I’ll call him Bruce. He is about my age, came up in similar circumstances. He made different choices, had different opportunities. We both wanted to be writers.
Bruce had a big success–his book sold well, got a movie sale. I wasn’t happy for him, since I don’t know him, but I wasn’t jealous. Someone wrote a book people like, it sold. My book was doing a rejection tour of publishers and agents.
Measuring your own level of success against another writer’s is stupid, but comparing achievements in real time is insane, or close to it. So many things contribute to how you’re doing, how he’s doing. Also, his stuff is good enough to sell. Yours isn’t. You need to change that instead of worrying about the horserace angle of publishing.
Bruce married, had kids, nice house, nice life. For awhile it looked like he was done. He wasn’t. He was just working in movies. Then he went back to books. Sold more, sold to movies. Hit movies resulted. More success.
He came out with books in the genres I write in.
(Being jealous of someone’s success is poor form; don’t make it worse by writing about it. And definitely don’t put such writing out there for the public to read. If you’ve done this, delete it.)
More success. More.
In all this time, I hadn’t read more than a page or two of his work.
By accident, I read an anthology Bruce had contributed to. I went in thinking, “Watch this, it’ll suck.”
The book contained an early work by a writer I knew of; I had read little of his work. Reading Not Bruce’s early story, I noticed some flaws, some trite stuff, but I wanted to see how the story worked out. After finishing the story I thought, “That was good.” Not Bruce slipped from “Don’t Care” to “Will Try A Book” status.
Back to Bruce.
I thought Bruce’s story was going to suck. It’s much more recent than Not Bruce’s story, and written while he’s on a career high. This is prime cut, as opposed to Not Bruce’s hamburger.
Bruce’s story blows.
It’s not okay, it’s not “good but not my thing.” It’s hilariously bad.
You think I’m delusional, but that’s okay. I’m actually kind of shocked that such a story was picked for this collection, which includes at least two writers I would call “great.” It’s a bad joke, with a dumb P.C. angle that dares the reader to disapprove. Like the politics = Like the story = You’re a good person!
I’m still jealous of Bruce’s life and career. This is something everyone tells you us poisonous. That’s true. I have always tried not to have such feelings about somone who could be a great human being. At the very least, he’s successful at having the kind of career I’d like to have.
As we get older and realize life didn’t go as we’d hoped, we realize this is the case with many, if not most adults. Very few of us die thinking, “Thank God I’m going, I can’t think of any awesome things I want, I’ve got ’em all.”
Maybe–I’m definitely not sure about this–jealousy is necessary in the arts. Without that uncomfortable, unpleasant thing digging at our insides like a fork, we’d be comfortable just writing and not achieving our publishing dreams. “I only wrote that for myself and my friends,” said a writer of a horrible thing with terrible grammar. If I were his friend I’d be offended.
Writing is communicating. If you’re not successful at communicating, you’re not going to be successful at writing. And to be successful at communicating, you have to know who you are.
Even the truly shitty parts of you. Know what you really feel, and examine it, and see what you can do with it. Otherwise, it’s just going to eat you up, because it doesn’t go away.