A little jealousy – a good thing?

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I want to talk a little today about jealousy, and surrounding yourself with people that are better than you at your chosen profession, avocation, whatever. Some of this comes from seeing that Jim Butcher has been added to the guest list at Dragon*Con, and I’m super-excited about hopefully getting the chance to meet the guy who inspired a lot of The Black Knight Chronicles, and heavily influenced my writing style. I’m also a little nervous, because not just is Butcher responsible for a large chunk of the urban fantasy genre, but he’s also responsible for putting a lot of the snark that I love into the format as well. 

Obviously I’m a fan of Butcher’s work, not just The DresdenFiles, but the Codex Alera stuff as well. And I’m also jealous as hell of his talent. You see, Butcher can do something that I have a very difficult time doing – write in a totally different voice. That was the first thing that blew me away when I started reading the Codex Alera books – the voice was completely, 100% different from The Dresden Files. It’s almost like two different people wrote the series. I, on the other hand, have a distinctive voice, which got me into trouble a couple of times in high school when I tried to sell term papers to the larger (and wealthier) students in my class. 

I felt something similar when I first read Patrick Rothfuss. Reading the first paragraph of The Name of the Wind, I felt like a kid who’d taken two guitar lessons and then sat front row at a Clapton concert. It was almost enough to make me burn my laptop. But aluminum-bodied Macs are more durable than you’d think, and fortunately for me I came to my senses before anything was lost. :) Even talking to other writers about Rothfuss, one was heard to remark “It’s a good thing he writes slow, or none of the rest of us would ever sell a book.”

Those are a just a couple of people whose talent I’m jealous of, and I use that generally-inadvisable emotion to spur me on to write better, to work harder, and to eventually make some novice writer jealous of my badassdom. I’m not holding my breath, but i do turn my jealousy into something productive, and I try to spin it into something useful. I’m also jealous of anyone with any shred of musical talent, as my wife, who is forced to listen to me sing along with the contestants on The Voice, can attest is something I’m completely devoid of. 

I might have to give a dollar to anyone who can untangle that sentence, but I’m leaving it up there for the sheer joy of driving the grammar nuts crazy. :) 

So here’s my question to you – who are you jealous of, and to what positive direction do you spin your jealousy? 

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16 comments to A little jealousy – a good thing?

  • Well, this is good news since I’ve been feeling jealous lately in that whiny, myopic, “I work hard too!” sort of way. So…onward and upward. More writing, less whining. (On my part, not John’s.)

  • Totally get it. You’re on my list of folks I’m jealous of. 😀

    And I’ll see your bet and raise you. Not only can I untangle the sentence, I can diagram it.

    But I do think jealous can be good, so long as it doesn’t turn destructive. I.e. i’m going to stalk Butcher and cut out his brain so I have it type of thing. Or I choose to abandon stuff because “i’ll never bee that good.” Those are both harmful. Otherwise, wanting to achieve what others can is useful in motivation.

  • Often when I read something so good it takes my breath away I have a moment of jealousy (or despair) because I’ll never write like that. But the moment passes after a while–sometimes minutes, sometimes months, and I start to think, well, maybe I can’t write like that but I can still write a good story,and off I go again. I have to admit I’ve gotten much better at overcoming jealousy (and despair) as I get older.

  • Interesting… I’m not jealous of talent. I’m jealous of success.

    Talented authors can take my breath away, and they can make me feel like I am so-not-worthy to be writing. (But then, I take out highlighters and/or computer files and start to examine *what* they’re doing to be the successes that they are.) I don’t feel jealous of talent, though.

    I *do* become jealous when I hear of fellow authors who land huge deals for their books, or who sell to Hollywood, or who [fill in the blank with visible signs of success]. Sometimes, I can assuage that jealousy by saying, “Wow, the books they write are really, really good; that’s why this person succeeds.” Other times, though, I grumble that the books aren’t that good, and the world isn’t fair.

    Then I eat some chocolate and move on :-)

  • I’m jealous of lots of people. *LOTS!* But unless it turns dark and covetous I don’t worry about it. The moment I feel a darker emotion about writing or writers, I stop and shut it down and retire for the day. Then I can start fresh tomorrow and not be evil. Except to my characters.

  • Success can kiss my ass. I’m more jealous of talent any day.

