Years ago I read Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, a book with an entire chapter devoted to envy.
It is easy to be envious in all professions, but I think there’s a special envy reserved just for the arts. When what you create is the thing ultimately received or rejected by others, it is often difficult to keep ourselves separate from our work, and it’s easy to grow bitter when others’ work is received differently than our own.
Here’s what Vandermeer has to say:
…Envy expresses a perverse feeling of helplessness: an acknowledgement of our inability to control what we could never control anyway. The only true balm is to tend to our own work, our own business, and to be as sound and honest in it as we can be — and as for others, to treat them with love and affection, recognizing that what we may see of them in our eye, they too may see of us in theirs. Recognizing that the fortunes of our fellow travelers rise and fall as do our own — knowing that we are bound in a brotherhood and sisterhood of envy — may remove the sting of the sliver when it enters, and when it exits.
How do you deal with envy?
This was so helpful. I think Vandermeer is in my head at this very moment. Just received wonderful praise for my current ms and then was rejected. Yeah, separation is impossible at the moment. lol
Jeanette Levellie says
What a wise word; I appreciate you passing it on.
When I’m temtped to envy, I try to remember that there is enough of God’s grace to go around, and I say, “I’m next in line, Lord.”
What makes it hard is when a fellow-author gets a big head; that angers me.
Laura Pauling says
If discouragement (more than envy) hits then I stay away from Twitter from a bit. Or I read a good book. It comes and goes. But unavoidable to a certain degree, I think.
out of the wordwork says
Very wise words! I’m with Laura – it’s the discouragement that I try to deal with. Happy for another writer but wondering why I’m struggling or it’s taking so long for something to happen. Then I remember I don’t always know the whole backstory to that happy bit of news I’ve just read. Once you get happy news you don’t want to remind people of how hard it was to get there – you just want to celebrate!
Valerie Geary says
Oooo…I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. Moving it up on the list after your post. Envy is (thank god) not something I really struggle with. Sometimes I get a little pinch of it, but then I just remind myself that each person has their own journey, their own ups and downs. Also, I frequently practice self-ego-stroking: “Valerie, you are awesome! AWESOME! Now get out there and kick some….” well, you get the idea.
This is a great post and a topic that artists don’t often like to talk/think about but totally need to hear. (I know there are definitely times when I get struck by the green-eyed monster.)
I think Laura’s idea of stepping away for a while is a good one. And Jeanette’s idea that there’s enough grace to go around is awesome!
Jennifer Shirk says
Whenever I feel envy I try to remember that it always looks good but you don’t know what bad things might be happening in that person’s life. So I need to count my blessings and let that other person enjoy theirs.
Katie Ganshert says
Love that quote. Jody Hedlund had a great post a while back on envy. It’s good to know we’re not alone in our struggle with it.
Faith E. Hough says
What a very important thought to keep in mind. I think it’s interesting that overcoming a temptation like that will not only make you a better person, but a better writer, because you will focus only on bettering yourself.
Thank you for sharing this!
Kiki Hamilton says
Great post Caroline! I think envy is inevitable, especially when opinions on ‘art’ can vary so widely. That’s what I always remind myself if I feel a twinge of the green-eyed monster: We’ve all worked hard to create our art – whatever medium it might be in – and while some artists may get more attention than others that doesn’t diminish the value of our own work.
At the end of the day, I create because it gives me pleasure, whether it’s stories or music or paintings and that’s how I measure my success.
Pen and Ink says
Thanks Caroline. Envy’s always ready to smack me in the head. Usually I can easily avoid it because I know that no one else is writing what I’m writing. Then… Oh then…. I see something that I consider really poorly written and I have to wonder what they did to get published. However when I read something like Harry Potter, I am never envious. I am just grateful she wrote it so I got a chance to be in her world.
Joanne Fritz says
Thanks for the timely reminder, Caroline. Everyone I know seems to have acquired an agent recently, so I’ve been feeling more than a little envious.
Kristen den Hartog says
What a perfect and wise quote. Have you seen the Elizabeth Gilbert talk on ted.com? It’s about “having” rather than “being a” genius, but touches on some of the things you’ve mentioned here. Thank you!
Lindsay N. Currie says
Excellent post. Given that we’re all on such a bumpy and rollercoaster-like journey, a little envy is to be expected when success comes easier to some than to others. Thanks for posting!!
Amy LV says
This is very helpful. I am going to copy it and paste it to read when I need it most. It’s good not to feel alone in all of these up and down feelings! A.
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater says
Thank you, Caroline. I’m keeping these words in my notebook. Wise. xx
Did you notice you commented underneath your very own comment from almost six years back? I think this is a quote you were meant to read!
Anna Lee says
Very helpful. Thank you for sharing!
Margaret Simon says
I have saved this quote. I know I will need it. I tend to envy those who “get to” write all day while I “have to” teach, but in reality, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would not even consider myself a writer if I wasn’t first a teacher. They go hand in hand. Such wise words.
It’s good to have quotes like this to refer back to, isn’t it?