Jealousy is all the fun you think they had*

Personally, I think jealousy is a great motivator.  Who hasn’t experienced a moment of jealous rage so virulent that it’s propelled them  to action?  Whether it’s romantic or professional, this base and vile emotion can force you to get off your keester and make things happen.  Okay, sometimes, it lands you in jail—not so good.  But, when we are jealous of someone’s accomplishments and able to see the effort and talent behind them, we can parse the elements of their success and try to apply them to our own circumstances.  Also, there have been some epic feuds born of jealousy that make for great entertainment—Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer; Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck….

The kind of jealousy we encounter on an almost daily basis is creative and professional.  Why is so and so getting bigger advances than me?  Why did she get a better review from the Times when everyone knows she’s a hack?  Why did [fill in the publisher’s name] give him an eight-city tour when they can’t even get my books in stores?  And so on.

Our response, in soothing, zen-like tones is something along the lines of “Be patient, grasshopper.  Unimaginable success will be yours.”

Uh…yes…well…more often it’s “Stop whining and stay focused on your own work.  No one can write your book better than you and being jealous of other people’s success is just distracting you from doing your best work, not to mention meeting your deadlines.”

So, this piece in Writer’s Relief made me think about the uses and misuses of jealousy and wonder whether it is, indeed, a motivator?  Can you keep it in check and make it work for you? Or is it just a corrosive, soul destroying thing you wish you could banish from your creative life?  Who are you most jealous of?

*Erica Jong

UPDATE:  I love the link Tamara posted in the comments so much, that I thought I’d share it with you here:


10 Responses to Jealousy is all the fun you think they had*

  1. Dave Sosnowski says:

    There’s a fine line between jealousy and anger, but it’s important. Anger I’ve always found to be a powerful motivator; its energy is directed outwardly. Jealousy and envy, however, tend to be more corrosive; their energies are turned inward, and rarely to positive effect. I try to deal with the latter by chalking it up to the Universe’s not being fair and then do my best to move on.

  2. I think most of the examples you cited in relation to writers are envy, but I’m nitpicking with the envy vs. jealousy distinction. (The way I see it, envy is wanting something you don’t have but someone else does, whereas jealousy is a more violent emotion and encompasses the fear of losing something you do or did have.)

    Regardless, both are weakening emotions; they might spur you on to work harder for a while, but at what cost to your soul, confidence, mental health, etc? A little bit of envy might give you the kick you need to get going, but determination, discipline, patience, and fortitude are the better emotions to cultivate and will do you better in the long run.

  3. Telling myself I won’t be jealous in my writing life is a bit like telling MInnesota to never have a snowstorm again. I’ve tried both and it doesn’t work. I think it’s natural and human to feel envious of someone who has something we want so dearly ourselves. For a hot second. Then it’s time to look beyond the knee-jerk reaction to focus on what that person is doing right. There’s always SOMETHING someone is doing right to achieve success, and I think that’s what has helped me develop a critical eye to my own work. I’m in a creative pursuit, but I know that if I want to be a serious writer I’ve got to use my business head as well. To have any hope of getting my ideas in book form someday, I have to recognize that the market has to want them there.

    As I recently finished my MS and start to send it out, I’ve had lots of reactions from my fellow writers and can definitely recognize those that are tinged by envy that there’s been a bit of interest in my stuff. But there are just as many others who get how hard I’ve had to work in the past couple of years to get to this point, and I give them a lot of credit for taking themselves out of the equation. Good energy attracts good energy, and while I know I’ll never be above feeling jealousy, I now have a pretty good idea of how to rein in the feeling and make it work for me.

    With regards to the celebrities that have their work written for them…again SOMEONE had to labor over that and with a celebrity, no less. In my opinion, that deserves a medal on its own.

  4. Tamara says:

    Oh, what a great topic. There’s a fabulous Dear Sugar about just this, and make sure to read the great comment thread.


  5. I think jealousy is always corrosive for me. Usually it’s closer to resentment, as in why is so-and-so getting the same salary-recognition-whatever when he/she/it doesn’t do diddly? I usually take it as a sign that I need sleep.

  6. Ryan Field says:

    I don’t know if this falls under the catogory of jealousy. But I absolutely despise it when I see online book reviewers promoting certain authors…with an agenda. I’m not talking about giving great book reviews. I’m talking about passive aggressive promotion that most readers don’t notice.

    You don’t see it often. But when you do it shouts bad ethics and lack of quality. And it’s not fair to other authors or to readers.

  7. Lisa Marie says:

    I really am not the jealous type. :)

    I have many friends who are published. Each time they have a book release party, it’s so fun to celebrate their success! I think that jealousy is largely for people who are uncertain about their talent. One thing that’s very true about the arts (well, in most cases) is that the general population does acknowledge the truly good stuff. If what I write doesn’t resonate, there’s a reason why. That’s due to my own shortcomings, and it means that I need to perfect my craft.

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