Beware of jealousy.
It creeps up on a debut writer like that unexpected knife-wielding plot twist that she threw into chapter sixteen just for fun, never considering how it might feel if the knife was suddenly plunged into her sensitive debut heart.
Or something like that.
When I first noticed that we were going to cover the topic of jealousy this week, I pictured my post being thousands (and thousands) of words. If I could really count up all the feeling moments I’ve had during my debut year, all the throbs of joy and hope and anxiety, I honestly think that stabs of jealousy would be the most numerous. I don’t like admitting that, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it. It is what it is.
I never really thought of myself as a jealous person before. I’m actually a very grateful person most of the time. But there’s been something about putting out a first book with hundreds of other writers who are debuting in my year that sometimes forced me to turn my head—I wanted to know what other writers are doing, I wanted to join groups and share experiences and help out where I could, but then that thrust me into an unfamiliar virtual room, and often I have been feeling like I don’t belong in the same room with some of these people.
It’s comical, actually, to be jealous of debut author things that I didn’t even know existed until I gained entry into the virtual room with the other debut authors. I had no idea the many dozens of lists made by every conceivable outlet of “most anticipated books,” none of which would feature my own. Although, to be fair, most of the things that got my jealousy up were things I did know about and just didn’t expect to get as a debut author: New York Times reviews, features in magazines like O and Real Simple, publisher-sponsored cross country book tours, early sales of foreign and movie rights. There were times when it was hard to stay upbeat about my little book and its future when, all around me, other writers’s debut efforts were garnering so much more excitement than mine.
But honestly, when has comparison like this ever helped anyone? Doing it makes me miserable, and I’m acutely aware that it is unfair to my writer friends, who deserve nothing less than every wonderful thing that happens to them.
And it turns out, I’m not actually interested in writing thousands and thousands of words about my jealousy and bitterness, thank goodness. Even though I probably could. Instead, I’m going to share the two bits of advice that have helped me the most this past year when I was feeling a bit down or lost or yes, even jealous. Apologies in advance, as I’d love to give credit to the people who shared these pearls of wisdom with me (probably on Twitter), but I don’t remember who they are.
First, be grateful. The only antidote to nasty sour jealousy is to focus on how fortunate we are. When you count your blessings, be it family, friends, good food, good health, or whatever makes you happiest, it drives out everything else. I’ve done this many times, and it works like a charm. It’s impossible to feel jealous and mean when you fill your heart with gladness for all that you have. And it doesn’t hurt to remember that there could be some things you have that the object of your jealousy lacks. Maybe even some things they would happily trade for the thing that makes you so jealous. Most of us wouldn’t switch places with anyone else when you come down to it, and it can be really helpful to remember that.
The other thing that stuck with me was the advice to keep in mind, when we’re feeling petty and jealous and small, the kind of person we really want to be. This has stayed with me and helped me when I feel my better self being overwhelmed by something negative like jealousy. I truly want to be happy for others when something great happens to them, even when that something has to do with their book and I would frankly prefer that it were happening to me instead. And this isn’t really even because I want others to be happy for me when my turn comes. Honestly, I’d understand if they weren’t. It’s more about allowing myself to be happy by sharing in their joy instead of using it against myself.
And that’s it! I haven’t reached a place where I can avoid feeling jealous, and in a highly competitive business like publishing, where we all feel the pressure of jockeying for our place on the shelf, I probably never will. But I’m getting really good at practicing gratitude to head it off. In a weird way, I can even be grateful for the jealousy itself. It prompts me to remember how glad I am to be a writer, to be alive.