Friday, September 16, 2011

For Writers Only: Is Jealousy Rotting Your Bones?

What a perfect week to talk about jealousy. Ariel's brilliantly constructed post on Monday about fear of fiction and Latayne's heartbreakingly beautiful poetry on Wednesday set this topic up perfectly. I'm so jealous! What amazing writers! I totally understand how Anne Lamott feels when she talks about jealousy in the writing world. And why are we talking about jealousy? Because we're still chatting up Bird by Bird, and today's chapter is creatively titled "Jealousy."

Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and most degrading. And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that hlp ease or transform it are (a) getting older, (b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and (c) using it as material. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Jealousy has only gotten worse in the seventeen years since Bird by Bird was published. After all, we have the Internet now. With our smart phones, we can compare numbers of Facebook fans wherever we go, be alerted when our agents announce a yowza contract for another client, know who our publisher is taking to a conference, get weekly updates on the top ten bestsellers, know how many followers a certain author has on his or her blog, click into a storm of congratulations when someone else wins an award.

But then, Cain and Abel didn't have the Internet, and, well, that story didn't end well either.

A heart at peace gives life to the body,
but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30

As someone who deals with rotting bones from time to time (don't ask how often, please), I have to disagree with Anne's advice in this chapter. Getting older may help some writers put things in perspective, but I'm not willing to wait until my death bed to see just how old is older. For me, talking about jealousy only seems to empower it. And as for using it as material? Perhaps, but this can simply be an excuse to give jealousy a place to grow in the dark until it's needed. And it will grow.

For me, jealousy is a God-Patti relationship issue. When I forget God's sovereignty, His perfect love, that He must become greater and I become less, the green-eyed monster gains momentum. Here are some of the ways I've battled and will battle jealousy as a writer:
  • Keep my relationship with Jesus vital and intimate. For me, that means almost daily (daily IS my goal) personal bible study and an ongoing conversation with him. Nothing else convinces me of his love and sovereignty, the source of peace.
  • Be part of a writing community that promotes love over publishing, like Novel Matters. Don't get me wrong, we all want to be published, to bring our art out into the light, but being published is not the measure of God's goodness to us. His Son is that.
  • Look for ways to bless others who are living the writer's life. Those we envy experience good days and bad, tiramisu and hardtack, tsunamis of inspiration and a cold, white computer screens of doubt. Pray for them. Encourage them. They probably have hemorrhoids.
  • Celebrate the "success" of others.
  • Set my heart on what God wants for me, not on what God wants for others.
  • Be grateful, for heaven's sake. God is using my writing. He is good in all things. The writing life is amazing.
  • Use the Internet to build relationships, not as a tool for self promotion. Give your "friends" and readers a gift with your wit and wisdom.

Am I the only one who spurs the green-eyed monster into a gallop? Please say no. How do you deal with jealousy? Have you noticed times when you are more vulnerable to jealousy?


Megan Sayer said...

Patti once again you are spot on. I find that when I'm intimate with God that it's not a problem at all...and similarly that place of intimacy makes me more productive as a writer. What can happen though, if I'm not careful, is that my productivity takes me away from wanting to spend more time with God (because time is limited and I'm so excited about writing...I'm sure you know how it is) that I can find myself writing Him out without even noticing, and that's when the stupid, niggly stuff like jealousy comes in.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Such wisdom here.

And oh yeah, I bathe in the stuff. But the good news is God cleans me off. He's really the only cure for me. I have to actively fight against jealousy in my life. I'm prone to it. I think most women are (just depends how honest we want to be). In that respect I see where Anne was coming from...if we're honest about it, we've tackled some of the battle.

The rest of the battle is fought with God alone.

Great post!
~ Wendy

Marian said...

You are right...jealousy is unhealthy. Admiration works though.

Latayne C Scott said...

Your insight that "being published is not the measure of God's goodness to us. His Son is that," was a wake-up call for me. Thank you so much.

Patti, you are a treasure of a friend and colleague. I love you dearly.

Anonymous said...

Oh, jealousy is such an ugly battle! For me it's jealousy of the significant amount of time I perceive others writers have to write, ie. those who can stay home and write or otherwise get several hours a day. Then I look at my 30 minutes a day and my eyes turn green and glow like the Snakeheads from Stargate.

For me it's a larger part of the problem of being content where God has me right now. I'm never satisfied and I never seem to learn.

And walking closely with God requires a time investment and of course that leads to a circular battle as well--on a daily basis. But there's no mystique about it--the more time I spend with the Lord, the less these problems plague me.

BK Jackson

Patti Hill said...

