August 25, 2009

Envy: the writer’s curse

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:19 am

Last night I read about a suspense novel whose premise is so chilling, I wanted to run out and buy it right away, with no thought for the fact that we really can’t afford very many twenty-five dollar hardcovers right now.

It hadn’t been published, or even made available for pre-order yet, which stopped me.

It wasn’t available yet because the offer had just been made. The author got a two book deal from a publisher that recently passed on my own manuscript. They publish several of my favorite authors, so that one was an especial blow.

As best I can tell, this offer came just a few months after the author was querying agents. Only a few months of the purgatory (it’s more like hell) of submission!

And I had a fullblown case of writer’s envy. Woke up with woozy, green pain and everything.

As writers, I think we are especially prone to this, making comparisons and putting ourselves in another’s place. It’s what we do when we make up stories, after all.

And publishing is such a difficult prospect that it’s impossible not to picture ourselves several jumps down the road, then wonder why we’re not there yet.

On the plus side, writers are some of the nicest and most forthcoming people I’ve met in any profession, so the envy is often paired with an I’m-glad-for-them streak. And books being bought is good for all writers, published and unpublished, because it kicks up demand and shows there is an outlet.

I’m so happy for this writer’s success, and can’t wait for her book, already on my To Buy list, a year before it’s published.

But man, am I jealous.


  1. The only story I can think of that really invoked envy in me was when Poppy Brite had a bestseller at the age of 21. Who doesn’t wish they could acheive that? It was a tremendously talented book, utterly remarkable. But what got me was that she was a best friend of a friend, and there were references in her book that I recognized. It felt like fame had brushed past me with firey wings, to hit someone else. It was a little bit hard, but I was genuinely glad for her success.

    I dislike envy as an emotion. When envy goes too far in creative people, it creates authors who don’t want to see others succeed, as if there’s a limited amount of success in the world and they are misers who wish to collect it all.

    Comment by sapphiresavvy — August 25, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  2. It’s easy to look at one shining moment of success in anyone’s life and be jealous, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Maybe this writer’s success seems easy to you–only a few months between querying agents and landing a book deal–but you don’t know what’s come before. Maybe this is her 10th novel and the first 9 took 20 years of submission agony with no result. Or maybe she has a book deal, but an abusive spouse. Or a child who died. And if she’s had a totally lucky life up to now, you still don’t know what her future will bring. Maybe she’ll never be able to sell another book after this and spend 40 years trying. The saying “be careful what you wish for” also applies to jealousy. Though knowing all of this doesn’t stop me from having my jealous moments, either!

    Comment by Sara — August 25, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  3. Agents suffer the same emotion — when they’ve passed on something they didn’t like and see it garnered a huge deal. (Or that it garnered a deal at all :) They wonder, “Am I any good at this? Why didn’t I see that?”

    I don’t tend to get jealous of most writers in an intense way. I don’t begrudge published writers their success. I feel an overall longing when I go to book stores, though, or when people I know are having success and I can’t seem to achieve that. I think that’s human nature.

    Comment by Judy — August 25, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  4. These are wise words, and I’m proud to have them on my blog…

    Comment by jenny — August 26, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  5. I think this is partly the curse of a good imagination. We see other people’s success as a big explosion and one that’s brighter and more powerful than ours; we fail to see it’s sometimes a slow burn that’s been smoldering on the fuse for decades.
    I also think definitions of success vary. People are ahead of you in life. You’re ahead of me. I’m ahead of other people. We’ll likely play leapfrog with each other and everyone else until we stop writing (okay, so we’ll always play). I try to keep this in mind when I’m envious, but I find it difficult. I WANT this so bad. But I guess that points to what Judy said: it’s not envy so much as longing and the desire to reach that one goal I’ve had since I was five. Some day :).
    All of us will get there some day.

    Comment by Kristen — August 6, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress