In Natalie Merchant’s 1995 song “Jealousy,” a woman asks these questions about a rival for her lover’s affections: “Is she bright/so well read/are there novels/by her bed?”
The singer might have been even more jealous if those bedside novels were written by her rival. Jealousy and envy are common emotions for writers. When someone you know becomes a successful and well-published writer, envy can be inevitable. And when megacelebrities who never paid their writing dues get big book deals for novels and memoirs that they didn’t actually write, the envy can become…unenviable.
So how will you, as a creative writer, react when confronted with the green-eyed monster? You could become a jealous maniac (like one of the 10,000 Maniacs, the band Ms. Merchant fronted before going solo). But we at Writer’s Relief know you have to be realistic, so here are six practical tips for turning envy into empowerment.
How To Deal With Jealousy In The Writing Life
1. Use your jealousy as motivation. If a friend or member of your writing group gets a poem or short story accepted by a prestigious literary journal, cultivate an “I can do that too” attitude. If that person can get an acceptance letter, you can too!
2. Congratulate the person on her or his publishing accomplishment. Being gracious is the right thing to do. It will make you feel better to know you reacted well. And staying on good terms with the worthy wordsmith might eventually pay dividends, which leads to our third point:
3. Rather than stewing in jealousy, ask a successful writer for help! Turn a negative experience into a positive one. Often, honest communication can help alleviate jealous thoughts.
4. That’s why it’s important to talk things out. Confide in a close friend or spouse. Don’t keep jealousy all bottled up. And also, when your kind friend reminds you of all the reasons you shouldn’t be jealous, be open to hearing—really hearing—the words.
5. Don’t be afraid of jealousy. If being uncomfortable with jealousy makes you avoid writing groups and writers conferences, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Push through jealousy. Accept it, then either find a way to use it as a motivator OR let it go.
6. Take appropriate action when celebrities get lucrative book deals. If you’re jealous of notables such as politicians, musicians, and actors reaching publishing nirvana (often with ghostwriting or cowriting help) while you struggle, vote for their opponents, avoid their overpriced concerts, and ignore their TV shows and films. They’ll be devastated.
Well, okay, maybe not…but you’ll feel better, anyway!
Finally, don’t forget that when Natalie Merchant left 10,000 Maniacs for a successful solo career, the remaining group members eschewed envy, plugged along, and eventually recorded a top-40 hit (with new lead singer Mary Ramsey). Jealousy can be a negative influence—or just another stepping-stone on the path to better things. Ultimately, it’s up to you!
QUESTION: Have you overcome jealousy in a constructive way? Please share your experiences and tips with us!