Thursday 22 November 2012

Professional jealousy = wasted energy so get over it

However, this isn’t always that easy.  Jealousy isn’t always something we can control. It’s an emotion that takes over. It chips away at us and can seriously damage our well-being. Can we talk ourselves out of it?
I’m probably not alone in being jealous of J K Rowling. She’s a great story-teller, obviously well-read and we all love Harry and co. And darn it, her first adult novel has gone straight to the top of the bestseller charts. But some of my stories are just as good, aren’t they? I’m well-read too and I think my writing is quite good. I have another feeling towards J,K, though. I’m extremely grateful to her for giving us another great example of good versus evil, of getting so many people reading – including some previously reluctant males - that more people are reading my works too.     
It’s sometimes harder when it’s closer to home. My colleague Antony Rowland recently won the Manchester Prize for his poetry. I lecture in creative writing at the same HE institution where he teaches a little creative writing and lots of other things. I immediately felt useless. Shouldn’t I and the others in the creative writing team be achieving this sort of success? Hang on a minute, though.  I’m not a poet and I didn’t enter the competition this year even though there’s a section on short fiction. That spark of jealousy, fortunately, only lasted about five minutes. The next emotion was of extreme pride. One of us has been noticed. I was also extremely touched when Antony said in an interview with a newspaper that he was part of a strong creative writing team.
Frank Cottrell Boyce recently won the Guardian Literary prize. That’s where I’d like to be and maybe I won’t get there because – well, Frank Cottrell Boyce – will I ever be that good? But wait a minute: he writes a range of material for the same readership as I write for. So, my work counts. I’m glad he was given this award. I’ve met him once and even shared the dubious of pleasure of getting lost and arriving late at the same event with him. I will be working with him in the not too distant future. So, someone in my circle of influence is highly regarded … bring it on.
What about when someone in your critique group or another writing friend gets published / represented where you’ve been looking? Or gets a better book deal than the one you were offered? Or wins a competition that you also entered? That can be harsh. You want to be glad for the friend but you are so disappointed for yourself.
At this point I have to remind myself of what I often tell my students. You can do it IF you really want to. It is of course an enormous “if”. You will have to face rejection, feelings of inadequacy, possibly poverty, they say 10,000 hours working on your craft and this occasional jealousy for which you may well hate yourself for a while. You have to hold the vision. There is some luck involved but you usually find when your scrutinize the more successful work, that guess what, it is actually better then yours even if it is by only a small margin.
This is where those fellow-writers who make us jealous for a few moments can help us.  They provide the bench-marks. It’s the Manchester Prize, the Guardian Literary prize and a decent book deal with representation by a decent agent that you set as your goals. Our friend / colleague / writing buddy has done this, therefore it is possible for us as well. We may have to try a little bit harder, though.
I always take much comfort in remembering Louisa May Alcott who worked as a jobbing writer for twenty years, no doubt earning a meagre living but being content in her work, and then wrote Little Women. Aren’t we glad that she did? She invested what she earned from that in the railways and became quite rich. Possibly after 10,000 hours of other writing?  
We can’t help the feelings but can we turn them into something that can work positively for us?                         

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