The Envy wombat

I’m not sure which of the 10 Commandments involves envy, but I do know the Cosmic Muffin wasn’t very enamored with it. And with good reason. Envy creates crow’s feet between the eyebrows, screws with your heart valves, promotes rickets and a penchant for going to bed without brushing your teeth.

I’m talking about “the book deal,” of course. I remember when I published my first book…rather than receiving congrats from friends, I heard a few, “Hmph, I could write a book.” Um, well why don’t you, then?

I’ve heard the same thing at writer’s conferences…amazing what you overhear in a bathroom or a bar. Authors do land deals at conferences, and rather than celebrating someone’s success, the green-eyed envy wombat strikes with precision. “She may have gotten a book deal, but she’s still a bitch.” “She may have gotten a book deal, but her writing sucks.”

Or what’s really annoying is watching the fakeroo, “Ohhh,” air kisses and hugs, “congratulations to you! Your book is fabulous!” at which point Ms. FakePants turns around and rolls her eyes and sticks her finger in her mouth.

What is it about our DNA that makes us want to lash out at someone’s good fortune? Just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean that it won’t. And even if it never does, that friend you’re stabbing in the back had nothing to do with it.

To diss someone in a fit of envy diminishes the hard work they put into their book. It didn’t just pop out of the oven like the Pillsbury Dough Boy (a character I dearly wish I could burn to a cinder, btw). That author undoubtedly had a high BIC index (Butt In Chair) and got the job done. She got the book deal because she worked for it.

I admit there are times when I see publishers who are the same size as we are and they have a really big hit, and I feel the green envy wombat slurking nearby, ready to pounce. I wonder what they did to get that hit, what could I have done differently to have nabbed that book.  And then I remember that we’ve had some nice hits ourselves and even bigger ones on the near horizon. I’ve learned to let others’ success work for me – to invite me to be better, to analyze the steps they took to get where they are, and challenge myself to do the same things. That perspective makes me grateful for their success because it’s a learning tool for improvement.

Screw the wombat.

There’s a really good “Dear Sugar” article over at The Rumpus that sort of puts it all into perspective and whose advice is far more glib than anything I could have written – which totally makes me jealous…

How ’bout it…have you been jealous of someone’s literary success, or do you see it as a learning tool for your own improvement? Or has someone shown the green-eyed wombat to you with your book deal?

8 Responses to The Envy wombat

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Now I want to track down an artist and make them draw an Envy Wombat for me!

  2. Digital Dame says:

    I would only disagree that dissing someone diminishes their work. If anything, I’d say it has the opposite effect. People know sour grapes when they see them.

  3. I can’t help it either, I get jealous. I don’t think it ever goes away.
    Maybe – maybe – it spurs me on. I don’t know.
    All I know is I can’t help it. And this is coming from someone who is already published and getting very nice reviews . . .

    Because we always want more, don’t we?
    Part of it must be ‘she doesn’t deserve that’ (ie, when you posted about Snooki and part of me died inside). But then I read about other writers who have a really hard road and make it and I am genuinely pleased for them.

    Emotions eh? Who wants em!

  4. Louise Curtis says:

    I find both ends painful – when I meet someone who’s just written their first book (he/she wrote “The End” yesterday) and they are so pleased that ALL the hard work on the road to publication is now FINISHED. Because after twelve years of work I still see myself as that naiive barely-toddling author, and it’s not a pretty sight.

    And of course the other end is painful, too. Because I know Mr/Ms Published Author’s success is a combination of skill (does my writing suck compared to his/hers? Probably) and timing/market/luck (will I never hit the right moment, no matter how hard I work? Possibly).

    I’d never diss someone (unless I was actually writing a review of their book, and it had flaws worth writing about) but sometimes everything about getting published just screams with pain. The only healthy way to cope is to go and write a better book.

    Louise Curtis

  5. Lauren says:

    Sure, I get jealous. I envy winners of the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes (which I am still entering). I envy those at my day job whose title allows them to be paid more than I am. I envy Jessa Crispin of Bookslut whose website has thousands–many thousands–more hits than mine.

    But … here’s the thing. My envy is not an eater. It doesn’t eat me up inside. It doesn’t make me sit around moaning “why them and not me?” It doesn’t feel bitter nor does it prevent me from feeling genuine happiness for them. Actually, what I think what I get out of my envy is two things: recognition of what I have and how happy I am to have it (the “want what you get” rather than the “get what you want” syndrome), and the ability to take that envy and make damn good lemonade out of it. For me, it’s not a matter of dispelling or ignoring it. I doubt it is ever going to go away, and the truth is that if it makes me, as it does, do what I need to do to put in motion what I want (things I have control over) then it is a positive thing.

    Sometimes doing that takes effort, other times I find unexpected but absolute joy in realizing that I am thrilled beyond description for someone else’s success. And, oh boy, when that happens it is indescribable.

  6. Peter Mc says:

    Envy wombat. Chortle.

  7. Lev Raphael says:

    Its hard not to get envious because we work so hard and sometimes the results in the world are so incommensurate with the quality of what we’ve done and the time spent. That’s reality.

    But every book has its karma, and you can’t predict what that is. And we’ve all seen less than adequate writers make it because they had the right idea at the right time.

  8. Marie says:

    I’ve definitely felt the bite of the green envy wombat. After about 10,000+ words into my book, I discovered that someone else had written another book on the same subject — except that he had much better connections, a better platform, a Big Six publisher and a spot on the NYT list — not to mention an appearance on the Daily Show. And his book was awesome…better than mine.

    Sigh…need some Wombat-Off ASAP.

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