Friday, June 3, 2011

Confessions of Jealousy

In case anyone out there hasn't read it yet, this post was prompted by this advice column as well as a few blog posts by well-known YA authors. The best post I can point you to is Gayle Forman's spot-on and brilliant thoughts on the issue of writerly jealousy.

I am a jealous person. I have been for as long as I can remember and it's not something I'm proud of. This jealous streak is without a doubt the thing I hate most about myself. It's something I'm constantly fighting against by reminding myself how much others deserve their successes and happiness. Still, even if I know this intellectually, sometimes my stubborn heart has a hard time getting on the same page.

For a person who struggles with jealousy, I am pursuing one of the hardest fields: a creative one. Where there is no straight path to get what you want, but instead many twists, turns, and unexpected setbacks. I'm on Twitter and I read blogs and I review books in the genre I want to be published in. All of this makes it incredibly difficult to avoid knowing when someone gets a book deal or an agent or something that I want so badly it hurts. I've had times when I've had to stay off of Twitter or avoid blogs, times when I couldn't be around another person's happy news.

If this sounds horrible, it's because it is, of course. Many times when a writer I know gets good news there are two distinct parts of me fighting over my emotions. On the one hand I'm gleeful because a lot of these books are ones I want to read, many of these writers are ones I like and am cheering on, and I know that we all work incredibly hard at this writing thing. You have to, in order to make anything at all happen. But then there's the other side of me. The nasty, jealous side. And that side is always, always frustrated. Hurt. Wondering what I'm not doing, what they've done better, why it seems to happen for everybody but me. And I hope -- and think, honestly -- that someday it will happen to me. And I'll be on the other side of the equation. And I'd hate to think of my success making someone else feel the way I often do.

For me, jealousy is not prompted by a sense of entitlement but instead a constant feeling of insecurity; a feeling that others are better, that they know the right things to do or say or write and I'm doing something wrong. That if I were just a little bit better, a little bit more, things would be working out for me like they are for this other person.

I can no longer pretend I'm not a jealous person. I can't just tell myself, as Sugar suggests, to "stop feeling jealous." Burying these feelings only forces them in deeper, causing them to eat away at me. I can't will myself to stop being jealous any more than I can will myself to not be hungry or tired. IT IS A PROBLEM. It's one I'm continually fighting against, trying to solve and combat and change, but one that persists nevertheless. Because as much as I want to be a good person -- be loving and kind and joyful and every other virtuous spirit -- I am constantly fighting my own feelings and inclinations in this one area. Telling me to just "stop being silly" sounds condescending. If it were as easy as flipping a switch, this wouldn't be a problem. I wouldn't have to even think about it.

But I do think about it. And work against it. I fight. And while nothing has changed yet, I have found ways to lessen the jealousy and to -- most importantly -- make sure it doesn't effect others. How I see it is that my jealousy is my own problem and it shouldn't effect anybody else, much less those I consider friends. So, in case there's anyone else out there in my position, who can't just stop the feeling, here are some of the things I do:
  • Sometimes I avoid Twitter and blogs. I do this most often when I get a rejection -- because that hurts bad enough without having to needlessly compare myself to others.
  • I used to automatically congratulate writers I knew or sort-of knew when they got a deal or an agent; I don't anymore. If I don't mean what I say, it feels like a lie and it feels like I'm being mean to them in some way. Now, I wait until that rush of jealousy -- if it happens -- passes. I deal with the jealousy and get to that point where I can honestly be 100% happy for a person. And then I congratulate them. And when I do that, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
  • I read incredible books by incredible people. And they remind me that as much as I want to be a writer and as much as I might get jealous of others, I still really really love these books and wouldn't want to miss being able to read them and then gush about them to others.
  • I keep going. Persevering. Maybe this doesn't help the jealousy, but at least I don't feel like I'm not doing anything with my feelings of insecurity.

1 comment:

  1. I also sometimes struggle with jealousy, and I agree with your strategies for dealing with it. I think in creative person it's important to remember that every person and every work is different, so there's not too much point in making a straight comparison. That's just me. Good luck persevering. I think you can do it.