Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Envy

Envy is bad. I tell my girls all the time what an ugly thing it is. It's petty. It's selfish. And more than anything it shows a lack of self-confidence, a fundamental chip in one's armor. To envy is to admit that someone else has something you don't have, and worse, can't. Then why, as a writer, do I find myself feeling so damned bitter so much of the damned time? Why am I even ashamed a little to write this post?

Maybe it's just that it's that time of the year. It's fall, when all of the publishers' biggest hitters come to bat; it's also when all the major book awards are given out, seemingly to the same handful of people.  (I'm sorry, but if I have to read another essay about Junot Diaz's genius, I might shoot myself.) All of this seeming to prove that, contrary to what some argue, there is a limited amount of love for writers. And some of them hog it all up. We are, whether we like it or not, engaged in a competitive sport: competing for attention, review space, prizes.

I am "friends" with a lot of writers on Facebook, and in real life many of them are, indeed, friends. And I can honestly say that it is not envy but happiness I feel when one of them is on a roll. I have squealed with delight at their publishing news, their good reviews. And I'll be the first one to spread the word. But for some of those I've never met face to face (or met and didn't really like all that much) I find myself sighing and wishing their good fortune was my own. That I were able to post fifteen different glowing reviews of my latest book, transcriptions of the gushing interviews, photos of the magazine spreads.

Envy makes me feel self-righteous (another ugly trait). I am the hardest working girl in the book business, I tell myself. I'm under-appreciated. They'll miss me when I'm gone.  -- all of which makes me feel better for about thirty seconds. And then I feel sick. Self-loathing almost always follows a good flirtation with envy. It's like drinking too much. You know it's bad, that tomorrow you'll feel awful, but still you indulge.

But the worst part is that it's paralyzing. When I am feeling this way, I am incapable of putting pen to paper. Everything I write sounds like shit. I second guess every word, every metaphor, everything. Envy makes me a bad writer and worse, a hypocrite. I don't ever want my daughters to begrudge anyone anything, or to feel that they are lesser people for simple lack of recognition.

And so I am vowing right now to put a kibosh on the envy. I'm going to hide those Facebook posts so I won't even be tempted. I'm going to let it go. Because I am the hardest working girl in the book business, and now it's time to get back to work.


Sue Boggio said...

Tough topic. Thanks for for being brave enough to tackle it. I've certainly been there. A lot of the time, the envy I experience is when reading a beautifully written book, or turn of phrase, and feel the wistful yearning to be able to write like that. But that's what keeps me motivated, I guess, to keep improving. And you, Tammy, are one of my greatest sources of that wistful yearning. BTW, Mare and I pitched a revised Four Fools with your blurb to three agents at a conference last weekend--all wanted full manuscript submissions!

T. Greenwood said...

That is terrific news!!! Congratulations. This one has been a long time coming. And thanks. It's always hard to show your less shimmery glimmery side.