Sunday, August 07, 2005


Mark Terry has an interesting post about author envy, in which he notes a couple of different forms of it: success envy, skill envy, accomplishment envy.

I'll add on a couple more: online attention envy (why is his/her blog/site more popular than mine?), age envy (that NYT bestseller who is technically young enough to be your grandchild), and public appearance envy (the author who looks better than his/her gorgeous jacket photo.)

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and for good reason. It's the opposite of love and admiration, and the spin-off of pride. If there is anything that humans know how to do very well, it's hate and pride. We're also very good at disguising it, justifying it, flaunting it and finding clever ways to say we're entitled to it.

I envy Lee Goldberg, but not for his job (close proximity to all those celebrities would give me another ulcer.) It's his family that makes me turn green. Imagine having a whole family of writers to hang with -- would that not be the coolest thing in the world? Two of my cousins write, but one is in the UK and the other lives in the Carolinas. Gran, who was a poet, passed away. I keep hoping one of my kids will end up being a writer, but you can't force that.

Envy doesn't go unnoticed. It took what I considered a great friendship, showed me what it really was, and broke my heart. Alison Kent has blogged about being on the receiving end as well, and snagged some interesting comments from other victims, including author Mary Janice Davidson (who as one of the finalists for a Quill Award will likely be seeing a lot more of it.)

Feeling envy doesn't make you a bad person. Congratulate yourself, you're human. Forgive yourself, too. But then you have to take one final step: let it go and do something else. I suggest doing something to show your love for your family, or to help out another person. That will shift your focus and soothe some of that bruised self-esteem.

What do you do if you're feeling envious?

More in print: Sandra Brown's Envy, a story that revolves around writer envy taken to the extreme. Nonfic about envy has been penned by Joseph Epstein and Harold Boris.


  1. It's amazing the timing of this post. I was just telling somebody about how a highschool friend of mine suddenly stopped talking to me after I finished my first book.

    It's not even like the book was ever published. I'm on number four now, still trying. But the fact that I finished it kills her.

    She was the 'smart' one who went to a better university than I did, who constantly reminded me that she was more articulate and intelligent.

    She stayed home for three years to write while he husband worked, but never got beyong 200 pages in her book. Now she has a baby girl and says that she has no time to write. But I've seen mothers of five with full time jobs write books.

    Every once in a while I get an email from her asking about my writing. I tell her about a short story here or there that was published in e-zines. No payment or anything. And bang! I get silence for another six months or more.

    It's so strange to me. I'm envious of her baby girl because I have no children and never will. But I always love to see pictures of her and I'm always thrilled to hear about how she's growing. Why do people have to be such assholes?

  2. What I do when I'm envious depends on what I'm envious of. If it's talent, I work harder or try something new. If it's success--well, I'm not often envious of success. Maybe because deep down I believe I will be a success someday too, or I have the understanding that those who are successful have done what it takes while I haven't. Maybe I'll have a harder time with the envy after I actually start sending things out and getting rejected.

  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    Guilty as charged. I used to be jealous of younger-than-me writers getting published first, but now, almost everyone is younger than I am, so that one's losing some of its sting.

    I combat envy by recognizing it and nipping it in the bud. Then I and silently bless or congratulate the person. Another thing that helps is go through my own gratitude list.

  4. Anonymous11:24 AM

    I must confess to Not-Having-Chosen-a-More-Interesting-Early-Life envy. One of my favorite books is LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE, just for the "Oh, how I long to have wicked parents" parts. (Note: I do recognize that the happiness I have today is largely due to my parent's happy, stable marriage and general lack of wickedness.)

    In my early working years, I got talking to a PI. I thought of going to work for him, but I didn't have a car (or the down payment for one) or a place to park it, even if I bought one. So I stayed with my fun city book and videostore jobs, taking writing classes.

    So, I guess I envy the folks who DIDN'T decide to become writers young and have interesting pasts that have inspired their books.

  5. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Trace said: how a highschool friend of mine suddenly stopped talking to me after I finished my first book.

    Does this happen to everyone? In my case, the biggest fallout like that happened when my book sold. A friend in my online writers group, a woman who was damn near my best friend in the world, quit talking to me. Then toss on all the other little snubs (like another member of my group who loved my book while we were all critting, but gave it a scathing review)... It's very aggravating.

    I've felt it too, though. A fellow new author that I'd met was a very nice person, we got on well, and their first book came out a few weeks after mine. To more attention, more reviews (Publisher's Weekly, anyone??) and made a much bigger splash. I was jealous - why them and not me?? - but they'd sold a lot of shorts before the novel hit, they lived on the east coast and had greater access to major conventions and things, they were better entrenched in the word-of-mouth and industry network, and had a larger print run. Once I realized their career wasn't mine, there were no parallels other than a first novel from the same publisher, I just thought, "What am I getting all flustered about?"

    I do envy Sheila, tho, who can keep her professional cool when things go well whereas flaky tam short circuits and has to hide in a dark room until the hyperventillating passes. Damn her. ;)

  6. Good post. I agree that to envy is human and it can sometimes work as a motivation but also can become a weight holding us back.

    In my little circle of novelists working on agents and publication, we're very up front about the envy we'll feel and the way that even as we congratulate, there's a twinge of "why not me?" but I think being open about it and talking about it between us that when that envy happens for real, it'll quickly pass into joy. At least I hope that's the case. And wouldn't mind having my posit tested soon for any of us ;).


