A Writer’s Worst Enemy

            Pari Noskin Taichert

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.

Go figure.

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:

http://www.worldrps.com

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.

13 thoughts on “A Writer’s Worst Enemy

  1. JT Ellison

    And here I thought that jealousy was limited to us not yet published types. A good post, Pari. Nice to know everyone suffers from it to some extent.

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Thanks, J.T.I think my training as a therapist sometimes comes out when I think about being a writer. It’s such an odd profession we’ve chosen.

    Now, if I could only figure out how the heck to put in paragraph breaks that STAY in my posts. Argh!

    pari

    Reply
  3. Naomi

    Another interesting essay is “Envy,” written by Kathryn Chetkovich regarding her then-boyfriend, Jonathan Franzen, and his rise to fame. It’s accessible on the Granta website.

    Reply
  4. Brett Battles

    Jealous? Who me? Of course not. Couldn’t be…well, maybe a little…no, no. Not at all….okay, okay. A little maybe…but just a little…or maybe a little more than that…argh!…never mind.

    Great post, Pari. We all suffer from this at one time or another.

    Reply
  5. Pari

    Naomi,Thanks for the new source. I’ll check it out.

    Oh, and, um, Brett . . . I’m certain some people NEVER suffer from envy. One thing I didn’t mention is EGO. If a person’s is big enough, he or she probably doesn’t even realize other writers exist .

    Reply
  6. Elaine

    Well done, Pari! As you said – the trick is to recognize it – and then move on. I doubt there is a writer anywhere (no matter what he or she writes) that hasn’t been been visited by that green eyed monster.

    So who’s the hack with the high six figure contact? .

    Reply
  7. Pari

    Mark and Elaine,

    Jealousy is one of those emotions that fascinates me because it’s so prevalent and we so unwillingly admit our role in it.

    I’m not advocating a whine-fest, just the acknowledgment that we face this particular ugliness and, with any luck, most of us have figured out ways to cope with it rather than letting it take over our lives . . .

    Ya know?

    Reply
  8. Lorraine T.

    If you plug “Green is Not Your Color: Professional Jealousy and the Professional Writer” – by Jennifer Crusie** into Google it will take you to this article. I enjoyed it very much.Thanks Pari for your candid post and for telling me about this article.Lorraine

    Reply
  9. Pari

    Lorraine,Thanks for letting me know about the accessibility of the article; that’s wonderful news.

    I’m very glad you found it useful and appreciate your comment about my candor.

    I debated about writing about jealousy — especially since I thought people might think I was whining about the Agatha or something.

    I wasn’t.

    Jealousy is a subject that has intrigued me for quite some time.

    My best to you,Pari

    Reply
  10. Brett Battles

    It is a fascinating topic, isn’t it? It’s such a visceral emotion, and the foundation of some great characters and stories in fiction.

    And I didn’t even make the Agatha connection, still don’t. My impression of you is definitely not of someone who is driving by jealously. You are open and giving…never worry about what you’re going to write (not that you will.) You are only covering topics we’ve all wondered about…

    Look forward to next week’s post!

    Reply
  11. Iden Ford

    When Maureen and I attended the last Bouchercon in Toronto, my last Bouchercon in a while because I cannot see the benefit of going to a conference where the amount of authors and fans are almost 50/50, I likened it to a body building competition. Who was going to show off their signing lineup muscle the most? One of the authors, who you all know, was leaving the signing area and I overheard her going on to some of her so called author friends about the size of her lineup and how she could not break herself away evey time she got up to leave. Yawn, I was struck by her comments, it was as if she felt that she was in a competition all weekend with her colleagues. Fans really enjoy these conferences, but I say ride your horse in a 45 degree angle away from the crowd, and become a big fish in a small pond. Stay away from anything that will cause comparisons with other authors, their signing line ups, their contracts, its all rubbish. You gotta start somewhere and that is believe in yourself and the integrity of your work, believe believe believe, and be open to feedback. Envy and jealousy are not creative experiences, so why put yourself in situations that create those feelings. Ah, I am rambling here, be a big fish in a small pond, you will move on to larger ponds eventually as long as you keep swimming in the waters of creativity. Write the book, fans will follow.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Brett Battles Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.