Green Writers (and I’m Not Talking Newbies)

08/12/10 10:00 AM

As part of my celebration of National Writing Group Month (do you think I might launch a movement?), I’ve covered how to start a writing group and how to workshop submissions in your writing group. Now, I want to address a topic that we writing group members don’t like to talk about: jealousy and competition.

Listen, we’re human. So it’s gonna happen. I don’t care how much a person likes a fellow member. When one member of the group starts succeeding even when it’s totally deserved (i.e. the person has been working his or her ass off and has real talent that you’ve always seen and advocated for and he or she is really NICE to boot), the rest of the “serious” members (meaning those who are seeking publication) will *likely* feel at some point (if they’re truly honest with themselves) envy and/or jealousy. Here’s a good quick read on the difference between envy and jealousy.

I think it’s normal. And I don’t think it’s a problem if it comes and goes quickly. When it starts to become all-consuming, that’s when you need to stop and ask yourself what’s going on.

And it goes both ways: if you’re the person on the upswing and receiving all the accolades, be prepared for an occasional green-eyed monster (or two or three) giving you dirty looks or whispering behind your back. Be cool, and know that it will likely pass. And let it serve as a reminder to you that staying humble, even when a little voice inside of your head is saying you really are all that and a bag a chips, is not a bad thing.

One of the most honest discussions I’ve ever read on this topic is in Elizabeth Berg‘s book on writing: Escaping into the Open – The Art of Writing True. It’s a great writing book in general, but in her chapter “The Business of Writing,” she has a section on success (page 195), where she invites her best friend, Phyllis, to write about what happened between the two of them…and how they almost lost their friendship to envy. Phyllis writes humbly and honestly, and I give her a whole lot of credit for being able to admit it in writing.

I think this chapter should be required reading for every writer — and for all those who are close to a writer, especially ones who are successful or who are on the cusp. It’s easy to cheer on the struggling writer, especially when you’re a struggling writer as well. It’s a whole different ballgame when one person from the group starts advancing while the others continue to struggle. But that’s the reality of the game. I honestly believe there’s enough room for all of us, especially now, thanks to e-readers. But the most coveted positions — bestseller lists, awards — unfortunately do discriminate, and the bittersweet reality is not everyone in your group will “make it.”

I’d be curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this touchy subject. Leave your insights in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Writing Groups | Comments Off on Green Writers (and I’m Not Talking Newbies)

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