Back at FenCon, an author friend and I were talking about Professional Jealousy.
I gave her a quote that I wrongly attributed to Oscar Wilde, but was actually said by Gore Vidal:
Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.
The Wilde quote is very similar in meaning, although worded a bit differently:
Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.
Both men were, if you don’t know, wildly successful authors in one way or another…so there was no reason for them to begrudge other people’s successes. And yet…they still said that. Why?
The truth is, this is a very common reaction in my industry. (Or in any artistic venture, I suppose. Or any venture at all.) It’s human nature. It’s more or less normal for us to look at each other’s successes and wonder why X didn’t happen to us.
The other writer and I were, at the time, talking about reviews. Why do some writers get so many? Why do other writers not? Why are some so good? Why are others mixed? Why did I get hit by a troll? Why…why…why….????
FWIW, I have great reviews for my first two books. I just don’t have many. So I glance at the Amazon pages of my friends and angstily wonder why I don’t have as many reviews as they do….at the same time consoling myself with ‘but my overall ratings are good!‘ In actuality, Amazon promotes books with more reviews more heavily, so that even a lackluster rating helps an author more if it came from a high number of reviews. This turns out to be a problem for writers who get great reviews…but not many of them.
But this particular reaction stretches through all aspects of writing, not just reviews.
When I was trying to get an agent, I had that sort of reaction every time one of my friends landed an agent. Yay, you got an agent! then slinking off to suck down too much Taco Bell because they’d gotten an agent and I hadn’t and that was probably the last agent in the world and there are never going to be any more agent contracts ever and my shot is gone now because my friend got my agent….
When I was working on a book contract, it was the same. Every book contract was followed by a celebration and then a private session of self-pity and angst over the fact that they’d gotten the last book contract in the world!
And it’s not just limited to that. Short story publications, award nominations, book options, auctions. Whenever one of our friends hits any mile-marker that we didn’t, we can seethe with jealousy–perfectly aware the whole while that this…is…stupid.
Yes, we know it’s stupid to be jealous.
And, yes, we truly are happy for them.
It’s just the weltschmerz talking…
Turns out the Germans do have a word for this (because they’re evidently a very comforting people.)
Writers are no less subject to this than anyone else. We think we should have gotten that promotion, not Dave. We think we should have gotten that group of students to teach instead of Louis. We think the world’s unfair when Jeff gets the nice car and we didn’t.
And we have to console ourselves with the fact that our successes are different in nature than theirs. We make lemonade out of our lemons (Or we don’t, and drive everyone else in the teacher’s lounge crazy.)
It’s normal and, (so long as we don’t let it consume us), we’re OK.
Here, as a parting shot, are some lyrics for what I consider my personal Theme Song:
“You Can’t Lose Them All” by Kim Richey (abridged)
I got good luck in my pocket
and a good shine on my shoes
I got a silk shirt in my closet
that I’m not afraid to use
A little fortune cookie told me
help is on the way
the tables may be turning
it could happen any day.
I could go down in history
I could go up in smoke
could be the center of attention
or the butt of every joke
But every time I get shot down
I justify the risk
because I come a little closer
to a hit with every miss.
If I’m playing on the B-team
or I’m sitting on the bench
it ain’t for lack of trying
or a lack of confidence
When I reach my full potential
when somebody gets my drift
the stars are gonna line up
and the tides are gonna shift.
So artists have to remind themselves to get back out there and work harder. Because that’s the only way we can ever succeed. We try and try again. And even if our friends are doing better, that’s no good reason to sit around and complain about it. Yes, we’ll feel jealous for a bit (and then usually feel guilty for feeling jealous), but we can’t let that ruin any friendships or stop us from doing our own jobs….
As artists, we have to believe. We have to believe, every day, that the next time is our time…