Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Writers and Jealousy

I've always thought that writers are more competitive and jealous than other people, but is it really true? Don't bond traders envy the guy in the next office when he makes a big, I don't know, trade? Don't underwater photographers secretly want to kill the guy who takes a picture of the rare anopheles carbunculus squid? Maybe, but writers' jealousy seems to have a special potency. Once an ex-boyfriend of mine published a story collection to some acclaim, and I told a writer friend about it. "Oh, my god," said my friend. "I'd kill myself if I were you."

Writing is so hard, and publishing so uncertain, and awards and recognitions so danged scanty, that it's hard not to feel that the success of a fellow writer really does make one's own success less likely. And with writing, you can't exactly tell yourself, "Oh, well, so and so just got lucky." Well, you can tell yourself that, but you know it's not exactly true. It's not like manuscripts are published at random. If my most loathed enemy gets a book published, I have to admit that at least a few people -- agents, editors, publishers -- think she's pretty hot stuff. And those people have probably already rejected me.

Though I have been quite prostrated by jealousy at times, I haven't killed myself: I'm still around, and my writing friends, ex-friends, acquaintances, classmates, spouses, and rivals continue to publish copiously. Jealousy, I've come to realize, is just an occupational hazard, like carpal tunnel and bad health insurance. You either have to learn to deal with it or you have to quit.

How to deal with it? One thing I try to remind myself that the publishing industry is a big, ever-hungry mouth. It eats up and swallows this year's books, but it needs a whole bunch more for next year. And who knows what it will want next year, or the year after? Maybe me! (This also works well for those of us who feel faint upon entering a big-box book store, thinking, Oh, no, there are too many people writing books!!)

Another thing I tell myself is that even if I'd decided to follow one of my other dreams and become an archeologist or a hobo, these people would still publish their damn books, only I wouldn't know them. And I'd still want to try and write, because it really doesn't have anything to do with them at all.

Hey, maybe writers aren't more jealous than everyone else -- maybe they just talk about it more...


Lori said...

Spouses, plural?

Please elaborate.

the individual voice said...

I think of envy as just one more emotion that we all experience at times over many things and have to just find ways to talk ourselves out of, because it only hurts us. I think envy arrives in any arena that we care a lot about and don't think we have enough of it, whether its recognition, money, a big house, a best seller, five healthy babies, whatever.

5 Red Pandas said...

I've definitely felt jealousy. Who hasn't? I try very hard not to talk about my various jealousies because if I did I'd probably say something that would come back to haunt me. I don't drink enough alcohol to be able to blame any of my rantings on drunkenness.

I don't think I've had the opportunity to make people jealous, but I did have an ex-bf who was jealous of me. At the time I didn't talk about my writing very much because it was still this secret I kept, but he found a notebook of mine and instead of respecting my privacy he read parts of it and then confronted me with it. Instead of apologizing to me he was incensed that I dared to write- and not tell him! He was pissed off that I was now competition for him and he became inconsolable when I was accepted into our school's writing program and he wasn't. He said the only reason I got in was because I was a woman and of Asian descent. After I broke up with him and started the program the head of the program asked me about my ex and when I told her that I'd broken up with him she said, "Oh thank god! He was horrible." Wow. I knew it was bad, but not that bad.

I wish the story ends there but years later I was googling my own name (yes, embarrassing) and I found an internet link to a poem that was dedicated to me. Hmm, who's writing poems about me, I thought. OMG! It was the ex! He'd written a poem and used my full name, which is very uncommon, and the poem was about me telling him that I'd had a dream in which my father revealed that he was bisexual while he was baking 60-something cookies. It was pretty horrifying, and I kept picturing my dad punching this guy if he ever found out about the poem because my dad loathed him. My father might be a merchant marine, but he's also a reader and he knows what's crap and what's not.

I wish it ended there, as well, but after more digging on the website I found that he had written a story years before, but just gotten around to posting it. Which was odd because I don't plan on posting any of my college crap. Well, he must have thought this story was a winner because he posted it 8 years after the fact. In the story he basically talks about all the women who'd wronged him. Of course I was one of them and he kindly described me exactly- not many 1/2 Taiwanese 1/2 Irish women out there- so that I could figure out which one I was. He wrote that he'd loved me, but that I was a stuck up know-it-all bitch who lived a privileged life in Manhattan. That part about my having grown up privileged in Manhattan made me laugh because, well, someone should have told my mother all those years she worked in garment district sweatshops to help support us! The worst part is that at the end of the story he goes on to describe the narrator taking revenge on the last woman who had crossed him and he kills her.

So, if I ever become jealous I remind myself not to go there. There's healthy jealousy that spurs us on to greatness, and then there is psychotic jealousy.

Anonymous said...

Whoaa...that's a sad dude there, and a delightful story.

BTW, one should never be embarrassed to have self-Googled!

Pete said...

As Morrissey once crooned, "We hate it when our friends are successful." I've never been a fan of the singer, but I've always lOVed that line, so much so that I just had to shoehorn it into the novel I'm writing.

Louis said...

It's probably best to be so focused on the work that you don't worry about if it's any good or not.

tmgray (on the NaNo site) said...

Thanks for the article. I'm still completely and totally sick from jealousy, but this helps me a little. I need all the help I can get since we're only 8 days into NaNo. Good luck this year on that!