When I was starting out as a writer, my friends and I noticed the tail-sniffing right away. We were fresh and shiny-enthusiastic, delighted with ourselves, our work and thrilled that other people read what we wrote and talked about it. What had been a hidden desire became public identification. It was a giddy time, full of possibilities.
It soon became apparent, however, that some writers worry more about their position in the pack.
What do you write? is how they evaluate you. Really they want to know how prestigiously you’ve published. It’s not about the money; it’s about the attention. Unfortunately, this kind of professional jealousy just never quite goes away. Someone gets a great publishing contract, then worries that someone else is getting a better deal. You start out as shiny-enthusiastic friends and, after a few years go by, that bonding built on possibilities wears down under the weight of reality. After, we can’t all be the queen-diva. So the friendships fall away.
Some do, anyway.
What’s funny is, I don’t see seminars on dealing with professional jealousy in, say, environmental consulting. Or banking. Or software development. I think this is because those aren’t attention-based fields. The currency is money, not acquiring fans.
The thing is: I don’t think writing should be attention-based either.
So, how do you avoid professional jealousy? Start at home. Here are some rules I’m making for myself.
1) People who read my books are readers, not fans. Fan is from fanatic, which is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.” That doesn’t say reading to me.
2) I wanted to become a writer because I thought that would be an ideal way to make a living. I can tell stories and be paid for it. If I wanted to be a celebrity, I could have chosen another career.
3) The writing isn’t about me. It’s about the story. If it becomes about me, I’m doing something wrong.
4) Jealousy is a sign of insecurity. If I feel jealous about someone else’s deal, editor, agent, etc., I need to look at myself and at why I’m feeling insecure.
5) Focus on controlling the things I can. I can control what and how much I write. I can make it the best I can. Pretty much everything else is up to the winds and how they blow. There’s a freedom in that, if I let it be.
I’m working on more rules, but what about you all? Any more to offer?