Writers, how do you cope with being jealous of other writers?
May 2, 2013 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Folks I know get published! Yay them! Go them! But shamefully, it.. the ...the flames, flames...on the side of my face...breathing...heaving breaths. How do I tame my inner envy monster?

So, once in a while I hear about a contemporary writer who got A Big Publishing Deal and because I know them via FB and twitter, I am carpetbombed with their understandable pushing of their book. I feel guilty even considering blocking them, because I want to be proud of them. But ZOMG the red mist after I get the fourth message about a different book signing or press clipping or whatever. Writers, you who are more sane than I, how do you deal with it?
p.s. I am in therapy, so, got that covered. Also, I am not jealous of any metafilter writers. Seriously. Just real-life people. Really.
posted by angrycat to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have dealt with this by cultivating an intense and genuine interest in the mechanics of publishing, and look at all of those promotional tweets through that lens. It helps with the rage, and it's fascinating besides!

(I totally feel you. My writing partner got solicited by an editor at a major publisher six months after we started meeting. It's NOT FAIR. Although her book is awesome.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:13 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: I don't see what's wrong with muting them after the third message. Easy way to manage your feelings; doesn't injure anyone. I can imagine someone being upset if they knew, but they are heedlessly repeating themselves to someone for whom three times were enough.

I don't think either of you is particularly in the wrong in this scenario.
posted by grobstein at 4:13 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: Remind yourself that your successful friends are going to help your career down the road. They'll be blurbing your books, writing you recommendations for Yaddo, introducing you to their agents, etc. And you'll be doing the same for them. Think of it as building a team of writer-friends, so that instead of you vs. the friends it's you and the friends vs. the rest of the world.
posted by brianconn at 4:19 PM on May 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that helps me is when I see writers/artists -- especially those I like and respect -- reacting with envy or bitterness towards their colleagues. When I see how petty it makes them look, and how diminishing and anti-creative it is, not to mention a gigantic waste of time, I picture myself from the outside, behaving like that, and it bolsters my resolve to not be that way myself.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:30 PM on May 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Step One:

Realize when you get a book deal, signings, events you will be posting just as much stuff as they are. So they aren't doing anything abnormal by posting about these events, it's just promotion and they are proud. You would be proud too. You already said pushing their book was understandable.

However if they keep inviting you to events and get that pushy, then that's just annoying no matter what event or thing it's for. (I have people like this...)

Step Two:

Block. You can not have it show up on your Facebook newsfeed without blocking the person entirely. You can check back with them if you want but it doesn't need to keep popping up in your life and annoying you.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: Here is how I do it: by acknowledging that the primary reason I don't have A Big Publishing Deal is that I have made a conscious choice not to make the sacrifices it would take to do this. I know the single-minded purpose it would take for me to succeed in this arena, and my family time and other interests are too dear to me to pay that price at the moment. And my privacy. At another moment in my life, that balance might shift for any number of reasons. But for now, A Big Publishing Deal isn't in the cards. Jealousy is easiest to forgo when you are clear that what you desire is often not the same thing as what you actually want.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It can be hard to see other people achieve success while you're struggling to achieve it. Personally, I try to cultivate a large network of creative friends, and I am genuinely happy for them because it's a success for arts in general. The arts seem to be less and less appreciated in our culture, so seeing success is great because it reminds me that it's possible and I may have success in the future as well.

But you can't make yourself feel a way that you don't. I happen to be someone who appreciates the success of peers within my range of interests. There are other categories of people who I am unconscionably jealous of -- for example, people from school who were working in DC politics at 22, or those who have all happy-baby-wedding-dogs-whitepicketfence pictures up on FB. Here I do two things, depending on how I feel. When I see someone's life that seems happy and perfect, I remind myself that it isn't. (For the most part) people put the good things, the successes, on social media. They don't put the failures and rejections. So those people promoting their book deal -- how many years of rejection letters did they go through? How many sleepless nights of writer's block and frustration did they have to deal with? They have success now, but they doubtlessly paid their dues. The other thing I do, if it's just too much and I can't deal with it, is change the updates I see so I don't see the daily ones, only the important ones. Out of sight, out of mind.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:40 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was a freelance writer for a few years and publish the odd book review now. Thing is, anybody can publish a book nowadays. (Has ever been thus, really -- I think Poe used a vanity press.) So it's not publication that's bothering you, it's fame/celebrity. And those things are overrated and have major downsides (just listen to a writer, Theroux say, gripe about the book tour circus; I didn't particularly enjoy getting hate mail).

