Sunday, April 22, 2007

Seven Deadly Sins and Writing: Envy

Cross-posted from Wyrdsmiths.

There was a period when I couldn’t read science fiction novels.

I’d finished my second novel (actually, what became my first in print, Archangel Protocol) and it was being shopped around by my agent. I was still actively writing – I’d started a third novel and was trying to perfect the art of short story writing. I was in four writers’ critique groups, attending SF conventions, a member of the National Writers’ Union, and generally doing a whole lot of science fiction and writing-related work.

My partner is an avid reader, so we’d often end up at bookstores, and I found I was actually kind of mildly irritated just walking past the aisles labeled science fiction/fantasy. After the fourth or fifth time it happened, I started to examine my reaction.

I realized I was jealous.

Because of the way most bookstores shelves their novels, the publisher’s logos were prominently displayed in row after row after row that I passed. Just seeing those familiar icons made me inwardly seethe; I wanted one of those next to my name, damn it.

Beyond that initial gut reaction, I also had trouble reading science fiction because my life had become consumed by critiquing it. If I actually got through the green haze of my jealousy and picked up one of those books on the shelf, I couldn’t read it without starting the critiquing process.

And believe you me, no one – not even the genre masters/mistresses – passed my muster in those days. Everyone sucked. I was always at LEAST a good a writer as Ms.-Tor-Published-Her-And-Not-Me.

I couldn’t enjoy reading science fiction.

I can’t not read (just as I can’t not write), so I turned to other genres. I read a lot of romances and mysteries. I also discovered that SF short fiction bothered me less than long form (probably because though I was writing short stories and sending them out to market, I knew I wasn’t very good at the shorter forms.) Although I still had plenty of times when I threw Asimov’s across the room and shouted, “WTF? How did that crap get published when I didn’t?” When my first book published, I relaxed. I could read SF/F again, and I did, copiously. But jealousy and envy continue to haunt me. There are some writers in my field that I’ve refused to read out of spite because in my mind, “they’re famous enough.” (Keep in mind that I’m generally deranged this way. If a movie becomes really popular, I won’t go see it….just because. I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t seen Titanic.)

I don’t think that writers can successfully avoid being jealous and envious of one another. It’s a competitive business, after all, and most of us entered it to win.

Jealousy can be a motivating force, if you let it. I find it fuels my ambition, for instance, and I try to embrace that side of it when I can. I determinedly rose from the ashes of my career partly out of spite and a keen desire not to let the bastards get me down.

I don’t always deal with it very well, though, hence my years of avoiding my own, beloved genre. What about you? Who/what are you jealous of? Have you found good ways of dealing with it?

1 comment:

Mel said...

I must confess, I've found I can't read high fantasy anymore. It was my heart's first and only love, but after having soo much trouble trying to write it, I can't even pass it on the shelves without breaking into a sweat because there are still a couple of thieves and warrior princesses in me trying to get out. It stopped being fun, even to read it, much less write it. But sure, I'm also jealous, because even though I've never tried to shape up any of my high fantasy and shop it around, I see others who just seem to whip those wonderfully complex books onto the shelves year after year and think the frustration that I couldn't finish one in twelve years of trying just might kill me. I'm even too bitter to read R.A. Salvatore, and I loves me my Drizzt Do'Urden. Basically I'm letting the wounds heal, and I'm keeping the faith that someday, those stories will be ready. They just need to cook on the back burner some more. Then maybe I'll read high fantasy again.

-Mel