Author Jealousy

I struggle with jealousy sometimes.

When Harry Potter became a success, I thought the books sounded pretty stupid.  But eventually I decided to pick one up and see what all the fuss was about.  Despite my expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  So when Twilight came into the limelight, I tried the same thing.  It sounded lame to me, but I decided to give it a shot.  I didn’t like it.  Not even a little.  It frustrated me to no end.

Might as well give up now.

This is what the people want? Seriously?

I’ve gone off on many rants over the years about how much I dislike Twilight.  The poor writing.  The repetitive descriptions of Edward’s beauty.  The flat characters.  The obvious wish-fulfillment.  The unhealthy “love” story.  And so on and so forth.  But how many of my complaints are legitimate and how many stem from pure jealousy?  Stephanie Meyer wrote something wildly successful on her first try but I’ve been trying for years.  Maybe it’s just more comforting to my ego to convince myself that her work sucks.

More recently, as I’ve attempted to get into the indie publishing scene, I’ve acquired a different strain of jealousy.  If I see someone share their new book on reddit, I’ll usually click over to the Amazon page to look at it.  Sometimes it’s a matter of sizing up the competition and sometimes I’m intrigued by the title.  But often, I’ll open up the ebook sample, start reading the first few lines, and be completely baffled by the writing style.

I'm currently rewatching The West Wing on Netflix.  It's an obsession.

Did you just start your novel with a sentence fragment, hyphenate the word “together” and change your protagonist’s name twice in the first three paragraphs?

And then I’ll look at the average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars for twenty-five ratings and I’ll become even angrier.  How come this guy gets all this attention and all this praise?  Clearly, my writing is of a superior quality to his and if anyone should have a 4.2-star rating for twenty-five ratings, it’s me.  That much should be obvious to anyone.  This guy is a hack and anyone who buys his book is an idiot.  There’s no justice in the universe!

Usually, after I calm down, I realize a few things.  First, just because I don’t get his style doesn’t mean he’s an objectively bad writer.  Second, even if his writing mechanics are weak, he can still be capable of telling a story that people enjoy.  Third, he’s probably more adept at marketing his work than I amwhich isn’t saying much anyway.  And Fourth, my work is not Shakespeare.  I think it’s pretty good and all, but it’s not as though I deserve to be a New York Times bestseller just because I’m such hot shit.

The answer, at least so far as I’ve discovered it, is to avoid the jealousy.  You don’t get far by constantly comparing yourself to others.  The most important competition is with yourselfto improve beyond what you were before.  Too much focus on how unfair it is that hacks get million-dollar book deals and geniuses self-publish amid a notable lack of fanfare detracts from the work.  If I sit around angrily thinking about how much better I am than people who are more successful than I am, what I won’t be doing is writing anything that will change anyone’s mind on the subject.

Besides, jealousy is an ugly thing in just about any context.

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4 comments

  1. I have a guy I went to high school with who I actually thought was kind of simple minded and I didn’t like him much. Now he’s published three books and heading towards a fourth when I haven’t even finished a single story — and I’ve been trying for longer than him, and I always felt it was really unfair that he was able to crank out a book and self publish it and have it be successful. It’s a simple, cliche plot, the characters all have terrible names (in my opinion) and the writing style is reminiscent of fanfiction I used to write when I was fourteen. But he FINISHED a book, and he’s out — whereas I’m from the sidelines and I have no say on what is and isn’t fair since I’m not on the playing field.

    But I feel you man. I feeeeel you. It’s so easy to look at something and KNOW you can do better than that person can, and yet somehow… you haven’t. It takes time, I suppose, and hard work. We’ll get there, no worries.

    1. Well said, man. Especially the last part. Even if I’m jealous of successful writers, it’s important to remember that it takes a hell of a lot of work to get to where they are, whether I like their styles or not. I guess we can all benefit from less sitting on the sidelines.

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