I find it helps to walk through a huge bookstore (like Powell's) or a library and just inhale the dust and lost dreams. Look for very old books called "My Life" by...Nobody.

In a similar vein, ask yourself: are these books getting pimped and flying out of the bookstores now any good? I find too many of them to be too long and badly written and barely worth my time. So no sense wasting more time being envious of their authors.

Final thought: read literary biography. Most famous writers are just insufferable human specimens.
posted by seemoreglass at 4:41 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Authors make a pittance, very much sub poverty wages.
posted by The Whelk at 4:44 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're in darn good company.

Gore Vidal: "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little."
posted by kinetic at 5:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Anne Lamott devoted an entire chapter of her book Bird By Bird to this very topic. It's been a while since I read it, but I think some of her advice consisted of finding another trusted friend to whom you could vent to, but also knowing when to ask the successful friend to rein it in a little if they were being overbearing about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:23 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is how I do it: by acknowledging that the primary reason I don't have A Big Publishing Deal is that I have made a conscious choice not to make the sacrifices it would take to do this. I know the single-minded purpose it would take for me to succeed in this arena, and my family time and other interests are too dear to me to pay that price at the moment.

I am reading David Sedaris's new book right now and just read a bit where a woman declares that we have four burners like on a stove: family, friends, work and health. And if you want to be really successful, you have to give up on two of those. So...if that helps any?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:39 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm twice published by a big 6, but ultra midlist (and back in the saddle, seeking a new book deal) so the noise still gets to me. understatement -- the deeper you are in the industry, the more it starts to feel like a relentless roar of friends & acquaintances getting bigger deals, landing lists, enjoying exponentially better promo, and on and on, filling every social media outlet. so I hear you, and it, and it's only human to want to cover our ears sometimes.

last year, when I was battling some pretty major (partially publishing-related!) depression, I at long last gave myself permission to step back. I hid every single publishing person, reader & writer on facebook other than my super close friends, and quit groups other than that of my core critique partners. I deleted tweetdeck and stopped reading industry blogs (other than posts forwarded to me as must-reads by friends). and man alive, it has been SUCH a relief. when my own pub journey starts picking up again, knock on wood, I know I'll have to step back in a bit more -- but never as deeply as I was. there are so many other incredible things in this world to see and do and get excited about, and you know what? I've found that many writers whose feeds are packed daily with their publishing news really end up defined by it. it's not all there is, and shouldn't be. go live your life.
posted by changeling at 5:40 PM on May 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, I feel OK about taking a break from someone's Facebook or Twitter when they get really in-your-face with their Fabulous Success or their incessant self-promotion. Nothing against them personally, and I'll pick them back up in a couple of weeks -- or I'll use the opportunity to reflect honestly on whether it's a real friendship, or a mutually happy casual acquaintanceship, or whether the person really just wants an audience for their endless bray of self-promotion stuff.

The other thing that's useful to reflect on is that, however much happiness and hype there is on the outside, what's on the inside doesn't always match that. I got good reviews and a pretty high advance, but had pretty disappointing sales; an acquaintance with a book that seemed to be getting much more hype and publisher attention ended up getting almost no bookstore placement; an acquaintance whose book was much more financially successful got pressured into writing sequels she didn't want to write, and that went against her own personal vision for the book; and almost every writer I know has some tale of deep unspoken woe about the circumstances of their writing and publishing career. You might not care about their tale of woe if they're tweeting about how they're sipping daquiris by the pool, but, yeah. The longer I'm in the business the more I know that everyone is fighting a hard battle.

I would favorite changeling a million times if I could, also.
posted by Jeanne at 5:44 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you seen the movie "Reprise"? Two young writers, one of them gets published first. You might identify with it.
posted by pravit at 5:54 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: Tonnes of completely bullshit writers get published every day, and tonnes of brilliant writers get thousands of knockbacks. Getting published is a cosign of nothing more than getting published.

