The Enemies of Our Progress Part Three

Misty MasseyMisty Massey
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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. 

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11 comments to The Enemies of Our Progress Part Three

  • Jealousy sucks. When I was young I was prone to bouts of it in my personal relationships, and it sucked. To this day, I still deal with it in my professional life. And it sucks in that context, too. It just sucks. I often think that I would be better off canceling my Locus subscription and burying my head in the proverbial sand. But then I’d be jealous of people who were more plugged in than I to goings-on in the industry. Yep. It sucks.

  • sagablessed

    Jealousy is part of the human condition. A dark, bitter part that festers in the soul; a suppurating wound which spreads its poison like gangrenous wildfire through one’s heart.

    Or, you can say: s/he made it. Now, what can I learn from that?

    What is Locus?

  • David, me, too. Happened to me just a few weeks ago, when someone I like very much achieved something I was not able to. For about a day, I was all sorts of grumpy and difficult to live with. Fortunately, I managed to get over myself and turn all that energy back toward working. But it wasn’t easy. :)

    Donald, Locus is a great industry magazine. It has both a paper and online version, and it publishes news about who’s sold what to whom. Even though it can bring on bouts of terrible jealousy *laughs*, it’s a reliable source for keeping up with what everyone’s doing. http://www.locusmag.com/

  • Donald, Locus is the magazine/newsletter of the speculative fiction field. If there is genre publishing news of importance — books sold, editors hired or fired, media rights sold, etc. — it’s in Locus.

  • Misty, thank you for addressing this difficult stuff. Rather than pushing it under the rug or discounting it. Sometimes just acknowledging it does wonders.

    I agree, the few times I’ve let jealousy get the better of me or tried to use it to propel myself to do better, it hasn’t worked. I’ve gotten a bit better at this particular feeling because I think I’ve mentally lumped it into the “rejection” category. I get better at handling those every day. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that letting go can be hard for some.

    Speaking as someone who deals with anxiety: lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of, “You have to get better at letting things go.” It’s frustrating, because it isn’t always as simple as some people think. (This isn’t directed at you or this post, just an observation that I think is relevant.) Things sit with me. I am trying, and getting adequate sleep is becoming one of my stronger strategies, but it’s still frustrating when people tell this to me as if it can be magically cured in an hour, a day, or a week. Talking about this stuff matters. It helps. And I keep trying to do the best I can. So again, thank you for this.

  • Ken

    Jealousy does suck. Misty, I liked the way you suggeted a response to it. Listen to it. Not the loud, blustering voice of misplaced outrage but the small quiet voice underneath that’s saying, “I’d like that too.” I try and remember that whenever I start feeling jealous of folks that are further along than I am.

  • Laura, you’re absolutely right. Letting things go isn’t easy, not even a little bit. As I mentioned in my response to David, I had a recent bout with professional jealousy just a few weeks ago, and even though I kept telling myself to let it go, the anger and resentment stuck around for most of the day.

    For me, it’s easier if I go at it slowly. I start with the little things – taking deep breaths when someone frightens me while driving, or holding my tongue when someone in the grocery store slams into me with their cart because they weren’t looking where they were going. Once I master those sorts of “letting go”, the more personal issues become a little easier. Not much, but you know how that goes. Each incident is different, and if it takes you a while to find your calm place, that’s okay.

    *hugs*

  • I agree–jealousy does suck. When I was younger, I was much more prone to jealousy–real, hardcore, the world is unfair jealousy. As I’ve gotten older, I have “matured” just a little, so while I still have twinges of jealousy I’m usually able to move past it fairly quickly.

    Of course, that’s not writing-related jealousy. I can actually see myself falling back into old habits when I finish my WIP and am ready to move forward. Something for me to think about now and maybe minimize in the future.

  • I think part of dealing with jealousy is correctly labeling it. It’s envy. Someone has something you want for yourself. I’m always extremely envious of the person driving that lovely black Jaguar I covet. I don’t hate the person; I just want the object. The solution to the want is to work harder. Now – that skinny gal who can eat 3 Big Macs and doesn’t even have a passing acquaintance with cottage cheese and sliced tomatoes? Her, I can happily be jealous of! :-)

  • My basic cure for jealousy, and very much in keeping with the season, is instead of comparing myself upwards – I want that, and I want that, and OMG I want that – is to compare myself to a nil state. I got a car, so I don’t take the bus or have to walk. So I don’t got a Lexus, I also don’t have a car payment. I am writing in my spare time and not a published author with a three-deal contract, but I am writing and I have spare time. Once I understood, I have running fresh water, a roof over my head, not worrying where my next meal comes from, and a myriad of blessings people around the world and throughout the human past do not and did not have, I can shrug off the green monster.

  • Johnathan Knight

    There are certainly people who have things I want, but it doesn’t really occur to me to think ill of them for it. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that success isn’t a zero sum game. Your success, for instance, doesn’t demand my failure. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, or so it seems to me. People who experience great success help by breeding new readers, showing that profit is attainable in the industry, growing the industry. Ultimately, these folks may be the reason others get to succeed after them. In other words, I honestly believe that your success makes others more likely to succeed, not less.