How to Deal with Jealousy
I remember when I read Anne Lamott's wonderful, pithy and straight-talking book
on writing, Bird by Bird, reading about when Lamott had her first book published,
and having the experience of dealing with jealousy. Writer friends who had stood
at her side through all the struggling years before the first publication suddenly
turned on her, vicious and desperate. And Lamott wrote, too, about her own
feelings of jealousy, for example, when she found out that some people did not
always have to go through the same agony of the writing process that she did.
I thought at the time that I was "above" jealousy. I figured that I might see people
turn on me for my success, though I told myself that this would just be proof to tell
me who my "true" friends were and were not. Then I could keep all my true
friends, dump the other ones, and be a happy, successful writer. As for my own
jealousy, I couldn't imagine having to deal with anything like that. I was a good
person, generous and clear-thinking. I had celebrated the successes of friends who
were published before me without a twinge because I believed strongly in myself.
This view of myself was largely right, for a while. Then some crappy stuff
I had a contract for a revolutionary knitting book for kids with an easy no cast-on
method that I invented myself. Canceled, and no one bothered to tell me until a
month before the book was due out, after I had spent hundreds of hours knitting
samples, taking pictures, drawing illustrations, and of course, writing. The next
year, I walked into the bookstore and found a book on knitting out by the same
publisher with some suspiciously similar projects in it, credited to an in-house
Then, after my first book sold, I spent two years trying to satisfy an "option" clause
with my first house with a second book. Finally, I gave up and started searching
for another house with an editor who might appreciate my darker, older fantasies.
But the same thing happened again. My option book was rejected, after I'd worked
on it for two years. My agent sold that book two weeks later (bless him!) and I had
a third house for a third book. Not a good track record. In the midst of working (at
last!) on a sequel, my lovely third editor was let go and I am now working with a
At the same time, I had to deal with low sales, occasional nice reviews (and some
bad ones), the local Barnes and Noble refusing to stock my book, the local
independent store refusing to answer my emails asking if I could come do a book
signing there, and generally being considered a nobody. I dealt with seeing other
writers around me suddenly hit fame and fortune with first novels that I thought
were only mediocre, getting movie deals and being seen as celebrities that I was
lucky to know.
And I felt jealousy myself. It is not a pleasant feeling. It makes it difficult, in
perfect honesty, to go to conventions and talk to other writers, congratulate them
on successes, and listen to their stories of all the reasons that it is so "hard" to be in
so much demand.
How do I deal with this feeling of jealousy? There are a few different ways. I
don't know which to recommend, because I use them all at different moments. A
list of things I tell myself:
1. That any author's success is my success, because it brings people to books
instead of other things they could be spending their money and time on.
2. That my books will outsell others in the long run, because my good writing will
be appreciated in the future.
3. That I am writing a particular kind of book that may not be for the masses. It's
the kind of book I love, and that's all right with me.
4. That I write for the pleasure of writing first and foremost, and that what happens
after that is not something I can control.
5. That flukes happen. Were hula hoops the best toys ever invented? Maybe not.
But there was a time they outsold everything else. It's unpredictable.
6. That there is something to learn from every bad book that is a commercial
success. If I can figure out what that is, I can write the books I want to write and
have more success, as well.
7. That I don't want fame and fortune. I don't want to be stalked and sent
thousands of emails a month by fans who want to tell me what to write in my next
book. It wouldn't be worth it to me. I just want to earn enough to justify spending
my time writing, and to keep being published.
8. That bad things will happen to whoever it is I am jealous of, to even out the law
of fairness in the universe. (I warned you that I can't recommend all of these
strategies, but I am admitting the truth here, and I do sometimes tell myself this.)
9. That I will eventually get my turn in the sun and I will be much better prepared
for it then than I would have been if it happened to me with my first book.
10. That I do other things in my life besides writing: music, knitting, quilting,
triathlon, drawing, raising children. Writing can't be the only thing I derive my
self worth from.
Maybe you will be above all professional jealousy in writing. If you are, though,
that will be something else for me to be jealous of.
Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison