Success and Writers’ Jealousy – War of the Words

Success, Karma, & Teapots

Greetings lovely creatures! April has been good to me:

• I won the enLIGHTen photography competition

• My story ‘The Book Lover’ is to be included in the Festival of the Erotic Arts in June

• I was shortlisted for the Thresholds International Feature Writing Competition with my piece ‘Lick My Words – Angela Carter’s The Erl King’ (I didn’t win, this piece on Lovecraft did, but ‘Lick My Words’ will be published on Thresholds, spreading the Carter love), and my ex-tutor wrote a lovely supportive piece over on the MA blog.

• I found out my short story ‘Pure’ (a version of Frankie and Johnny) is to be included in New Writing Scotland 30, which made me very happy indeed

• And to top it all off, I bought the most amazing teapot in the world. Look! Look at it. Bask in its glory.

cool teapot
You know you're getting old when you go to a tattoo convention and come away with a teapot. But it's a damn cool teapot.
Ser getting a tattoo
My friend Ser getting a tattoo by Matt Curtis from Tribal at the Scottish Tattoo Convention 2012

Primarily, April was manic novel writing month. I kept a writing diary, took screeds of notes, and immersed myself in research. My aim was 20,000 words (first draft quality), and I managed 8,000. Life got in the way (amongst other things, all the household appliances packed in at once. But if that’s the karmic retribution for the above success, I’ll pay it. Maybe breaking household appliances is the route to all my writerly dreams? I’m off to smash the TV).

Support, & Lashings of Tea & Cake

Very helpful encouragement was gained throughout the month from a little online splinter group of ex- and current Napier Creative Writing Masters students – a lovely bunch who tell you that you’re not a complete failure when you don’t manage 2,000 words that day (but I secretly think that they secretly think that you really are. But they probably don’t. But maybe they do. The point is, they offer you virtual tea, and you feel the warmth).
There’s also a little monthly gathering of writer creatures for whining, eating cake, drinking (real) tea, and getting tips and feedback. And more whining. But mostly being supportive and drinking tea.

writers gathering
(some of) the lovely writer creatures

Like I said. They’re an awesome bunch. Whatever they secretly think.

The Jealousy Monster

Speaking of what people really think, this brings me to WRITERS’ JEALOUSY. This isn’t like normal everyday run-of-the-mill jealousy, like if your friend has a cooler teapot than you (before the new acquisition, this was the crowning glory of teapots), or your cousin’s hamster is cuter than yours, or your girlfriend/boyfriend had an affair with little ms/mr perfection. No, this is deep-rooted, malicious, evil, hatred. This is made of the stuff that starts wars. At least it would start wars, but writers have words at their witty little fingertips, and bitching is just so damn therapeutic. And there is no one as perfectly bitchy as Truman Capote:

“None of these people [The Beat Generation] have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Mr. Kerouac….It isn’t writing at all-it’s typing.”
– Capote (for more on Capote Vs Kerouac, check out this post)

And we can’t leave out the schoolyard insults of Martin Amis:

“[He’s] a creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat-arse.”
Martin Amis on Tibor Fischer

During the Creative Writing Masters we were warned of this crouching, slavering beast called jealousy. We had a class on it (not long after the ‘you’ll never get published’ class, which had us eating chips in a darkened room). Following this up with ‘but someone else will, so here’s how you deal with it’ was the salt in the wound. But the whole point of these classes was to toughen us up, make us face reality head on, and not get lost in our own egos or fairytale publishing dreams/expectations. We were all little Nietzsches staring into the abyss.

Kittens, Dirk Bogarde, & Envy

I brought jealousy up at our latest gathering of writers, and was asked “What have you got to be jealous about?” Sure, I’ve had the little successes listed above, which delighted me, but you can’t help but compare yourself to others. Without the structure of university I’ve not been as disciplined and focussed as I should have, and I feel left behind. I felt a twinge when Aly said he’d finished his graphic piece, and when Sil told me she was on to her second draft, and when Nicholls said his novel was complete and polished (“Oh, well done, Nicholls, that’s fantastic!” possibly maybe actually meant “I hate you.”)
Of course, all this was about my own shortcomings – what I haven’t done, what I should be doing. If someone else succeeds in something and there’s that twinge, it isn’t that I didn’t want them to succeed, or that I want to be in their place, but just that I know I’ve been a waster and I need to sort myself out and get writing/researching/submitting instead of looking at pictures of kittens and watching Dirk Bogarde films on repeat (“It’s research!”). And it shouldn’t affect my happiness for their success. I’ve witnessed too many times where people have sniped and bitched at someone else, belittling their achievements just to make themselves feel better. Of course, some writers can’t even muster the words and follow the Mailer way:

“Norman Mailer had an “enemies list” almost as long as Richard Nixon’s. Perhaps his most notable beef, though, was with Gore Vidal, who tastefully compared reading Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex to experiencing “three days of menstrual flow”. In retaliation Vidal was head-butted in 1971 then punched in 1978. During the latter incident Vidal retained his composure, firing back from the floor: “Words fail Norman Mailer again.” Mailer also stabbed Vidal’s second wife in the back. Literally.” – Arifa Akbar, The Independent, 20 March 2010

Peace, Love, & Exploding Heads

I’m a bit hippy when it comes to other writers success*. I’m always pleased when they do well because I love seeing my mates succeed in something they enjoy doing. It’s an absolute pleasure to see creativity flourish, and I know how difficult it is to make it in the creative industries. Which reminds me how important support is. Comments like “When are you going to get a real job?” and “What are you going to do with that [Creative Writing MA]?’ have cropped up. Although, I’m not sure if they’re worse or better than “So, you’re a writer? Like J.K. Rowling?” At least with the latter they think you have the potential to earn millions.

I guess the only other time there’s a twinge of jealousy is when someone I dislike does well. You get all the petty mumbles of “Ah, they didn’t deserve that”, but who am I to say what they deserve? And this isn’t a personality competition. Their piece of writing was probably kick-ass, and if it wasn’t, so what? What does it have to do with me? So, I have my petty grumbles, then it’s head down and I get on with what I’m supposed to be doing, what I enjoy doing.
And, of course, as a writer you can always channel these feelings into writing:

“The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?

Chill the champagen and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.”

– Clive James

It’s been said many times before that jealousy is a waste of time and energy, and it is. If you feel it, acknowledge it, write a bitchy poem about your enemy’s book being remaindered, or their head exploding (not that I’ve done this), then move on. Simple.

Except…that bitch Sil is on the second draft of her novel, and that smart-arse Nicholls is already firing off letters to agents, and that teacher’s pet Simpson made it on to the Mslexia novel competition shortlist, and that too-clever-for-her-own-good Summers is completing an experimental writing PhD, and that over-achiever Cass-Maran is running her own company, and that whisky-swilling Mathers had his graphic script optioned for adaptation…**
And… yeah, it’s pretty damn evident I’m surrounded by an amazing bunch of writers. That’s inspiration right there. I know. I’m a right soppy hippy. I’m off to drink camomile tea and frolic in fields. I’ll see you at the end of May with 25,000 words under my belt.

Have you got any jealousy stories? Let’s share the love/hate! Leave me a comment below.


* This could be put to the test if a fellow writer’s novel hit the bestseller lists and they married Viggo Mortensen. Teapot coveting might just pale in comparison.

** Please note: If you have not been included in this list, it doesn’t mean I don’t envy your achievements. It just means I’m too scared of you to bitch about you in public.


7 thoughts on “Success and Writers’ Jealousy – War of the Words

  1. Well done on a highly entertaining and insightful, I mean, interesting article, and of course, your Amazing April Achievements. I’d love to contribute some little refection on jealousy and envy, but I’ve never experienced them. But um, well done anyway.

    P.S. I have also got a teapot.

  2. Your post has reminded me that 1) I don’t see you guys nearly often enough and 2) I totally and completely lost focus since I graduated. The sum total of my writerly output since then has been two short stories for Illicit Ink, some compering for same and about 2,000 words total split between at least three different novel projects; what a come down for the girl who wrote her 20,000 word final project inside of a week.
    I don’t feel jealousy, just a swelling inadequacy. While I don’t collect teapots to conceal my failings I do share your obsession with old movies, although my constantly on repeat collection tends to focus on Fred Astaire.
    Excuse me while I retreat into my little world of black and white musical meladrama.

    1. Hi Jen, I’m glad my post has helped you realise those things – and I hope you get writing again! And it would also be lovely to see you smiley face more often 🙂

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