The Curse Of The Green-Eyed Monster

Posted: October 13, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I normally can’t bear writing advice, except for the only thing I have ever listened to from a writer whose name I forget: If you want to be a good writer, write. I have a book called ‘A Novel IN A Year’ that remains barely opened, and yet I managed to complete a (short) novel in nine months. And I doubt EM Forster or Virginia Woolf took ‘writing advice’.

BUT having said that I absolutely loved this vlog by Betty Herbert at Hope and Anchor.

The first in a series, Betty offers us a ‘mantra for a creative life’: ‘Other people do not have success at my expense.’ In other words: beware the green-eyed monster of jealousy. It can stifle your creativity and make you miserable. In the video Betty tells us very frankly how when she was getting into writing in her 20s, she physically couldn’t read novels due to her jealousy of the authors’ ‘success’. She then goes on to unpack the idea of success, which can mean very different things to different people.

In the spirit of Betty’s honesty, I’d like to admit that I have felt some envy of Betty herself. She created a brilliant blog called The 52 Seductions, about her and her husband rekindling their sex life after some years of drought, or at least, dissatisfaction. The blog was turned into a book, and so she is now one of those published authors she used to hate!

Now I write it down, I am not really sure what I was ‘jealous’ of- her publishing deal? The originality of her idea? Her happy marriage? Her ability to face her fears and make videos of herself? Her positive outlook on sex and relationships? These are all things I admire! But I did get haunted by the green eyed monster at one point. I didn’t need to watch Betty’s video to be rid of it in her case, she is far too lovely to be jealous of for long.

But her words do serve as a reminder to me, to catch myself in the act of feeling negative feelings towards other writers, when they have success. Or even just when they write something brilliant. I am continually inspired by amazing writers and I know nearly all of them struggle for any kind of recognition in this competitive era. So I try and put my own insecurities aside and celebrate when they do well, and to see it as a positive. If they can do it, why can’t I? And do I want to ‘do well’ in the same way as other people anyway?

I still can’t bear JK Rowling though. Some people take success too far!

Betty’s Blog:

  1. Jonathan says:

    > a writer whose name I forget: If you want to be a good writer, write.

    good advice indeed – was it Ursula Le Guin?

  2. Hi. I really can’t remember it was definitely a woman!

  3. Well, thank you. Can I confess to a bit of envy too? I wish I had half your energy and stamina. I often watch you online thinking, how the fuck does she manage it? I just watch most things go by and think, ‘meh, I can’t be arsed to form an opinion’, whereas you have a focus and doggedness that I utterly admite. And more twitter followers than me 😉

  4. Jonathan says:

    Okay, I’ve tracked this down…

    “How do you become a writer?
    “Answer: you write.
    “Honestly, why do people ask that question? Does anybody ever come up to a musician and say, Tell me, tell me – How should I become a tuba player? No! it’s too obvious. If you want to be a tuba player you get a tuba, and some tuba music. And you ask the neighbors to move away or put cotton in their ears. And probably you get a tuba teacher, because there are quite a lot of objective rules and techniques both to written music and to tuba performance. And then you sit down and you play the tuba, every day, every week, every month, year after year, until you are good at playing the tuba.
    “It is exactly the same with writing. You sit down and you do it; and you do it, and you do it, until you have learned how to do it.”

    from “Talking About Writing” – Ursula Le Guin; in “The Language of the Night” (The Women’s Press 1979, 1989)

    Actually that was stage two to her answer; stage one was “learn to type” – which is also very good advice 🙂

  5. Jonathan says:

    Incidentally, talking about J.K.Rowling and envy:

    “There was a while when people kept telling me, you must read this wonderful book about a school for wizards, it’s so original, there’s never been anything like it.
    “The first time this happened, I confess, I thought they were telling me to read my own “A Wizard of Earthsea”, which involves a school for wizards, and has been in print since 1969. No such luck! I had to hear all about Harry, and it was hard, at first. I felt ignoble envy.”

    from “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” – Ursula Le Guin; in “Cheek by Jowl” (Aqueduct Press 2009)

    Anyway, the point of her essay is that Harry Potter is not really original at all, but part of a long fantasy tradition; and anyone who thinks it was original basically knows nothing about fantasy.

    • Haha two brilliant quotes from Ursula le Guin, thanks Jonathan!

      She is right – people have a funny attitude to writing as if there is some secret to it. Maybe because everyone writes in some shape or form in every day life, so how do you do it creatively? Whereas not everyone plays an instrument.

    • Jay Generally says:

      I remember an article where Rowling had to jump to another author’s defense because he was getting cries of ‘Rip-off!’ for having a boy wizard with an owl in his book; a book published well before Philosopher’s Stone. You’d think someone writing a letter could do better than a youtube commenter screaming rip-off about a cartoon made ten years before the one he’s comparing it to.

      When I feel envy, I try to own it as the only form of compliment my evil shoulder demon is capable of producing. It probably starts as, “Jonathan, that comment was well researched and very helpful! You make me sick.” But maybe that direct verbage is probably too much like the ‘negging’ pickup artists get so much flak for so, it’s more likely to be shared as “That’s a good point, Jonathan! I wish I’d thought to mention that.”

  6. typhonblue says:

    Ha ha, yeah. I do feel envious when people are more successful then me. But I try to remember that we all have our own path.

  7. Jenny says:

    I couldn’t read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ for years because I was so envious that she had written it not me, especially as she was younger than I am now. Have now got over myself and read it! I always think if I have a really strong aversion to reading something there must be something for me to learn there. Hurts though.

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