A confession: I am not a Zen Buddhist. Quite the contrary. I’m a very competitive person who needs to be running full-out or I feel like I’m standing still. This has served me quite well in life overall, both in my day job and writing career. But a side effect has been to suffer from time to time from professional envy. Given the number of posts/articles I’ve read over the years about why one shouldn’t compare one’s career with other writers, I think it’s a fairly common affliction among the scrivener class.
And you know what, I think that’s just fine. It’s a very human feeling so I don’t beat myself up over feeling it. In fact, I think it can be used constructively, provided I keep in mind a distinction in this context between envy and jealousy.
Both of them start something like this: “Writer A hit the bestseller list again! He/she is selling like crazy. And look at all that critical acclaim! Wow!”
Envy (in my case) goes on from there like this: “Well done, Writer A! I want to get me some of that hot, slippery bestseller-on-bestseller action, too. Maybe there’s something I can learn from your experience, or maybe I can just look at my own situation and think of ways to better accomplish what I want to accomplish. Oh, and sincere congrats!”
Channeled that way, the envy is much akin to simple admiration. And it feels that way to me, which keeps it from becoming some soul-sucking asshole-making emotion of doom. I can be happy for my colleagues even as I wish I was standing in shoes similar to theirs. I recognize that the writing game is not zero sum. Their success does not reduce my success or minimize the chances thereof.
Jealousy, on the other hand, takes off from the statement above with something like this: “I can’t believe that talentless hack has sold that many books! What are people even thinking? They should be buying my books, not her/his. I should be a bestseller, not her/him! Readers are so, so stupid. That genre is for dunces anyway. Fuck him/her. Fuck this. Fuck it all.” (Why yes, I am getting paid by the expletive today, why the Hell do you ask? :-)).
There were times in the past when I’d start walking down this path, but I never went very far, thankfully. The entire feeling relies incorrectly on framing the issue of Writer A’s success as zero-sum relative to yours. It isn’t. You can both be successful. Besides, letting that kind of emotion fill you will, without any doubt, make you behave like an angry asshole and take years off your life.
So, you know, less anger and more love, my people. Encourage that young writer, recommend a colleague’s book, feel good for your friend’s successes, etc.
And that’s all I have to say on this. Carry on. 🙂