Envy & the Writer

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Booklife has an interesting article on how writers become envious of the success of other authors:

What Writers Need to Know About Envy

With some writers, I experience not envy, more a feeling of admiration for the strength of their writing. Authors such as James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane and Barbara Kingsolver compose sentences and paragraphs that have me immediately re-reading them.

If any envy does creep in, it's for the fact that they're not constrained in the way that I feel limited by the hoops I have to jump through as an unknown author—irksome things, such as the 80,000 word limit for crime novels, and starting my story with a sensationalistic event that grabs the attention of some dozy editorial assistant trawling through the slush-pile.

I tend to suffer more from bewilderment than envy, mystified at how a weak and flawed novel got published. I recently finished a highly-praised crime novel, which came with fifteen endorsements on its cover and opening pages, from other authors and critics. They said things like 'I had to sleep with the lights on after reading it', 'truly terrifying' and 'an eerie, spine-tingling read'. Maybe I'm desensitized by writing my own crime stories, but I felt mildly scared just four times in reading it.

To add to my confusion, the novel had several editing mistakes, including 'baited breath' when they meant 'bated breath'. Considering the amount of time that I spend repeatedly going over my manuscript, weeding out punctuation and spelling errors, I'm amazed that so-called professionals let such things slip.

Do any of you suffer from writer envy, or are you like me, merely baffled at how some books get published, when you can't get any attention for your brilliant manuscript?

I may admire them, or think, meh. Envy, no, I don't think so. I know what you mean about their freedom, but I think success is a trap as well, and if I envy their talent then I ought to focus on my own, whichever emerges as most necessary for expression.
I don't envy, but I feel the unfairness of the whole system sometimes. Not that I think my writing is superb or worthy of accolades, but I feel like a whole lot of mediocre and poorly-edited stuff gets published (even by the big publishing houses), and goes on to become wildly popular, largely due to good marketing, not to good writing. I will never envy a good writer who meets with success--the more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned. Instead, I admire, and wish I were as good, and then get on with my work so that perhaps some day I will be.
I don't envy them success, and have long come to the conclusion that whilst money is nice to have (and rich is better than poor) it is not a guarantee of any real happiness but the notion of being able to write full time is one that I do sometimes wistfully day dream about.

However I also sense that were I to become a best selling author over-night and could dedicate myself full time to writing, that perhaps it might not go as I expected.

What does make me angry though, and it should not, is when you get the broadsheets running full page articles on the supposed next bright young thing. Who has not actually written a book yet but is promising to. That I don't get at all. I want to read about writers who have made it. Who have written books and who might have some insights to share with us. Not the photogenic young blonde, with a jolly good idea and who you just know has a god-mother as a leading agent or publisher.
I suspect there are downsides as well as upsides. I imagine anyone that makes it will generate a group of critics, journos and reviewers who want to make a name for themselves by attacking said author's work, even to the extent of ad hominem attacks. And fame will also bring from the woodwork all kinds of lowlifes from one's past life willing to embellish or even fabricate 'anecdotes' so that they too can have their 15 minutes of fame. Careful what you wish for, all.
I certainly don't envy any published writer. In fact I suspect one or two, as Marc Joan suggests, aren't finding it all that great to be published. The secret to happiness is just to be happy with what you've got.
Who would want to be as successful as J. K Rowling? The first author to become a billionaire from her work, she's given away so much money that her wealth dropped to half-a-billion—but gosh darn it, has recently risen to £600,000,000.

All well and good, you might think, but she has to employ bodyguards to prevent kidnapping and terrorist attacks. Imagine what an attractive target she is for a demented ISIS suicide bomber, as an author who writes about witchcraft.

There's such a thing as being too successful!
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32 Calls for Submissions in June 2017 - Paying Markets

Doctor, doctor, it's a soul emergency!Emergency Poet?