    I tend to get more depressed about my lack of talent after reading short stories, though. With novels, I can usually manage to find some faults that make me feel less skill-less.

  • Razziecat

    Well, there’s a long list of people whose awesome talent I envy, starting wih Carol Berg and Lois McMaster Bujold, Patricia McKillip, Judith Tarr, and others. I just finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s “River of Stars” and, after that and “Under Heaven”, I can only say Oh. My. God.

    I don’t despair or get frustrated, though (much). I just reread my favorite parts of their books, and try to learn from them. There’s a whole classroom between the covers of each of my favorite books. :)

  • quillet

    Oh, envy. I’m capable of envying all sorts of things, the talent or the success. My eyes have turned permanently green because of that. And sometimes it depresses me, sometimes it motivates me to try harder. (Er, the envy, not the green eyes.) I try to veer toward motivation most of the time, though.

    PS: Razzie’s list of awesome talent? I second that!

  • I guess I’m the odd gal out. I admire a lot of writers – several who are on MW – but I’m not jealous of them. I applaud the success others have made. Maybe I’m delusional or have a huge ego, but I ~know~ I can write, and write well. I’m also aware of my failings. I’m not dedicated enough. I don’t write every day. I’m easily distracted by that other new shiny winking at me from the corner. And I tend to get bored (as in, I’m tired of watching this movie again!) when I work on my novel(s).

  • There are a lot of writers whose work I admire, but only one of whom I am actually jealous: Peter Beagle. I’m jealous of his versatility, his ability to write perfect sentences, and pretty much everything else too :) Great post, John, thanks!

  • I dunno that I’d say ‘jealous’ but … I want to write like CJ Cherryh. I’ve noticed that every time I reread a big chunk of her stuff, I get better. So I’ll continue to be jealous and maybe I’ll keep learning. 😀

  • Stephen King’s ‘The Gunslinger.’ Every single line feels like some sort of beautiful, twisted mythology, and I can’t read a word without reading a chapter. The Gunslinger, himself, is a man out of legend, whose every move, every word, is somehow both divine and frightening. I’ve tried in vain to create such a character, but my results are childish and laughable.

    He opens with “The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed after him,” and when I read it I was hooked for seven books (and twenty years). The books declined in quality as they went on, in my opinion, but the writing style of that first book still makes me feel useless when I read my own WIPs.

  • sagablessed

    I am jealous of so many. Faith, Davis, Mindy, MZB, Andre Norton, CE Murphy, Ursula K LeGuin.
    I do not want to write like them: I have my own voice and style. I want to be acknowledged as a teller of good stories, like they are. Below sounds kinnda of selfish, but so what?
    So how do I make it a positive? I write. Because if I don’t, I cannot join those ranks of published authors. To have the accolades of being a conveyor of dreams, to make make people think and wish they could be in the worlds I see….that is the ultimate for me.
    So I will write until I make it so.

  • Certainly, there are people I wonder how they were ever published. So yeah, I guess in the true meaning of the word, I am jealous of some authors. I’d say I’m jealous of some, envious of others. I know I write well though, and at one time, I think I wanted to write like one author or other, get crazy money dropped into my lap. Now I just want to write like me, and maybe the crazy money will happen and maybe it won’t. I’ll just be happy to have a following of readers who enjoy my work. I don’t need awards, trophies, plaques, I’ll just take people reading and liking my stories…with, perhaps, a modest sum to keep me in junk food and vodka. 😉

  • I’m jealous of success AND talent. I mean, come on, why limit myself? I wish I could write like Guy Gavriel Kay. I wish I could sell like Butcher or Martin. I wish I wrote as quickly (and well) as Catie Murphy. I wish I could paddle like Faith and golf like her husband. I wish I had A.J.’s accent and intellect. I wish I had Hartness’s sense of humor and ease with people. I wish I had Clooney’s looks (George, not Rosemary) and Michael Douglas’s speaking voice.

    But I’m me, and in the end I have to live with that and get by on what little I’ve got.

  • But the true word, by definition, is envy. If you wish you were as good as that person, it’s not the same as thinking, that person doesn’t deserve their success, I DO! I envy a lot of authors. I’m jealous of just a few. 😉 Butcher and Hunter and Coe and Kay and LeGuin and King and Koontz and Murphy and Cherryh and AJ and Massey and a slew of others. They flat out deserve their success.