Megan: Our work, especially the work we're gifted to do, is worship if done with a worshipful heart. Still, stopping--and for me this is best done with my face to the floor--and acknowledging His Lordship and welcoming His will is essential. We work on holy ground.

Wendy:I should have said how much I appreciated Anne's total transparency. My goodness, she is crystal to my Tupperware.

Marian: Yes, admiration is healthier than jealousy. Good point.

Latayne: I love you, too, honey. What a gift you are!

BK: Yes! That is a huge source of jealousy for me. I picture these authors with maids and assistants--not pretty. Also, I have physical limitations that keep me from being at the computer for hours and hours. Grr, those healthy people who can sit and sit. See, I'm bad. Let me read that list again.

Nicole said...

Jealousy really goads me when I read a novel I deem incredibly average and yet it gets high marks and claims of brilliance. You know what I mean?

I have to power down, breathe deep, thank the Lord for His grace - and mercy - and remember He gave me the stories I write with His purpose for them being the major focus: not my purpose for them.

Simply put: yeah, it's hard sometimes.

Sharon Hinck said...

Beautifully said, Patti. And now I'm jealous of your ability to share so richly and deeply. (hee hee!) Just kidding. I APPRECIATE your ability, and you are so right that it keeps coming back to our walk with God.... with our eyes on Him, there is less temptation to long for the other stuff we feel we might be lacking. In Him, we lack nothing. :-)

Patti Hill said...

Nicole: Yes, there's being jealous of writers who gain acclaim with talents I don't always appreciate. There's also jealousy of those who tell a story so enduring and beautiful, that I turn green instantly. This is a cause for celebration and praise. Like I said, I'm working on this.

Sharon: It's sweet to see you here. Thanks for your affirmation.

Patti Hill said...

Here's a verse I keep near my computer as a reminder:

Stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourself into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. I Cor. 15:58

Our battle cry?

Robin Bayne said...

Great article! I'm always grateful to be a Christian writer, because if something I write touches just one person I may be serving Him.

Bonnie Grove said...

Great post, Patti. I liked what you had to say better than what Anne said (but don't be jealous, Anne). I know my rising temperature signs, and usually that means I have to get off line. I don't tend to feel jealous about another writer's writing. I think 'inspired' fits best for me. I get excited when I read excellent writing. What tends to get under my skin is when I go poking around the internet looking at numbers. My solution? I don't poke around the internet looking at numbers.
I flee.

One thing that has helped me over the years is to remind myself of my need to remain focused on improving as a writer. When I remain engaged in my work, there's no room for jealousy, there is only the joy of the art and that is something I can share with everyone.

Dina Sleiman said...

I agree that as much as I love Anne's refreshing honesty, it leaves a bit to be desired in this chapter.

The word that God has given me on this subject is "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." I'm sure that's either a scripture or my own extrapolation of one. So I try my best to celebrate with authors who do well, and to commiserate with those who are having down times. Not that it's always easy, but your tips are pretty much the same ones that have helped me.

Anonymous said...

Patti, you've written a great post, and generated great responses. Your bullet points are right on. The one I especially like is: "Set my heart on what God wants for me, not on what God wants for others." That one is paramount for me. It's what I do when I begin to feel envious of others' success -- and I do from time to time. I reign in my thoughts and remind myself that God has a perfect plan for my life, which includes my writing. I have to commit it to Him the same way I commit every other aspect of my life. And then I trust. And do my best to follow. Like I always say, the results belong to Him alone.

Jenny Mertes said...

Oh Patti, your post on jealousy is timely for me - I just entered a blogging competition, and I truly thought that my blog post was the best of the 12 (yes, only 12!) who were competing. Finding out that I didn't win was far too painful. It's been a week, and I'm still smarting. I couldn't bring myself to say anything to the winner, much less something nice like "good job." How can I be so ill-tempered and graceless, yet claim to follow Jesus? Your comment hit me hard: "...we all want to be published, to bring our art out into the light, but being published is not the measure of God's goodness to us. His Son is that. Look for ways to bless others who are living the writer's life." And I laughed when you said they probably have hemorrhoids. Well said!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

How wonderful to belong to a community where we can be so honest and humble to admit jealousy (among other sins). You point so faithfully and urgently to God as the only solution, Patti and all the other commentors. I am refreshed and encouraged.

Patti Hill said...

Robin: You've found the key to happiness in the writing biz. Units of "success" are the human heart.

Bonnie: Thanks for jumping into the conversation. Love what you had to say about poking around for numbers. That's so dangerous! I especially appreciate the admonition to keep growing in our craft. Less time on the Internet, more time growing. The teacher in me loves this.