Regarding the promo, so very many books are being published these days, and so very many publishers are expecting to lose money on them in hopes of finding the next Hunger Games or whatever. Relentless self-promotion - and a huge dose of luck - is really the only chance most writers have of selling their book in any appreciable quantities. It's hard out there.

Further, getting published and promoting it is not a knock on your writing, or ability to get published, or anything. It's not about you, at all. If a friend is bothering you, hide them, or change settings to "some updates", or create a separate group (harder in facebook, super easy in Google+) that relegates all those people there and you only see it when you click on it.

Also, be real about what you want. Deconstruct the relentless messaging that tells you fame = success = happiness. Happiness = success; forget the rest.

After all, do you want to be a writer, or do you want to be famous? Do you want to be a successful writer, or do you want your writing to be successful? If it's the former, you could probably write up any old bullshit - look at Dan Brown - you would be successful, and you would hate yourself for it and be just as self-doubting as you are now.

Finally, I can tell you dude, being published doesn't flick a switch and the insecurities evaporate like methylated spirits. If anything they increase. Some examples: A bad, cogent review, arghgh! The top GoodReads review is sarcasticly slamming my book and everyone's reading it! I'll never make my advance numbers, and no publisher will ever publish me again unless I pay them! I hate what the editor has done to my work! I thought my work would be widely read and it's totally not and sinking like a stone! I had this work in me for years, I have nothing else, everything else feels like stale hackwork! Lots of people are totally misunderstanding my work! My friends think I''m a pretentious douche, but I'm just trying to sell my books!

Etc etc. I was once like you. I thought once people started paying me for my writing, I would suddenly be "a writer" and all those insecurities and struggles I had would disappear. Then people started paying me, but it was a pittance, so then I thought it would happen when I started earning enough to live off. Then I started earning enough to live off (just), and I still had all those doubts and fears. I saw less talented colleagues progress by writing utter shit, networking like mofos and having better gimmicks, and I felt bitter, then I felt bitter about feeling bitter.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the writing. That's all you've got, the rest is luck and illusion. Are you happy with the work? Are you pushing yourself and the work? Are you developing your writing? A career plan that features writing should be on a completely different track in your head. It can be an important track, but it is not a comment on the work itself unless you are trying to aggressively commercialise your stuff. Why are you writing? What do you want from it? If you are writing to be successful, to even be published, to be famous, to be read etc I won't say you are doing it for the wrong reasons, but I will say if those are your goals you need to change your writing to reflect those goals. It may be big changes; getting published - hard as it is - is a lot easier than not writing shit, friend.

It's interesting, we warn people off seeking validation from market-based things all the time, but artistic endeavours often get a free pass, are indeed encouraged as the ultimate validation. Forget about that. You will never be secure in your writing and in yourself if that's the game, cause there'll always be someone with a bigger contract, better book, nicer reviews, etc.
posted by smoke at 6:23 PM on May 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've been on both sides of this. I've had some highly publicized (tho not by me personally) writing successes, and I've had some highly publicized writing failures. I honestly find that the less I talk in social circles about the former situation, the less shame I bear in the latter situation. That being said...

I have friends who say they want to be writers, but never put themselves out there. Never finish a project, can't handle the idea of criticism. But they talk about wanting to be a writer all. The. Time. And these types have been the ones most likely to gloat when I'm down, and most likely to avoid me/not return phone calls when I'm up. I had a friend once say he didn't want to hang out with me for a while because reading about my success in the paper made him feel shitty about his own life-- and I never spoke to him about my work at all! This same friend was also the first in line later to rub in a failure with, "Saw that review of yours, wow you must feel terrible about it," etc. I have several people in my life that fall into this pattern and I try not to let it get to me.

However the friends of mine who are actively pursuing their writing dreams (taking classes, joining writing groups, sending stories to magazines and contests, etc) haven't had these issues with me, or at least they hide them very well. My theory is that because they are making progress towards their own dreams of becoming a writer, they don't see my failures or accomplishments as taking anything away from their own journey.

If it helps, I feel jealous too when my peers succeed-- happy, motivated, inspired, and a little jealous. But I know there's nothing stopping me from succeeding like them on my next project, with a little luck and a LOT of hard work.

So if you are not working on your own aspirations-- and I mean really, really working hard on making them a reality-- use your friends' successes as proof that you can do it too if you start putting in the effort required.

