Dealing with the green-eyed monster – writer’s envy

I nearly always write – just as I nearly always breathe.

(John Steinbeck to his editor, Pascal Covici – June 20, 1960)

I often listen to the radio when I’m writing. Now and then a little handful of lyrics will catch my ear and attention. Every time I hear Carrie Underwood’s song, Blown Away, I feel like I could cram my knuckles in my mouth and bite down to stifle a scream generated by green-eyed jealousy. To have written a line like: every tear soaked whiskey memory, blown away. Well – it’s pure genius.

I think back to when I read William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, and couldn’t get his description of the bartender out of my mind: The bartender’s smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it. Writing like that is the stuff of legend.

Or the way I read and reread Michael Ondaatje’s work – savoring each sentence and not wanting any one of his books to end.

Stephen King says one of the first prerequisites for a writer is to be a reader. I agree, though I’ve got to be honest here – reading or listening to really good work can be a tad intimidating. Oh what the heck, intimidation that can reach the stage of paralysis might be a more realistic description.

How do we get a handle on this type of intimidation so we can learn from those more experienced and dare I throw out the word – talented? How can we keep on with our own writing endeavors – no matter how humble?

Again – in that old vein of honesty – I haven’t enjoyed reading a novel in the same way since I wrote my own. I read differently now. I look for typos in the final product – I read for point of view or the obvious defiance of one of those crazy writing rules I keep reading about. And often this defiance is committed with stunningly good results.

Point in case – I am currently reading Guy Vanderhaeghe’s novel – A Good Man. At the same time I’ve been looking at a book called, Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. Suffice to say, Vanderhaeghe violates every single rule of deep point of view to say nothing of flying in the face of believability at times. He has his main character commit his thoughts to a journal in great detail and length – a way that no journal has ever been written. But it works – take my word for it – it works, hands down. The man is a genius of a writer. We’re told that violating deep point of view distances us from the characters. Well – not the way Vanderhaeghe does it!

It seems the more I read about the craft of writing the less inspired I become to actually write. And I think it’s because far too many of these books are written as how-to texts and, in my humble opinion, fiction writing doesn’t do well when the author’s head is crammed with too many rules about how to get the job done.

I’m curious – how do you handle that old green-eyed monster – writer’s envy? How do you decide which writing how-to you’ll follow and which you’ll let fall by the wayside?

Jack Londons Writing Cottage

Jack London’s Sleeping Porch – I love his idea of pinning up his ideas and thoughts with clothes pegs on a line hanging over the bed he slept in.

10 comments on “Dealing with the green-eyed monster – writer’s envy

  1. Liana says:

    reverence… I try to redefine my reaction along those lines

  2. Louise Butcher says:

    Hi Fran, your latest blog entry reminds me of another of Stephen King’s insights into writing. He says that it…”has as much in common with sweeping the floor as with mythy moments of revelation”.

    I don’t imagine that an author ever finds the perfect balance between craft and art but we readers certainly know when someone like an Ondaatje comes close. Sweep jealousy aside and celebrate being an author, broom in hand, bringing real moments of delight to your readers.

  3. Megan.S says:

    First off, great post. I love the examples 🙂 For me, whenever I get writer’s envy, I remember the advice an old professor gave me. He said to “try and emulate the writing. Figure out why it works so well or makes you jealous. Once you have that figured out, you should try writing that way.” I’ve done it a few times now, and even though it isn’t like what I was originally jealous of, it has my own unique twist on something I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.

    • I like this idea – especially the part where you try to emulate but come out with your own twist. I think we need way more of that. Thanks for stopping by my blog and more thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Christine says:

    My green-eyed monster surfaces in the form of academic envy. The genius one encounters is devastatingly intimidating. I work on presentations and papers for days and weeks and many others astound with off the cuff performances and all-nighter term papers. How do I deal with my envy? Not very well, I’m afraid. Every night when I go to sleep I wish with all my might that I could wake up just a little bit smarter – with a brain that could work in the ways I jealously see happening around me everyday. Do I try to learn from others? Constantly. Will I ever reach their level of genius? Doubtful. Should I ever give up trying? Not on your life!

    • Academic envy – oh my gosh – I remember it well. But you are right – will you ever give up? Not a chance. And because of that determination you will no doubt be engendering academic envy in others very soon, if you aren’t already. I bet you are – I actually felt a bit green-eyed reading how well you put that last bit – eeekkk.

  5. Gwen says:

    I like the point you make at the end of the post about reading too many how-to books. I agree with you – after a while it becomes impossible to filter out all the do’s and don’ts. Maybe the important thing to remember is writing is an art, and as such it must come from the heart. The mechanics can be fixed up later, during the editing stages. Easier said than done, of course 🙂

    I try to remember that even the “Greats” write multiple drafts and often take years to produce a published novel.

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