that green-eyed fucker

June 2nd, 2011

I’m always a day behind the news—there was a tornado WHERE last night? There was a big jealousy blog piece bounding around the writ-o-sphere this past week? Oh. I was on the farm trip with the kids.

But I’m on it today. And I’ve read Sugar’s post on The Rumpus, about an aspiring author bravely owning up, I thought, to the nasty, unpleasant jealous feelings she had toward her friends who’d all gotten publishing deals. I thought the piece offered a lot of smart insights about the difference between writing a magnificent piece of art and getting a good deal, though I’d also point out for a lot of writers, that “pure art” argument falls flat. Publication is a validation. Writing masterworks that live on your hard drive is a little like that tree falling in the forest and no one hearing it fall. Does it make a sound? Luckily, self-publishing, which is ever-growing, is offering authors a new avenue to get work out there and to an audience even, when the publishing mechanism says no.

But I have some different ideas on jealousy. I agree that we all have the savage within us. But I disagree that the way to deal with it is to pack it away or tell yourself not to feel it. Willpower might work for some. But more often than not, it’s like advising someone to put a festering cut under a bandaid without giving it a good—and stinging—wash first.

I am both a “successful” author and a human person with a petty streak so I have been on both the giving and receiving end of jealousy. I have been jealous of my friends’ successes. I haven’t wanted to be. I have been very happy for my friends and simultaneously jealous. That’s the thing about jealousy. You don’t invite it. And you can’t always will it away. The jealousy I had toward a friend didn’t detract from my happiness of her successes—at least theoretically; I was happy, even if I could not fully feel that joy. It more reflected my dissatisfaction with where my life was. And sure, I could’ve swallowed it. Buttoned it up. Told myself to get over it. Maybe I would’ve. But more likely, it would’ve driven a wedge between me and said friend. So on the occasions this has happened with close, trusted friends, I have learned to brave up. I have admitted to my friend that I was happy for him or her but also jealous. And you know what? Putting it out there. Getting that nasty little secretive green-eyed fucker out there on the table? It went away. Not entirely. But almost. Jealousy thrives in darkness and secretiveness. It doesn’t like light and air. It’s like Gremlins that way.

When IF I STAY was bought, when the foreign deals came in and the movie options! I suddenly felt like Cinderella—no more cleaning the toilets, no, sir, I was going to the ball!—I could tell some of my friends were weird about it. It came out in comments. In nasty asides. And in the eventual cooling of friendships even though I’m pretty sure I haven’t changed so much. And then there was my best friend. She was the biggest fan of the book—she left a sobbing message on the phone after she read the manuscript; I thought someone had died until she blubbered that she’d loved the book. But later on, as the other stuff happened, she admitted to that was so happy for me but that she was also jealous. And I was so GRATEFUL for her honesty. Because I understood it. My answer to her was that I would be jealous of me too. We’ve all been there. And our friendship has gone on its merry way, unchanged by the big changes in my career. Thank god. I’d be lost without her.

Of course, you can only be honest like this with a good friend. You can’t go around telling every writer who gets a good deal that you’re experiencing feelings of envy. Nor should you even want to. I mean, how is feeling jealous of say Sarah Dessen’s latest success, unless you’re BFFs with Sarah, any different from being envious of Cameron Diaz’s latest movie deal? They are both strangers to you who have no bearing on your daily life!!!!

But you probably don’t know what Cameron is up to because you’re not reading Variety. Well, there you have it. You might not feel such jealousy toward random stranger authors if you didn’t know the deals they were getting. Want to feel better? Stop reading deal reports on Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch and Twitter and anywhere else. I am sure some purpose is served by having the who-got-what broadcast like that, but it doesn’t help writers. It just makes them crazy. So I’d advise anyone with a jealousy problem—ahem, everyone—to stop reading deal reports. Stop kidding yourself: keeping up on the industry is not helping you get a book deal. Writing a kick-ass book will help you with that. Your agent (or future agent) gets 15 percent so he or she can go crazy keeping up with the industry so you don’t have to.

