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the green-eyed author
dissecting and dodging professional jealousy
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

Somebody's always getting something you're not.

It's the truth of being a writer, and a lot of other artistic professions besides. You start out with nothing, and you create, and if you want to share those creations with a larger audience, you have to make a business out of your art. This is a hell of a process. Sometimes you will succeed and sometimes you will fail. You will taste joy and lose it. You will see opportunities and miss them. You will wish for things and some of those wishes will not come true.

And at the best times, the loveliest, most magical times, you will succeed.

You will also, if you're lucky, build a network of like-minded artists. These are people who can share your journey with you, providing advice and support. You'll learn more from them and with them than you ever could on your own. When there are setbacks, for them or for you, you can discuss and commiserate and reassure. When there are successes, for them or for you, you can celebrate and share and exclaim.

But when something truly wonderful happens to one of your fellow like-minded artists, somewhere along the way, another feeling will intrude. You'll feel something and wonder. You'll analyze it. You'll worry it like a bone.

And you'll realize what it is: You're jealous.

(Okay, maybe you're superhuman. Maybe you're truly generous in your spirit, and you don't mind when other people achieve great things that you don't. In that case, don't read this "you" as talking about you; and congratulations.)

If you find yourself with a cold, poisonous jealousy brewing in your stomach or lurking between your eyes, it's okay. Don't feel bad. There's nothing wrong with the impulse, the feeling. It's what you do about it that matters.

Because honestly, it's not that you aren't happy for them. You are. Chances are you're feeling true joy for your friend and you want to celebrate that. You're glad something good happened to them. You just also wish that the same thing were happening to you.

Don't you?

There's only one way to get past this kind of thing. And it's simple, and it changes things for the better, very quickly.

Don't compare.

Because someone will get something you won't. They just will. There are a zillion stories in publishing, and a few of them are so heartbreakingly easy that you can't help but wish the person had encountered a bump or two in the road. But that's where the comparison thing comes in. You only wish their road would have been bumpy because yours was. There's nothing wrong with a smooth road. A smooth road is a thing of beauty. There are people who woke up one day and decided to write a book, and they had an agented friend or met someone at a conference, or something, and that first book landed them an agent who landed them a six-figure deal. It happens.

(Not all that much, you understand, in case you were hoping that story could be yours. It could! It's just not likely.)

And once your friends get published, there are all sorts of new ways for you to compare yourself to them. Someone's sales figures will make yours look like a preschool math workbook. Someone will be asked to do readings at the bookstores you most covet. Someone's book will be endorsed by your favorite author. Someone will get on the Approval Matrix in Entertainment Weekly. Someone will get that New York Times review. Someone will get interviewed on NPR, or even "The Today Show." Someone will have more Twitter followers, or get nominated for a particular award, or win that award. Someone's next advance will be higher than yours. Someone will have the success that you want, no matter how you slice it.

(And to be honest, you're never really going to be completely happy, are you? Even if you get that great review. Even if you hit the list. There's always something better, something bigger, something more.)

Let it go.

Their success is theirs. You'll have your own, and you should celebrate your little victories and your big ones, without losing sleep over whatever it is you and your book don't have. Don't diminish the joy of your celebrations by thinking about what they're not, or worrying about who else got there before you. There is no upside in comparison. You are your own person. You are your own artist. No one else is exactly like you, no other book is exactly like yours, and thank goodness for that.

Your success is yours. Keep your eyes, whatever color they might be, on that. That way, other people's success becomes something you can celebrate sincerely, just as you celebrate your own, whatever it might be.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


neil and neal go even steven
gaiman and stephenson have their differences in common
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 11.3.04

what it feels like for an author
notes from the far side of publication
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 8.3.11


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