Most writers I know won’t fess up to their own professional jealousy. They’re also slightly offended when I bring it up — as if discussing the subject taints the sanctity of our magical profession.
But I’ve been published just long enough to observe something: Jealousy corrodes our creativity. Its handmaidens – pouting, self-pity and an unrequited sense of entitlement – wait in the dark corners of our insecurities, poised and ready to infiltrate our successes and undermine our careers.
The first time I felt professional jealousy (a.k.a. envy) was a few weeks before CLOVIS was sold. An acquaintance of mine had her manuscript go to auction. It commanded bids in the high six figures. My first sale was in the low four figures.
I faced jealousy again right after CLOVIS was published. Another acquaintance was nominated for an award that I thought I deserved (ah, yes, arrogance is a professional hazard, too).
What surprised me most about the absolute ugliness and murk of my reactions were how they affected my writing. Well, that’s not quite accurate. You see, I was so upset, I couldn’t write.
Talk about stupid. Talk about shooting myself in the foot. Talk about digging a hole I couldn’t climb out of.
I was fortunate during those first months of pre-and-post publication. When I expressed my utter dismay at how easily jealousy crept into my life, a more experienced author sent me an article – “Green is Not Your Color: Professional Jealousy and the Professional Writer” – by Jennifer Crusie** Her splendid piece posits that jealousy comes with the profession—any profession—and the trick is to acknowledge it and then move on.
This is good advice.
The fact is there are people who do “get it all.” There are overnight wonders. There are writers who make millions while many of us don’t earn as much as we did when we ran a lemonade stand on our neighborhood street corner.
At some point in all of our careers, we’ll feel jealousy. We’ll all probably be the butts of someone else’s envy as well.
Last week, I felt envy’s corrosive tinge at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. While sitting in the audience at a panel of famous mom writers — I couldn’t even get on a damn panel — I thought, “That’s what I want. I want to be up there answering questions. How come, they get to do it and not me?” Wah.
Later that same day, sitting next to Lisa Scottoline (who’s very nice by the way, damn her), I thought, “I want throngs of people lining up to buy MY books.”
How petty. How unbecoming. How honest.
So, I let myself feel those things for a few minutes. I wallowed. I had that second . . . third . . . um, well, that fourth piece of chocolate.
Then, I carried on.
I allowed myself to enjoy the experience of being an author at one of the world’s largest literary festivals. I relished the sensation of the sun on my face and the pen in my hand when I autographed another one of my books.
Website of the week:
For those of you looking for a gentler form of conflict resolution.
**** If anyone wants to read Crusie’s piece, it’s in Romance Writers Report (also known as RWR) February 2005. Though I’m not sure you can access it online, It’s the best article about this professional pitfall I’ve read yet.