Sugar was right about this: You don’t want to get caught up in competitiveness and pettiness and jealousy. From an artistic standpoint, it will strangle your creativity. From a human standpoint, it will stifle your humanity. But I’d argue that jealousy is part of the human condition. The only way to deal with it is when it comes up in your personal life is to actually deal with it. To counter jealousy with honesty. And if you can manage it, with generosity.

Here’s a little secret about me. Now that I’m doing what I want to be doing—albeit still, terrified that someone will take this privilege away from me, yes, I’m weird that way, but I think it probably goes with the writerly territory—I occasionally read books that blow my mind so thoroughly that they make me think that I’m not worthy to write IKEA instruction manuals, let alone YA novels. In these cases, I have two choices: give in to the insecurity and feel jealous of other authors’ virtuosity or give in to my better angels and rejoice in these wonderful books and tell the world about them. If you read my blog, you probably know which way I roll.

So now you know the awful truth about me: Behind every book I evangelize (and lately, I’ve swooned over Libba Bray’s BEAUTY QUEENS, Holly Black’s Curseworkers Series, Franny Billingley’s CHIME and Nova Ren Suma’s IMAGINARY GIRLS–I need to read me some guy books, no? Someone get me a David Levtithan!) is a pang of jealousy. But the minute I start singing these books’ deserved praises, that jealousy dissipates in the pure joy of talking about good writing. See what I mean about jealousy being like Gremlins? Only less cute.

Which I guess is what Sugar was saying all along in her post. That it’s the work that matters. (Because I get jealous of kick-ass books, not bestselling books, though when the two coincide, I’m beside myself with joy!) And this is most definitely true. But you have to clear out that junk drawer in the pit of your stomach to get to the good place with your work, that wonderful freeing, flying place where the true work flows. And for me, at least, that only happens by shining a light on the shitty stuff.

Being honest, exploring the dark stuff, cleaning out the junk: Isn’t that why we write?

  1. Thanks so much for writing this Gayle! I can totally relate, and you’re right about that green-eyed monster not liking the light. Far better to let it out than to allow it to fester. Healthier for everyone including the monster’s victim. All we can do is the best we can do.

  2. Oh, I loved Sugar’s response! And I love yours, too.

    I unsubscribed from Publisher’s Lunch and unfollowed several industry types just this week! Instant relief. Who needs those kind of daily reminders?


  3. Speaking of singing books’ deserved praise instead of giving into the jealousy, have you read FORBIDDEN by Tabitha Suzuma yet? Oh. My. God. It’s outstanding.

  4. I agree that it’s natural to be envious and jealous when others get what we want and that it’s okay to admit it to close friends. I do think it’s also a good idea to check out entitlement in such situations and make sure we are really both happy and jealous.

  5. You are my favorite. Again. Some more. So true on every count–particularly the avoiding-deal-news part. Because really: IT DOESN’T AFFECT YOU. But sometimes it’s hard not to feel that way.

  6. Great post, Gayle. And I think the concrete advice you give is really helpful. Thanks for weighing in!

  7. I read Sugar’s post and read yours and thought, yeah, I can understand this but not at the publishing level. When my writing pals share successes and achievements, I’m thrilled for them. In fact, the only time I remember feeling any sort of sick was when Snooki got her book deal and I didn’t even have an agent yet.

    But I do feel this green eyed monster over weight loss. I’m doing Weight Watchers and haven’t lost a flipping pound. People next to me at meetings are all hitting goals, getting awards and I want to scratch out their eyes and then steal their points. I will keep what you and Sugar have said in mind. I certainly don’t want to lose friendships!

  8. Such a great post — I identify and agree with it so much. When I read books I really, really love, I ALWAYS have that pang of jealousy. I’ve come to think of it as the thing that tells me when I really, really, really love something.

