“…jealousy is destructive. It won’t make you a better writer. It won’t make you a better person.”
Sitting 30,000ft in the air, hovering somewhere over the state of Ohio I’m struck by these words, uttered by Cheryl Strayed, in the latest issue of Creative Nonfiction. A timely piece of advice to me, as a not-yet published writer I find it difficult to tamper down the flicker of jealousy that pops up at the most inopportune times.
Like the time when a fellow classmate’s piece was regaled by our Gotham Writer’s Workshop instructor who proclaimed, “I could see this piece within the pages of The New Yorker.” I fumed because I gave my friend the idea for how she could construct that piece when she struggled with writer’s block. ME! By contrast, my piece was considerably less than. Sure it was praised for good writing and story flow, but it was not magazine-worthy. That notable absence of praise seemed to hang in the air, which made my face flush crimson and bury my head in my notebook to avoid the gaze of my peers who no doubt picked up on the slight. Of course this isn’t to say I wasn’t thrilled for my friend, I was. She took the idea and ran with it — her piece was clever and had a distinct David Sedaris-humorist vibe. My role was minor, inconsequential even — she would have likely found her way without it. But the green-eyed monster was there, tainting the joy I felt for my friend.
Or another time, when a different friend sent a group email to share her excitement over a piece slated to run in an upcoming issue of AFAR magazine. AFAR, a gorgeously constructed travel magazine with artistic images and prose that is both lush and precise. I was well and truly happy for her as well. I know she’s put in the time, sending out queries, pitches and writing stories from her various travels in addition to creating her own travel show. She’s in an entirely different league and the stories she has to tell are part of her journey. But there it was, the pang of jealousy–the needling feeling that her success in some way diminished my own skills as a writer.
It can be hard to overcome the sinking feeling that you’re just not good enough. It’s uncomfortable to sit with it in order to fix it, and it’s even more difficult to reveal this to the interwebs. I know jealousy won’t make me a better person or a better writer. I’ve managed to figure out the “person” part of this, but the writer side has been harder to come by. I’ve found a new awareness of that jealous pang and, more importantly, learning to dismiss it before it takes hold. I realize my reality too: I’ve not been published, I’ve only recently established a writing practice, in addition to my blog and journal. I know I can’t go from 0 to 60 overnight. And through it all, I am a writer.
This couldn’t come at a better time as I’m about to touch down in Seattle, Washington for a weekend in the Cascades for a memoir writing workshop (with Cheryl Strayed herself!). I’m beyond excited to meet my fellow writers, instructors, and commune with a group of people who understand the feeling all writers have: we write because we can’t imagine not doing it.
And that truth? Well, I think it just may slay any monster, green-eyed or otherwise.