Dina: It's Scripture, Romans 12:15! It summarizes perfectly how the community of Christian writers are to support one another.

Sharon:This truth has been a huge area of growth for me. I'm God's girl--scratch that--I'm God's mermaid. I'll swim in whichever puddle he flings me.

Jenny: I'm sorry you didn't win the contest. That has to sting. You worked hard refining that piece and it seems like no one noticed or rewarded your efforts. We all understand, sweet girl. Don't give up! Try again. The next blog will be even better.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Prompted by this post I rooted out a nasty jealousy in my heart: all writers who enjoy familial support.
My husband buys notebooks for every birthday and paid hundreds of dollars to retrieve my work from a failed usb stick. However, he won't read or listen to anything I write. I used to tell my children the story as it came to me but one grew jealous of my enjoyment and stole my notebooks. (Fortunately she did not destroy them.)
It goes back to the loneliness of exile I suppose.
Lord grant to me comfort with my fellow writing mermen and mermaids.

Megan Sayer said...

Henrietta I understand! I think it's a husband-thing. Mine (as by the sounds of it, is yours) is very supportive of me and my vision for my writing, but he doesn't want to read my book. Ever.
I get it though. We share a huge amount of books, but he can't handle the emotional dramas of women's lit. Every so often he asks me what the book I'm reading is about, and the answers often makes him recoil as if he'd just seen his mother in her underwear.

And he's not the only one! I have two writer-friends whose husbands swear black and blue that they'll never read their wife's books (and with good reason, too). Both women are a little saddened by that reaction, but we've all come to the conclusion that if we write intense things we're just not going to expect our husbands to read them.

Anonymous said...

Okay. I'm going to say it. I've, in the past, been jealous of Snooki. And the Kardashians. And the world's tallest dog. All have published novels. And, I'm assuming, ghost-writers.

But, I'll tell ya, every time I was at target and saw one of those books, the green bile of envy would attack. And I would think and say terrible things about them (except the dog...because he's kind of cute). So, I would gossip and slander women that will never meet, all because they have their name on a book and I, so far, do not.

But they are beloved of the Father. They are created in His image. And He desires for their hearts just as He desires for mine.

Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Wendy, me too. It's one of my biggest character flaws. I'm constantly doing battle with comparison - not just with writing, but in every area of my life. God's always working on my heart, refining me, but this battle is one I've fought many, many times and I'm sure there'll be many more times to come. I really like what you said about honesty.

Thanks for this post, Patti!

Patti Hill said...

Henrietta: At the beginning of my writing journey, my husband avoided my writing. And I didn't offer it. His approval was so important to me. I sure didn't want to disappoint him. At last, I asked him to read the first 50 pages to check for technical errors (He's a horticultural genius, so I wrote what HE knew.). Well, he wrote a few notes in the margin and left in on the counter.

"Well what?"
"Did you like it?"
"You said just to read it for technical errors."
"Was it that awful?"
"No, it's wonderful. I just didn't want to give you more than you asked for."

Ugh. Men are so literal! When we talked about this later, he recognized what a risk it was for me to show my work. He wanted to stay within the bounds of my request, so I would trust him to share more of the experience as I gained confidence. He's my most important and trusted reader now. Maybe, Henrietta, pick a passage you think he might like and ask him to read it. He may be pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoys your writing.

Megan, Susie, and Karen: Thanks for supporting Henrietta so beautifully. And yes, it's tough to see those celebrity books clogging up the booksellers' shelves. Silent scream!!! At least the dogs own up to having ghost writers. But we will march on! Follow in line, girls. Hip hop!

Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

" being published is not the measure of God's goodness to us. His Son is that."

Pefectly lovely reminder of just WHO is important!

Sarah Sundin said...

Patti - thank you for daring to write about this. As Christians, even within the super-supportive Christian writing community, jealousy still festers. We're human. We get jealous. We can't help the "getting" jealous. But Jesus can certainly help us get over it (and ourselves). Whenever I feel that hot lump of jealousy in my chest, I know I need to stop, pray for forgiveness, and then praise God for the wonderful work He's doing through that other writer's work. Even those books I deem poorly written - He uses them to touch lives! Isn't He amazing?

And my hubby won't read my books either. Even though things explode. Even though all his manly friends read the books and like them. But it's stopped bugging me. He supports me in his way - tech help, financial organization, and a listening ear, even when he doesn't have the foggiest notion what I'm talking about. Plus, he's cute :)

Cherry Odelberg said...

What wonderful, gracious reminders, Patti. I heartily try to celebrate the successes of others - and it was good to have all the other bullet points to consider, too.