Countdown to Publication: 8 days - Envy
Contributor
Written by
Sonya Chung
February 2010
Contributor
Written by
Sonya Chung
February 2010
Anne Lamott has a great chapter in her book Bird By Bird about writers' envy. I'd quote an excerpt for you, except that my copy is packed away in a box right now, along with most of my other books (Book Access Anxiety! Note: do not plan a move the week before your book is scheduled for release.) Before stepping into the publication process, envy was not really a problem for me; because I didn't know very many writers. I didn't hang out with writers. I was not participating in social networking. I had a very quiet, homebody sort of life. I was working in solitude, just trying to surmount the challenge of writing a novel. Once I had a novel in the publishing pipeline, everything changed. I began teaching, and got to know other writing teachers who were also publishing/had just published their first books. I started writing for online publications, and blogging, and "meeting" writers on Facebook, etc. With everyone announcing their events and reviews and promoting their books and posting trailers, it's inevitable to notice what's happening in the writing careers of your peers. It's also inevitable, I think, to feel pangs of envy. Even when, in your heart of hearts, you are thrilled for that writer's success, because you truly feel she deserves whatever good fortune comes her way, something sharp rises up in you, maybe just for an instant. It seems to me not very productive to tamp (i.e. stuff) it down, or pretend like it's not there. Believe me, I'm no expert on this, but I've been thinking lately that envy is usually rooted in something very specific; what would make you envious is not the same as what would make me envious. And whatever that specific thing is, that's probably a good place to start, i.e. identifying what exactly that sharp pang is and where it's rooted. For example: money is not something that would make me particularly envious. If a writer friend got a big advance, and I didn't, all things being relatively equal, I don't think that would bother me that much. (It's not that I don't have financial needs (!); somehow it just doesn't hit that deeply for me.) BUT, if that writer friend was, say 10 years younger than me, I'm pretty sure the pang would shoot right up. Why is age such a hot spot for me? Because I feel always at a disadvantage when it comes to having started late in my writing life. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, and to summon up the wherewithal to do it; so when the 20-something kids trumpet their Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers creds, etc., my gut twists a little. (Zadie Smith is "that writer" who haunts me, with her publication of WHITE TEETH in her early 20s -- arggghhh!) All this to say that you are not alone if you experience writers' envy. As reviews and guest appearances and radio spots begin to happen (or not) -- and all the online announcements thereof -- I am bracing myself for these pangs. But, the flipside to all this mind-crowding social networking is that I've gotten to know a wonderful poet named Lee Herrick, who to me has been a beacon of light--a great role model, really--in this culture of self-promotion. Lee is constantly championing the work and the successes of other writers, writing organizations, indie publishers, etc. on his blog, on Facebook, etc. He has a truly generous spirit when it comes to supporting the Community of Writers and seems to understand on a very gut level that for the writer to thrive, the whole community must thrive. When the envy pangs start up, I think of Lee, and the air starts to circulate again in my mind and spirit, and I'm pretty sure there's enough room in the universe for all of us to do well.

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Comments
  • Kim Wright

    I love this post. People never talk about envy. It shames us so much....it's like the trailer park of emotions. But it is so real.