Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Over coffee recently, another writer – I’ll call her Mandy – admitted a bit shamefacedly, that a cousin of hers had had his first book accepted and she was having trouble dealing with his success.

Pressed a little more, she said she was frankly jealous. She’d been attending conferences and workshops, learning her craft, writing several manuscripts which had all been rejected. He’d written one book, and been accepted.

Did this admission make her a bad person, she wanted to know.

Of course it didn’t. Jealousy is one of the most basic of human emotions. In writers it covers everything from feeling inferior after reading someone else’s dazzling words, to Mandy’s bitterness that her hard work wasn’t being rewarded as swiftly as her late-blooming cousin.

Social media doesn’t help, either. Not only do we hear about others’ successes more quickly, we’re faced with many more unwelcome comparisons.

Adding insult to injury, we’re expected to “like,” “favourite” and “share” our friends’ achievements around the net. Anything else looks mean and petty.


I’ve published many books, won awards and been on best-seller lists. Yet when a friend IMed me to say she’d won a major book award, I felt the green-eyed monster stirring, even as I told her how happy I was for her. “That’s so nice,” she wrote back. “Some of my writing group are having trouble with this.”

At the heart of many of these bad feelings is fear – are we as good as we’d hoped? Will we ever achieve our dreams? Even when you have a substantial body of work behind you, the monster lurks. You did it before, but can you do it again?

These feelings trigger the age-old scripts of “the child within” of being excluded, not good enough, thinking everyone else has the answers to life’s mysteries except us.

There are only two things you can do with feelings of jealousy:
1. accept them as normal, because they are.
2. use them as material for your writing, as you use other universal truths

Expressing your support for the other person also serves as an antidote to giving the green-eyed monster too much importance. This is not to say you should bury or ignore the monster.


Holding your feelings up to the light lets you examine what may be hiding behind them. Disliking another’s success can be linked to the fear that others may resent your success – therefore, you’d better not succeed, hardly a thought you want to encourage.

While writing this, I came across a fun website called “I Write Like” created in 2010 by Russian software programmer, Dmitry Chestnykh. You cut and paste a passage of your writing onto the site and the program compares keywords, vocabulary and style, returning the name of a popular author the sample resembles. I got Dan Brown, not too shabby in my opinion.

While comparisons can be odious, if you’re going through a jealous patch, this site may lift your spirits. They’ll remind you that jealousy and other feelings are neither good nor bad. They just are.

Then you can use the feelings, not the actual circumstances, to create characters who are as believable, as fallible and as human as the rest of us.

Now over to you. How do you deal with jealousy of other writers or their work? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
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Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring for June 2015 – writing and the green-eyed monster" (17)

  1. I both write and make art (twin loves). On a one year artist’s residency in Malaysia, the other (local) resident artist was accepted into the Malaysian National Gallery’s upcoming exhibition – and I wasn’t. I congratulated him and was truly happy for him as his work was outstanding and the honour well earned – but I was secretly almost unconscious with jealousy! For a while, I was plunged into gross insecurity about my work, and depression…and only hard work and ultimately, a breakthrough with my art, got me over it.

    Years later, with objectivity, I realised that my art at the time hadn’t been up to the standard required… It is so much better now!

    Just as you suggest, in my writing I use the memory of those feelings of envy to show the ‘humanness’ of all creatives, who have jealousies (though without true bitterness attached) of the success of others because our work is so closely tied to our heart and a sense of who we are. And that’s okay. We are just so fortunate to be doing this kind of work at all. 🙂

    • You’re using your feelings in exactly the right way, to inspire you to be a better artist & writer, and also to fuel real, believable characters. I agree we are fortunate to do work we love.

  2. Good post Valerie. I have this horrible feeling I’m going to be last man standing among all the wannabe writers I hang with on the internet and meet at various seminars and conferences. I’ve seen so many of them go on to be published and I’m thinking…my writing must be worse than I thought cos I believed I was pretty much on a par with some of them. It’s hard not to be jealous and it’s hard not to occasionally feel relieved that you are not the only person getting a pass from a publisher. And then you feel really guilty.

    • I feel for you Fiona. It seems you have yet to find the perfect niche for your writing, because you’ve had enough positive responses to know you can write. I hope one day (soon) you’ll find that place and bloom there. It is hard not to be jealous, and as I say here, it’s horribly normal to feel flashes of ill will to those achieving what you dream of doing. Doesn’t make you a bad person, just human.

  3. Great post! I know that beyond jealousy is always fear. Writing is a tough business but I try to be a cheerleader for my friends, even if that means I need to kill them off in one of my books lol!

    • Excellent article, as usual, VP! Wendy makes a great point, too. Fear is at the root of so much professional jealousy, though I doubt people recognize the fact. One way around it is to do what athletes and musicians do: compete with yourself. If you’re spending time improving your writing, you will eventually get better at it! That’s not to say that publication is right around the corner, but reading what you love to read and writing for that genre can go a long way to bettering your chances.

      Just for kicks, I tried out the “I Write Like” with the excerpt from the first chapter of my first (and so far only) published novel, No Place to Run. It told me I write like William Shakespeare. One of my favorite playwrights, but NPTR is not a play! 😀 I don’t know why the comparison, unless it’s the short sentences.

      If bane of writer’s life be jealousy
      Pray see if William Shakespeare writes like me.


    • Sssh Wendy, killing people off in our books is a trade secret, and go you being a cheerleader. Sometimes that attitude diffuses the bad feelings, too.

  4. No wonder I’m in trouble. I just put excerpts from six different MSs into the “I Write Like” analyser. I got Shakespeare, Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Dan Brown, Anne Rice and James Joyce. I am all over the place.

  5. amazingly good post, Valerie

  6. I take it you don’t recommend quitting as a solution to jealousy?

    Great blog entry.

  7. Valerie, this is a great post! Thank you. In a group –especially if they’re high achievers — it is an unavoidable fact that some will do better (waay better!) and some will do not so well, as you. I’ve experienced this myself.

    And you know what? *it’s normal*! It means you’re human. It doesn’t mean you don’t want your close writing friends to do well — quite the opposite. I want mine to rule the world, I think that much of them and their talent. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to be up there with them.

    In the long run, I think a small shot of the old green monster every now and then is good for the soul. I know for me at least, it makes me all the more determined to write better, bigger, and more creatively than ever.

    Dakota x

    • A perfect and balanced way to look at this issue, Dakota. Glad you get motivation from the experience, that’s probably the ideal.

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