Tail Sniffing

This time of year is all about purple in the garden. So soothing and lovely.

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?

9 Replies to “Tail Sniffing”

  1. I think one thing you could take into account is that, like with any artistic endeavour, some people really are in it for the celebrity. That’s their highest goal. In that case, professional jealousy is probably a motivating factor.

    Another thing… there is tons of professional jealousy in the corporate world. Who made what title by what age and who has the corner office?

    I also don’t think all jealousy is bad. I’m a fan of self-awareness, and I think if you can look at a situation where you’re jealous and either work through it and soothe it away (feelings are facts; it’s what we do with them that counts) OR say, “Hey, I’m a little insecure that that person got better than me, maybe because the powers that be like them better… I’m awfully prickly. Maybe I need to take a deep breath and be more pleasant.” (for example)… then you can do some good with jealousy.

    p.s. – that last paragraph? That’s why I’m so fond of footnotes. So many parenthetical expressions, so little clarity.

  2. I am jalus all the time! It doesn’t stop me from continuing down my own path, congratulating the writers of whom I am jalus and actually meaning it, and making fun of myself for being jalus :). If I want to take someone out, I’ll use secret ninjas, not backstabbing and gossip. It’s less traceable that way.

  3. Good post, Jeffe. You know what, though? There are people like that in every profession. The ones who care more about what you can do for them than who you are as a person. The ones who are always focused up, looking for the next rung on the ladder, and not bothering to (A) enjoy where they are or (B) remember where they were before, and what it felt like to be there.

    All we can do (I think, anyway) is, as you suggest, focus on why WE chose this profession. The writing. And we can take the time to enjoy the particular shade of green the grass is on our side of the fence. 🙂

  4. I think another key rule is: we don’t ever entirely know what’s happening in another person’s career. We only know what we’re told. Which can omit and obfuscate a lot, good or bad. I think if we knew the totality of others’ circumstances, jealousy isn’t really necessary.

    1. Ooooh… that’s really good to remember. Being self-aware is nice, but being aware of your surroundings (or at least aware that you’re not so aware) is key.

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