Sunday, February 12, 2017

On Professional Jealousy - and Three Ways to Shut It Down

Last weekend I got to visit my lovely writer friend Grace Draven - that's me enjoying the gorgeous trees in Texas hill country - and this weekend my fantastic writer friend Anne Calhoun came to visit me. As a result, I've had about ten days worth of intense writer conversation and am wrung out.

I'm also late with this post because of it. Last week I didn't do one at all, though that was largely because the topic was Flash Fiction and I just don't much like doing those. Flash fiction can be an interesting form, but my fiction-writing energy goes into my current project and I find working on anything other than that feels tangential at best and counter-productive at worst.

I am, however, blessed by having these friends to talk writing with and my well has been refilled to brimming.

And this week's topic is about writing relationships: A Cringeworthy Moment of Professional Jealousy & How You Dealt With It.

One aspect of having friends who are also writers, especially those who write in the same genre, is that competition can rear its inevitable head. It's an unfortunate aspect of the business. Even if we are not competitive by nature, the industry thrusts us into competition with each other. Who wins the award? Who made that Top Ten list? Who got a more lucrative publishing contract? And then there are the "tournaments" that well-meaning readers and bloggers construct to celebrate their favorite books. In many of these, authors are encouraged to recruit votes to get their book to "win" and even to trash-talk "rival" authors and books.

It can all be very difficult. We can intellectually understand that the business is variable, book love is subjective, and all of the fandom is good and goes toward exposure for everyone.

But the truth is that professional jealousy can be a huge problem.

It can kill friendships.

It's happened to me. It's happened to writers I know.

No matter how valiantly we may try to fend off the demons of jealousy, they are insidious and pervasive. Frankly, I would never give the advice not to be jealous or competitive. That's like advising people not to get angry at bad drivers in heavy traffic. Sometimes we can be Zen. Sometimes we lose our shit.

That's being human. And we wouldn't be human if we didn't occasionally note that the other monkey got a great big handful of berries and we didn't.


So what would be my cringeworthy moment of professional jealousy? There are so many to choose from. There was the time my crit partner who was querying at the same time as I was got a three-book deal for $30K and I didn't sell my book for two more years and then for no advance. Or when an agent who passed on my book picked someone else's and got her a six-figure deal.

Or every time a Top Ten List features a book in my genre that isn't mine.

Or every time someone recommends another author's book instead of mine.

I mean, I tell you people - I could easily spend every day in the throes of professional jealousy. There are so many opportunities to do so. There are plenty of authors who succumb to this.

And I'd be lying if I didn't admit to you that I sometimes feel it. I also sometimes suggest that other drivers do anatomically impossible actions with the brains they clearly don't have.

The key is not to pretend we don't feel it, but instead to deal productively with that energy.

1. Channel

Jealousy - or covetousness - is wanting what someone else has. Do I want that award, that contract, that spot on the Top Ten List? That's good energy that drives me to improve. I remind myself to channel it into my work to make it better. It's good to want things. It's better to work hard for them.

2. Consider the Big Picture

It's easy to covet that one thing someone else got, but I always ask myself if I'd trade places with them. A lot of times I might want that contract, but I wouldn't want their asshole of a spouse or chronically ill parent. Everyone struggles with their own pain - I make myself consider what that person's burden is, and if I'd take that along with their blessings.

3. Eyes on Your Own Work

This is one of my personal mottoes. Why am I even looking at a list I'm not on, at contract numbers for a sale that isn't mine? I learned it in school and I learn it again every day. I don't need to see how the kids next to me are doing. I have to keep my eyes on my OWN work.

Heavens know, I've got plenty to keep me occupied!

4. Celebrate Others

I'm adding this one after some online conversations, because it's been pointed out to me that I do this, too. Yes - I make a deliberate effort to celebrate the successes of others. By taking that energy and channeling it into joy, I refuse to let jealousy take hold. It becomes easier and easier to feel like when someone else - particularly a friend I love and who loves me in return - triumphs, it's my happiness, too. I'm not sure it's fair to expect anyone to do this automatically, but it's a skill in generosity of spirit that can be deliberately cultivated. Practice, practice, practice!


  1. Such a healthy attitude! It's part of why we love you

    1. Aww - thank you! I am a work in progress. :-)

      (and Blogger finally let me comment!!)

  2. I love "celebrate others." If we can maintain that, the rest is easy. Sort of.

    1. "Sort of" is right! But it is a good first step, one that brings joy to otherwise murky emotions

  3. Wonderful post! And "eyes on your own work" is some of the best advice ever.

    1. It gets me through so much. Every time I feel my attention straying, I remind myself of it. And thank you! :-)