. Or it might never be. It’s not a reflection on the quality of your writing – it’s a reflection on whether you’ve managed to hit the right tone with the voting public, or if you’re with a publisher who submits books to awards in the first place, or if you’re visible on the forums and conventions, etc, that feed into selection.

2. Wish your friends well – be generous.

Even if, at first, you have to grit your teeth to do it. Jealousy and low feelings hurt only you. They bring your mood low. Make you doubt your self worth.

Plus, also… if you’re a writer, you know this – that person will have worked hard for their success. Sure, a bit of luck might come into play but they’ll have worked, too. Whisper it – perhaps they deserve their break as much as you do. Be generous in your response and know that can never do you any harm.

3. Look down, not up.

You know what? I am incredibly lucky. I have books out that get good reviews (and the odd bad one, which is what a writer looks for, actually – or it should be). I have supportive publishers, who believe in me and my writing. I have lovely, snazzy covers (with a new one to reveal later this month, I hope). Instead of envying those above me – should I be supporting those on their way up and sharing that good fortune?

I still critique on forums (less so than I used to, I don’t like to scare people away and, sadly, being published makes a writer appear more knowledgeable – despite many of the best writers I know never having been published). I get PMs from people looking advice. I have been known to do the odd cover quote for debut writers (and have always been supported in this by other writers, who generously agree to this for me.) I do this because I like it – but also because people supported me, and that support should come around, not sit on my shoulders like a miasma of privilege.

4. Let things take their time.

Those writers you admire and look up to? Chances are, they’re not on their first book. Chances are, by the time you’ve heard of them (unless you’re very clued in to where to find up and coming writers) they’ve lots of writing behind them.

Don’t despair. Don’t feel it will never be you (it might not be, but you don’t know that.) Just because your first book didn’t make the NYT bestseller list? Doesn’t mean your 30th won’t…. And you’re writing because you enjoy it, right? Hold onto that, keep writing, and let it build, slowly and surely.

5. Appreciate what you do have.

Have you a supportive circle? Someone – one person, that’s all it takes – who has taken the time to say they like your writing? Whatever it might be – it matters.

6. Ask yourself what you really want.

For me, becoming a successful writer – as in earning lots of money – would mean losing time to do other things. My work, primarily – and I’m in that rare place of enjoying what I do, having autonomy in what I do, having peer respect and ticking a lot of my Maslow boxes. Do I want to give that up?

Or, an agent? Do I want to be back, constrained in what I can say about what I’m working on, holding secrets about what deals might be being done? I’m not sure. I haven’t decided – and that tells me an important thing. Whilst it might be in my future (I suspect probably will – more to have some support for some of the things I currently do, and free some time) it isn’t what my dream is.

If you’re going to be jealous, be jealous for something you really want.

7. Let it fire you up!  

There is nothing wrong with being competitive. If you see someone getting something you want – that you really, really want – get busy! But do it for yourself, not to bring another down, or equal another’s achievement.

I want to have fun being a writer. I want to have it as part of my identity – and I do. So when I see those awards and the little spike of jealousy ticks me on the shoulder, I tick it back. That’s not where I am, I tell it, not today. If I get there, one day, I’ll enjoy it. But I’m not going to let it define and sour me. Instead, I’ll go congratulate that winner. I’ll share their posts and call out that the book is awesome (if I think it is…) and I’ll cross my fingers that it all goes well for them.

That, for me, is the only way to cope.  


Oliver said…
Love it.
Wore out the F key writing Inish Carraig.

And yes, the green eyed monster can destroy people.
Dragging anyone down does not lift a person up anyway.
Anne Doughty said…
I still owe Jo the positive review I planned on Inish Carraig but I can at least stand up this minute and cheer at this Blog.
I took 23 years to get published, I had one fan, my dear Peter, and a lot of friends who wished me well even if they thought I must be a bit mad.

I'd have earned more washing dishes.

The Society of Authors, PLR and ALCS are now there batting for writers, but you do have to get published first. Don't be afraid to ask for help, I was too shy!
Anindita CSG said…
F key, huh?
I have your book (told you, I think). Going to search F words :).

Enjoying what we do is important. Whatever it is.
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thanks, everyone!

Anne, I wondered about the Society of Authors and if they are worth joining?