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.