And if you ARE putting in a ton of effort, know that it's just a matter of time before it's your turn in the spotlight, and that you are getting closer to your goals every day. If they can do it, why not you?
posted by MrHalfwit at 7:28 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I always wanted to be a writer. I kind of am in that I do freelance work (for a pittance) and I own several websites. So I understand the feeling but, really, this stuff doesn't make me nuts like it used to.

For starters, I always think of the song about "everbody wants you" which starts out framing that as a good thing but ends on a note of feeling used and whored out. I wonder a whole lot about the backstory I am not hearing and if these people are really as "successful" as they seem or if it is all facade. I wonder how they are subjectively experiencing it and whether it is really the wonderfulness I am envisioning.

I have kind of collected anecdotes over the years that I don't much dwell on but that keep me from being all gaga over any particular accomplishment of someone else. Billy Joel made music and made lots of money and started over at least twice that I know of from being royally screwed over. I love some of his songs and how philosophically he handled it.

Some people who seem successful are really quite miserable over things I think I would just not accept. In youth, I walked away from public accollades and career success to get my act together and that has paid off. I think if I had not, I most likely would have been kind of like the musicians in "The 27 Club" who had phenomenal success at a young age and also died young. I am still alive. There is still time to get stuff done that will satisfy some of those other urges/needs/desires.

I remember in my twenties whining to my sister about everyone else having more of a life than me and listing the superficial big news of some relatives. One of the things I listed was they had another baby. My sister pointed out my newest baby wasn't that old. I could list the same thing. But my baby wasn't "news" in my eyes. I knew it was coming well before the birth and taking care of baby was not exciting "news." It was just sleep deprived daily grind that made me feel like I had no life, it was clearly other people who "had a life."

Similarly, I read a book about fundraising for non-profits. The author did consulting for a time. All of the non-profits were jealous of each other and thought the other folks had it solved and they were the only one struggling this way. Nonprofit A would whine to her that Nonprofit B had it made and they were so jealous. Nonprofit B would say the same thing about Nonprofit A. She couldn't really tell them they were all in the boat. None of them had it made.

I just know more about why my life sucks or whatever. It is just easier to list my problems and their supposed accomplishments. That doesn't mean it is some kind of fair, objective comparison. And two lives are usually an apples to pomegranates from Mars comparison anyway. I mostly don't bother to try to do that anymore.
posted by Michele in California at 7:33 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't cope. I wallow in their crisp prose and let it carry me where it will. Then I curl up in a little ball and eat my liver until I remember what it was that I wanted to say. Living writers piss me off, but I get over that by comparing them to Clemens, or Henry James. Or Faulkner. Think about it: you have to be great to make such beautiful prose from such bullshit. Or Mailer, for god's sake. Or Vonnegut. I read Vonnegut and he's so sweet I can't be mad at anyone.

Yeah, they got the book deal, but then so did Oliver North. Truly, nothing says you can't seethe with envy. Agony is your friend. Keep a diary and don't let anybody read it. Pick out one of your notebooks from a couple of years ago, then stir through all the self-serving crap until you find that little gem of insight you put down when you weren't thinking about how it might look to your heirs--reading your notebooks while you spin in the grave. It's not envy that bites you on the ass, it's acclaim. Why else to write? No, not just the money....okay, I want to buy my own jet and learn to fly it to my condo in Kauai. Wait, ... no, not the money. I want to compose that sweet thing, that clear thing that sings to me in the middle of the night, but fades with the madding dawn into...ah, hell, who knows where? And I know that sweet thing comes straight from the muse. It's the goddam plot bones poking through the skin that makes it look so...so... gross on the printed page.

Let envy shine lights on your adverbs. Stand back and look at it, and then embrace it. It's not all you have, but if you think about it, you are all it has, the foul saprophyte, living by the grace of your love of stringing words together, one after the other, row upon row, like the poppies in Flanders' fields, strewn over the graves of those who were once soldiers, and young.

You get the idea.
posted by mule98J at 7:33 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: Oh, I meant to say this and left it out: Years ago, I sent some super pathetic email to someone. I think we were both homemakers at the time. I was trying to say something like "Gee, we seem to have a lot in common and I am desperately lonely and pleeeeease be my friend." The next thing I knew, I was being publically trashed for supposedly attacking her or something. I cleared that up (with the forum at least) but she apparently never forgave me for god-knows-what.