  7. Tam, I'm thinking it probably does happen to everyone. I guess it's just very human to be envious of others.

    But I mean, get a grip, right? You get over it. You don't let it eat you alive, and like Sheila says, do something productive to counteract it.

  8. Anonymous1:26 PM

    In my mind, I distinguish between envy and jealousy. Envy is wanting what someone else has, and jealousy is when envy gets ugly- like, when you're envious of a friend and it stops you from being friends.

    It seems like whenver I become envious of someone, they're someone I like and respect, so I can't get jealous. I get jealous of people who seem to 'have it all' and are pricks. When I find myself envying someone who is kind and hard working and fun to be with, I can't be jealous.

    Does that make sense?

  9. Anonymous3:11 PM

    Screw that! Envy might be a sin in your world, but in mine, in which God is just some invention of the weak-minded, envy is no more a sin than eating breakfast is.

  10. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Interesting post. I have precisely one author that I am "green" with envy of, mostly because she's published and I'm not. But I also know where the source of that envy comes from because we knew one another -- and had clashed -- in real life long before she started writing. She actually tried to steal the guy I was dating once, so there's some deep-seated resentment there already. I don't seek reviews of her work out, but if I come across one and it's less than glowing, I'll confess to a vindictive little thrill of pleasure.

    Most of the time, fortunately, I read something and think, "I wish I could write like that," or "I wish I had a book that was doing that well." When that happens, a little voice in my head says, "Then stop messing around and start writing." That, at least, is productive.

  11. Envy is a tough one. I've envied other people's book deals, even when I know they would be the worse thing that could happen to me. Strange.

    I have also envied others writing abilities. Well, perhaps envy isn't the right word. I fear that my abilities will never reach their level or the level I strive to obtain.

  12. hehehe I just blogged about this--except it was more about critique partners. I ENVY Jaye and Raine. They are both phenomenal in areas where I fall short. I know they work hard to make it seem effortless, so I also respect their skills. Rather than whining like a baby because "I can't do that" I push myself to do better.

  13. Anonymous6:20 PM

    But isn't envy based on admiration? Especially that nastiest of all--envy of talent. Most of the rest of your list might come to me eventually. With practice I might improve my writing and even hit the cool chords now and again. But I know that there are writers whose talent far exceeds mine and I can't do a damn thing to reach their ability.

  14. Good post! I've seen so much envy in this business, from writers at all stages of their careers.

    Also thanks for the tip on Sandra Brown's book : )

  15. Everyone feels envious at times, I think. I know I have. I deal with it in three ways. One, I write about it in my personal journal, which usually ends up showing me how silly the whole thing is. Two, I look at the things in my own life that other people envy and count my own blessings.

    The third thing is a bit more complicated. I have a friend who I've felt envy for over the years. Obviously, since we're still friends, I got over it. The thing is that there's always a tradeoff. I wouldn't give up what she gave up to have what I envy about her. If I had been willing to make those tradeoffs, maybe I would have what she has. I've chosen different things in my life. So, when I get that envious feeling, I ask myself if I'm willing to do what they did to get where they are. That question usually ends up with me feeling happy for them and content with my own life. If they truly have something I want, I look at what I need to do to go after having it, too. And do it.

  16. Anonymous1:20 AM

    I'm very lucky in that the one person I share things with is my CP, and we're both thrilled for each other every time something good happens. We have been friends and CPs for nearly 10 years, and our careers have grown together. She's way ahead of me now, but she works harder at it, and I know that. So, why be jealous?

    When I hear that someone got a big advance, it gives me a shot of optimism - they're still paying money for people to write books. Yay!

    I've been on the receiving end of envy, though, big time. I was in a bad job situation for many years, where I was the designated dumpee, held back in every way except the amount of work I was given. When I finally left and got another job that was more in line with my abilities and tripled (yes, tripled) my salary, were my so-called work friends happy for me? Hah. I never heard another word from anyone of them. In my case it was probably that they needed to think of me as "that poor thing," and when they couldn't anymore, they felt somehow diminished.

    I don't know if I'm warped, by I just don't find it hard to be happy for other people's successes. I may have a twinge of wish it were me, but that's not the same as envy. Wish it were me instead of him/her, now that's envy.

  17. Anonymous7:53 AM

    I posted about envy over at Crazybooks. Mostly its just seeing the personality of a writer come out through their work; I wish I could find my voice as easily, although I think I'm getting there.

    Oh, and I'm with Alison on the whole online traffic envy, but then crazy-books isn't a personal blog of a much loved author, it is only another reader's discussion site. *sigh* Oh well!

  18. What do you do if you're feeling envious?

    I head outside for a dose of humility: try to convince the horse to do anything. (Horse is singularly unimpressed by me.)

    A great cure for envy, taking oneself too seriously, or just about any other non-productive feeling.

  19. How do I fix Envy?

    My Own: I STUDY those I Envy (books, art, websites...,) to find out what made them work and see if I can apply it.

    From Others: I write a lecture on HOW I do something - in painful detail. If they whine at me about my techniques being too difficult, then my response is: "Good! Less competition for me!"

    Cold? Mean Vicious?
    - Probably, but it puts the ball back in their court. If they want what I have, then they have to do what I did to get it. The same goes in reverse: If I want what they have, I LEARN how they did it -- and apply it.

    There are some things I will never have:
    - A moviestar for a boyfriend
    - A body above 5 feet tall that can wear size 5 jeans
    - A Victorian Mansion
    - A private jet
    - A Lamborgini
    - Nora Robert's paycheck

    I've learn to live without those things, and reach for what I CAN have. I have less stress that way.

    Morgan Hawke


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