Sunday, July 28, 2013

Is Jealousy a Bad Thing for a Writer?

I'm about to make an admission many writers are afraid to make. I am envious of other writers' works. Even jealous, coveting. When it comes to other people's literature, I must be breaking  the Ninth and Tenth Commandments at least.

When I read an awesome work by another writer, I go through several phases.

  1. Awe – I am captured by the story and especially the main character.  I read it continuously and even when I have put it down for the moment, I'm still thinking about it.
  2. Jealousy – I think to myself  'I wish could write that well'.
  3. Depression – I'm down because I don't think I'll ever be able to write that well.
  4. Evaluation – I look at the story in detail to try and figure out why that story was so successful.
  5. Improvement – Everything I write from this point on is better because of what I have learned from studying this author's work.

As an example, I'm reading the YA Dystopian novel Divergent.  Many people think the plot is a little absurd, but I can easily see how it became a #1 seller.  The main character's narration is awesome. She jumps right out of the book and talks to the reader. 

I spent yesterday in the jealousy and depression phases as a result of what I read. I envied the writer's ability to make a character jump out of the book like that and was feeling down I could not to it that well.  However, today I was able to analyze and evaluate why I as a reader relate so well to the narrator. And, as I worked on the finishing touches of my novel Bear Dreamer, I was able to make my main character's voice stand out just a little more. So, I guess it was worth dancing with the Devil for a couple songs.

Yes, some of my emotions look pretty bad on the surface. However, as a result of these negative feelings my next work will be better. It's a lot like a weight lifter who works out until his arms are sore.  When he gets over the soreness, he is able to lift more weight.

I really don't think jealousy in this instance is an evil thing as long as it does not drive you to wish bad things on the author.  If disciplined properly, it can be a force to help you improve.


  1. The way you define jealousy, Chuck, I can see why it could be considered a good thing, because it acts as both a learning experience and as a spur, to prod you forward. Nice evaluation of the process :) Everyone has a unique voice that will add his or her own touch to the story. Good post.

  2. Sounds like a force for good to me. What a great way to learn!

  3. My concern is that when we compare our writing to that of others, we might be tempted to change things that make us unique. It's better to be an original YOU than a pale copy of someone else.

    Plus jealousy is a real creativity-kill for me. I can't give it anytime. It's death, IMO.

    If it works for you as a tool to reevaluate your writing, well and good. If it sucks you into depression, avoid it like the pox!

    1. A good point, Mia. I didn't think of that, but yes, it's better for the writer to be himself or herself.

  4. All writers feel inadequate at times, and your points well recognized. I think Barbara and Mia have it right. It took a few books to settle in on my own voice. I'll never look back, but will always stop to "smell the flower" of a beautifully written story.

    1. I see your point too. It's best to be one's self.