This essay by Erika Schickel in L.A. Observed received some flack when it first came out years ago. In the essay, Schickel owns up to feeling envious of Cheryl Strayed’s writing fame. “…Cheryl Strayed completely deserves her success, which makes her success sting all the more. It seems to highlight some kind of personal lack—of talent, of persistence, of specialness—in my own soul. Where did I go wrong?” I didn’t see the essay as an attack on Cheryl Strayed; I saw it as an exploration of one writer’s feelings of failure or general “suckiness.”
Schickel clearly hit a nerve. I think nerves are hit whenever the truth is spoken.
Writer envy exists. I guarantee that every writer, whether in his/her heart or publicly proclaimed on a website, has felt a sting of envy upon seeing another writer’s success. And envy is not limited to writing; who among us has not said “hello” to the green-eyed monster?
I admit to feeling this way on occasion. I usually keep these feelings to myself, though. And I stop myself to really examine what is making me envious. Because that which makes us envious is probably a quality we can emulate to improve our own writing careers.
Are you envious of the writer who has loads of time to write? Has someone made the decision to focus solely on his/her craft? Then find a way to do that yourself.
Are you envious of the writer who makes it look “easy”? Do you know the whole story? Often only the publications are publicized, which can make them look like they came out of nowhere. But do you know the writer’s backstory and how long it took to write the book? Do you know the sacrifices he/she made to finish that book?
Are you envious of a writer’s publicity and success? Publicity and success generally come through hard work and willingness to self-promote. No one is just going to call you up to interview you. Oprah has to hear of you somehow. Are you willing to put in the effort to make that happen?
Schickel asks, “Where did I go wrong?” She uses the envy of Strayed to examine her own writing. Schickel already had some great writing credentials when she wrote that essay; I see that her memoir, The Big Hurt, is coming out in August.
Let me know what you think about envy. How does it affect your craft, whatever that may be? Is it OK to go public with your envious thoughts, like Schickel? Or is it something that is best kept quiet?