She is now a published author. My (limited) interactions with her in years since suggest she still bears me some grudge. Then, one day, she tried to ride on my coattails for promoting her work. She joined a forum I belonged to in order to do it. And I see myself as "no one" in that forum and "no one" generally. But it made me think she probably thinks I am the one with fame and influence who has it all figured out or something. And that was so bizarre, it has gone a long way towards extinguishing any impetus I have to put someone else on a pedestal. Or whatever.

(I can think of only one person I know personally that I fanboi. I try to not make an ass of myself in the process. I don't know if I succeed.)

But I also kind of feel like, man, she must not be very happy or something that she still cannot forgive me. And that just makes me a lot less impressed with her public accomplishments that I used to be jealous of but I am not anymore.
posted by Michele in California at 8:05 PM on May 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks guys. Good answers all. I kinda just remembered Melville's life, which is sort of my magic trick for jealousy of other writers. I mean, he wrote one of the greatest books of the English language, became miserable, poor, and totally obscure for a big chunk of time.

I mean, I know how it helps, but it does. And all above comments are great too. Thanks again.
posted by angrycat at 3:12 AM on May 3, 2013

Are you really writing? Are you sending stuff out to publishers? Are you working hard to be a writer? If you could be doing more, do it. Let your envy motivate you. Show the bastards.

Sometimes I get envious about people I've known who became rock stars or screenwriters, but then I remind myself that I never learned to play an instrument, or wrote a screenplay. And while being a rock star or a screenwriter would be nice, neither is really my dream job. Mostly I guess I just envy their fame. And money. But fame is kind of a fucked-up thing to really want, and greed is pretty gross too.

What I'm saying is, don't curse them for succeeding if you haven't really tried to compete. And consider whether their path is really a path you'd want to follow.

If these people are succeeding at exactly what you want to do, and you feel like you're a better writer than they are, you could see that as encouraging. If those no-talent hacks made it, how can you fail if you keep at it?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:21 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's Dear Sugar's advice on the subject:

"My point is, the first thing you need to do is get over yourself, Awful Jealous Person. If you are a writer, it’s the writing that matters and no amount of battery acid in your stomach over who got what for what book they wrote is going to help you in your cause. Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause. It is not to get a six figure book deal. I’m talking about the difference between art and money; creation and commerce. It’s a beautiful and important thing to be paid to make art. Publishers who deliver our books to readers are a vital part of what we do. But what we do—you and I—is write books. Which may garner six figure book deals for the reasons I outlined above. Or not.

You know what I do when I feel jealous? I tell myself to not feel jealous. I shut down the why not me? voice and replace it with one that says don’t be silly instead. It really is that easy. You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel like crap because someone has gotten something you want you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else’s success has absolutely no bearing on your own. You remember that a wonderful thing has happened to one of your literary peers and maybe, if you keep working and if you get lucky, something wonderful may also someday happen to you.

And if you can’t muster that, you just stop. You truly do. You do not let yourself think about it. There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart. If you let it, your jealousy will devour you. Your letter is evidence that it has already begun to do so. It has depleted your happiness, distracted you from your real work, and turned you into a crappy friend."
posted by libraritarian at 5:55 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Remind yourself that it means you are ambitious and motivated. As a young writer I never gave a shit, either about getting published or about other people's success. "Good for you!" I thought, "But in 200 years nobody knows who will be remembered." "Sic transit gloria mundi" I thought to myself as I lost another notebook full of writing or passed up on applying for a prize or skipping a networking event full of more successful writers who could introduce me to publishers, "I just do what I do!"

I don't regret that too much, but I regret it a little. Don't let it eat you, but don't let that hunger die either, or replace the burning desire to best your contemporaries with complacency and self-doubt. Fuck them. You ARE better than them. Write more, send out more writing, go to more parties and make more connections, study the business, try harder. When someone else succeeds, say happy things for them, but don't snuff out the envy--use it to make yourself a better, more driven professional whateveryouare.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:25 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Help me protect my ink!   |   SushiFilter: What IS this stuff & how can I be... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.