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Happy Jealousy

It would be really easy for me to be jealous of a lot of people in the writing business. Not just “people,” but friends. Friends who have things I don’t.

I have friends who have published more books than I have.  I have friends who write books that make me weep or howl with laughter in ways I despair of ever being able to mimic. I have friends who have enough book contracts to keep them busy for years.  I have friends who have been able to quit their day jobs to write full time. I have friends who have been sent on book tours by their publishers. I have friends on the New York Times Bestseller List.

All of these things are things I want.  Sometimes I want them really, really a lot.  Sometimes, when they tell me their good news I’m supportive on the outside, while inside my soul cries bitter tears of disappointment that it wasn’t me shouting this good news from the rooftops.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  It’s hard not be envious. Those successes always seem to have been more easily achieved by others, while I work my butt off and still can’t catch a break.

But, I’m trying my damnedest to be a Happy Writer, right? Because I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to feel left behind when others are more successful than I am.

Which means I have a choice. It’s well within my right to let insane jealousy build inside of me, growing and festering, immobilizing me, keeping me from growing as a writer (or, in fact, writing at ALL). It’s my choice.

Because I choose how I feel about anything.  And so do you.

When Jealousy Hurts

Envy is one of those “poking” emotions.  It seems to poke at us when we are at our most vulnerable, reminding us with each stab that we are less than what we want to be. That we haven’t achieved  what we want to achieve. That someone else has more than we do.

Sometimes it just keeps coming. Relentlessly.  I once had a week when various people I knew announced:

  • They’d signed with their dream literary agency.
  • They had been offered a 3-book deal on a 50-page partial for their first book.
  • They had hit the New York Times List for the first time.

That same week:

  • My publisher abruptly announced they wouldn’t be picking up the next book in my trilogy.
  • My agent rejected the proposal for a book I was so excited to write.
  • Mandatory overtime at work would be eating up all my available writing time for the next six weeks.

The result? I didn’t really feel like celebrating the success of my friends. In fact, I kind of didn’t like them very much at that moment.

Which made me kind of not like myself very much either.

The problem isn’t jealousy itself. Seeing someone else achieve a goal you want to achieve can be a great motivator! The problem comes when, faced with someone’s good news, we find ourselves sad, depressed, questioning our own dreams and whether we’ll ever reach them.  Or if we should even keep trying.

The problem with jealousy is that it is all about keeping score. Tallying up accomplishments and deciding that they’re the winner and you’re the loser.

The Good News About Jealousy

There’s good news?  Actually, yes!  The good news is there’s a different way to look at it. You can’t stop it. Just give up trying. You’re going to feel jealousy no matter how hard you fight it. But there’s a way to live with it. A new way to think about what you’re doing when the green-eyed monster sinks its claws into you.

When you take score between yourself and another person, and consider yourself the loser, you’ve just taken score too soon.

Picture this: You’re at the ball park, watching your favorite baseball team. It’s the bottom of the 4th inning, and your team is down by three points.  The opposing team suddenly hits it out of the ballpark, a home run with bases loaded!  Now your team is down by seven points. The fans are shouting, “Go Team!” encouraging them to push on.  Ready for things to turn around.

Instead, your team slinks off the field, dejected, and heads for the locker room to change out of their uniforms.  There’s no use going on. The other team is clearly better. Why even bother to try anymore?

Your team forfeits because they decide in the middle of the game that they must be the losers.   Are you willing to forfeit your writing career because someone is ahead of you?

Because there will always be someone ahead of you…

Someone with a book contract.

Someone with a better book contract.

Someone on a list you want to be on.

…and there will always be someone behind you…

Someone who has never completed a novel.

Someone who says they want to write but can’t bring themselves to put a single word on the page.

So don’t take score. In the game of writing, it ain’t over until you quit.

You notice I said until “you quit.” That’s because jealousy isn’t about the other guy and what they do with their writing career. Jealousy is all about you.  What you don’t have/haven’t accomplished/think you can’t possibly be happy without.

This is a good thing.  Because that means you can change it.

I submit to you that jealousy, beaten into submission handled in a rational manner, can actually be a good thing.

You can look at another writer’s success (first sale, hits a list, bigger advance) and you can choose to be inspired!  If they managed to accomplish this thing, that means it CAN. BE. DONE.

Someone made a sale? = Editors are still buying and publishing books!

Someone hit the list? = Readers are still buying books!

After that moment of whininess you allow yourself, you can use their success to prod you on  to trying harder to reach your goals, or you can choose to go to bed and cry that you haven’t reached the same level of “success.”

Which of those options do you think will make you a Happy Writer?

I love this quote from On Writer’s Block by Victoria Nelson:

“The best anecdote for envy is to convert it into fuel for real-world efforts to advance a career. Feeling envious takes energy. When that energy is rechanneled into perfecting the work and actively putting it forward, a negative emotion converts to a positive act of self-realization.”

May we all take that to heart.

For another look at professional jealousy as it applies to writers, check out this article by the ultra-fantastic Jenny Crusie. (She tells it like it is, so be prepared!)

Ever felt envious of another writer’s successes? How did it make you feel?  Were you able to overcome it…or are you still working at it? How can you make professional jealousy work for you instead of against you?

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