    I also agree that talking about those feelings is the only way to get past them – I’ve had the talk in both directions and it has never been anything but a huge relief to everyone involved.

  9. So honest, and so true. I love how you say to stop keeping up on the deal reports, but here’s the thing: the agents want us to follow the deal reports. Find out what we’re selling, they say; follow us on Twitter (where we brag about our successes) and know what the market is doing. Know our client list inside and out before you even consider querying… It’s a full time job on top of being (as you astutely observe) a soul-sucking pit of despair. I love the internet for the information it provides; but at the same time, I hate the internet for the information it piles upon us. One has to learn (the hard way, I think) to maintain one’s equilibrium out there in the cyber-world. I am so happy to have found great writers to connect with. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and allowing me to share mine.

  10. Great post Gayle :)

    The green eyed fucker has been sneaking into my life lately over certain things and everything you wrote resonates with me. Thank you.

  11. This reminds me so much of the email exchanges we had months ago after I read Where She Went and was feeling like I didn’t want to know anything anymore and hole up. Yes, yes, yes! In the end you only have to worry about yourself and only really compete with yourself.

  12. We all get jealous. One of the reasons I think it’s such a sucky feeling is because it rides shotgun with its BFF, shame. We feel jealous and then ashamed for feeling jealous. And lord knows you can’t talk about it.

    As for needing to follow all the deal reports to sell a book, I don’t buy it. There is a difference between researching an agent before you submit a finished manuscript/proposal, seeing who he/she represents, and keeping up-to-the-minute on deals. I know sometimes you find out about deals while you are researching but that’s different from subscribing to daily reports. Put the horse before the cart. Finish the book first. Then worry about getting an agent. And I still hold that going through the acknowledgements of published books that have a similarity to yours is a better way to go than showing that you know that two months ago, Agent X got this deal for Writer Y.

  13. So true! I find it easier to be happy for writers I know personally and jealouser(?) of people I don’t. When I’m writing, I can’t read fiction, only Bird by Bird over and over again so the DJ’s at KFKD will shut up.

  14. Here via Stephanie Perkins’s tweet!

    Like her, I love this post and your advice. (Also, I want to read FORBIDDEN!) I’m still subscribed to Publishers Lunch, but I unfollowed a lot of agent/editor blogs and Twitter streams to help me stay focused and grounded. It definitely helps.

    And I hope that me and my crit partners would feel comfortable telling each other if we were feeling jealous… Maybe I’ll forward this post to them with a little note. :)

  15. Yes-to all of it and a big fat (((hug))) for being brave enough to write it down.

  16. Can I admit that I’m jealous of the lovely – and honest – way you were able to deliver this insightful blog? You totally nailed it, Gayle. Thanks. Adding to Kimberly’s hugs (above)!

  17. I love you, Gayle. That is all. xoxo

  18. Great post, Gayle! Especially loved this: I occasionally read books that blow my mind so thoroughly that they make me think that I’m not worthy to write IKEA instruction manuals, let alone YA novels.

    I know exactly what you mean.

  19. Such a great post. I haven’t even queried yet and I’m jealous all over the board. I need to stay away from Twitter and anywhere else I see authors chatting happily back and forth in their own little club. Drives me nuts!! (and I can’t WAIT to be one of them…)

  20. Ah, Gayle. When I got home from the event we did together, my daughter said “MOM YOU WERE SITTING NEXT TO THE GREATEST WRITER IN THE UNIVERSE. YOU’RE SO LUCKY!” Like you – and like her! – I also totally believe in stalking the writers you worship and pimping the books you love. To the extent that I’m pretty sure Ally Condie’s family was scared to let her visit me that day…Love you and this post!

  21. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I’ve been wallowing in disappointment and jealousy lately and it’s so paralyzing, especially because I don’t want to feel this way so I pretend I don’t. And then it just festers.

    Maybe it’s time to own up, give myself a break and move on.

