Welcome to The Draft, an advice column about writing and life from Eileen Pollack, former director of the University of Michigan MFA Program. We’re here to answer your questions about storycraft, writing, and telling the truth.
Have a question? Share it with us.
I’m seeking motivation to write for fun and not to outdo someone else. I constantly have feelings of hatred toward other content creators, animators, and authors. How do I develop a healthier mindset about writing and interacting with other writers?
Eaten with Envy
When I was young and worked at an insurance company, my boss envied his friend’s promotion, which allowed him to eat in the executive cafeteria and pee in the executive men’s room. More recently, I moved to Manhattan, where envy — of a friend’s apartment, bank account, fame, second home, physique, handbag, child’s SAT scores, or spouse’s good looks — is the approved pastime, the way curling or hockey might be Toronto’s favorite sport.
But writers, artists, and performers are particularly susceptible to envy, if only because of the public nature of the enterprise and the difficulty of objectively assessing talent. An accountant or pet groomer might wonder at their neighbor’s salary, but a writer who sees their friend’s new novel in the window of Barnes & Noble immediately understands — and covets — the recognition her friend has achieved. Is that novel in the window “better” than the manuscript in the writer’s own drawer, or only more easily marketable? Even a gushing review in the New York Times might not mean your friend is more talented than you; the reviewer might be an idiot.
Envying your officemate’s promotion can make you miserable. But in the arts, such bitterness can sour your enjoyment of what you most love. It can pervert your instincts to the extent that you try to produce a novel fit for airport bookstores rather than your truest, most eccentric work. I have seen envy wither friendships and poison a writer’s pride in their partner’s…