Okay, I’ve saved the toughest one for last. Today I’m going to talk about one of the most insidious of enemies – jealousy.
You probably already know how damaging jealousy can be to a romantic relationship. Suspicion and unwarranted anger builds walls between people who care for each other, walls that prevent effective communication and take serious work to bring down. Jealousy can also crack your creativity into tiny shards of meanness that poke you every time you sit down to make your own magic. It happens to all of us. You read in Locus that someone from your writing group just signed another three-book deal, when you only got a one-book deal from the same publisher. You get a phone call from a writing friend who excitedly tells you that she’s been offered representation by an agent who’s previously turned you down. You want to feel thrilled and happy, but somewhere inside of you, there’s a voice whispering ugly things. So you think, “Let me go put words on the page. That’ll make me feel better.” Except that you can’t seem to settle your mind. You start second-guessing your word choices and your characters behave in bizarre ways that they never would have before, and pretty soon you find yourself obsessing over how on earth that book that you helped beta-read ever got sold to a publisher because you told your friend the villain wasn’t cruel enough but he wouldn’t change the way he wrote her, and now that book is out there in the world on bookstore shelves and why isn’t it happening to meeee….
Sounds a little crazy, right? It is. You leave your own creativity behind in favor of a neverending mental litany of how wrong the publisher was or how undeserving your friend is. Jealousy loves to pretend it’s righteous and important. “What do you care,” it says to you, “Obviously your friend only got published because the editor is a noodlehead who hasn’t figured out that zombies are totally last year.” Or “Of course that agent would like him. Have you seen how he flirts?” When that’s all you can think about, there’s no more room for your characters to live inside your head, and there goes your story. Jealousy refuses to accept that someone else has talent or has worked hard, and it takes away your own ability to work hard at the same time. Meanwhile, your friend is at home writing the next book, because your jealousy is not hurting her. All you’re doing is punishing yourself.
I can’t tell you how to not feel jealous. What I can tell you is that recognizing what’s happening to you is 90% of the battle. When I say “recognize”, I don’t mean “blame”. Blaming yourself for having jealous feelings isn’t going to help. You’ll just equate feeling bad with another’s success, and that’s even more self-abusive. The idea isn’t to switch the focus of your anger from one target to another. It’s to point it out, away, into the vastness of space where it won’t bother anyone at all. When those evil thoughts sneak in, feel them. Listen to them. Really listen. More than likely, what you’ll hear, under the disguise of how terrible and unworthy someone else’s work was, is how much you wish you were having that success, too. And now that you’ve reminded yourself of what you’re really hoping for, you turn that thought loose. Let it go, and concentrate your energy on making success happen for yourself.