  22. I love this post. I want to come back again and again, to read it, when needed. And it will be needed.

  23. “Getting that nasty little secretive green-eyed fucker out there on the table? It went away. Not entirely. But almost. Jealousy thrives in darkness and secretiveness. It doesn’t like light and air.”

    I love this so much. It is true of all our nasty little feelings. They simply can’t thrive in the light.

    And I heartily agree about unplugging from all the deal information out there! I did that about nine months ago and the unhelpful static in my head went way, way down!

    Such great advice! Thank you.

  24. Here via Natalie Whipple’s link. I struggle with all sorts of jealousies as well; thank you so much for this post.

  25. This is the best of all the various jealousy posts I’ve seen floating about this week. To me, it’s the most honest and least condescending and just basically tells it like it is (at least, for a large number of us).

    Also, didn’t get the chance to say so at the event, but it was a blast being on the panel with you at Teen Author Carnival!


  26. Excellent post, Gayle! A thought came to mind when I read it:

    Often times, when I find myself jealous of others’ success it is very clear to me that I have chosen not to put the time, energy, or risk into creating something as the recipient of my jealousy has, yet I desire the reward that person got for their hard work and consistency.

    In the letter to Sugar, the person listed everything they had been doing that paralleled what their successful peers had done/were doing, but I’d have to wonder what that writer is also NOT doing. There are sacrifices that come with achievement that most people don’t want to have to deal with.

  27. I don’t know Wendy: I pour everything I have into my work, and I still get that pang of jealousy when I read something that blows my socks off. The fact that I could never write a book like BEAUTY QUEENS or WHITE CAT is precisely why I love them, and precisely why I feel the pang.

    I think “why not me?” is a natural feeling. What’s wrong, if you are a writer and working hard to get a book contract, to feeling “entitled” to having just that? How is that any different from visualizing yourself as a successful writer?

    The trick is, I think, not wallowing in self-pitty. Turn that why not ME into a why NOT me. As in, why shouldn’t I be the one getting the book deal, and then use that as a galvanizing force to make it happen, be it writing a better book, or redoubling your efforts to find the right agent etc. I’m not saying that will and effort alone are enough. A book must be good enough or marketable enough in someone’s eyes. But this idea that someone hasn’t had success because she hasn’t earned it or worked for it doesn’t ring true to me. So much of it is luck. Even if it’s the luck of having written the kind of book the publishing machine is hungry for right now. Of course, you can write to the trends…that’s a whole different story, and not something I ever advise people to do.

  28. I so appreciate your unflinching honesty in this tremendously fabulous and helpful post, Gayle! And I also appreciate you sharing your hard-won wisdom. Thank you, thank you. I’m going to print this and tuck it between the pages of the chapter on jealousy in Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, and dare I say it, your post is as frank and illuminating as the chapter in that amazing book. Thanks for giving back to the writing community in this powerful way!

  29. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen on the subjects. Thank you so much for your honesty and wonderfullness – you’re an inspiration.

  30. Thank you for this open and honest post. I think we so often get caught up in the idea that we have to be polite and professional at all times and never talk negatively about others’ work that we tend to smother things like jealousy, but you’re right: that just gives it a place to fester. And solid friendships should be able to withstand honest and humble admissions of visits from the green-eyed monster.

  31. Thanks for a great post and I totally agree with you. I like to believe that a rising tide lifts all ships — when something great happens to another writer it’s often for the entire community. That doesn’t mean I’ve never been jealous, but I’ve tried to learn to turn the jealousy into inspiration. When I read a book I love — that makes me ache because it’s so good — I acknowledge the jealousy and then I praise the author and hope to grow my own craft to such levels.

  32. Stumbled upon this via Amazon of all places, and so glad I did, even though I’m late to the party. This is SUCH a great post, Gayle. I love the comments, too, especially what Holly says about learning to identify that little pang as an indication that she really, really, really loves something. Thank you all!

  33. You already know how much I LOVE this post. Thank you for putting it out there!

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