I’ve always been prone to envy. But as I’ve become a better writer, and it’s become less ridiculous to feel that I might receive some of the publication and buzz that I see other writers getting, the feelings of envy have increased to the point where it can often be quite distressing.
I can’t really say whether this raging envy harms the quality of my work. I think that perhaps it might serve as a goad, inspiring me to write more and better stories. However, it certainly throws me off my mental equilibrium, and can make me quite dissatisfied at times.
But I think that one of the worst things envy can do is make me close-minded. You know the movie Amadeus? Where Salieri envies the shit out of Mozart, but he also sits in the empty theater and watches every performance of The Marriage of Figaro, and curses the emperor for being so stupid as to not see the genius of the work? It’s a beautiful image…but I think that envy is not often like that.
Envy can make it difficult to see the good in other peoples’ work. Envy sets up all these additional hurdles. It makes us forget that the good is something we perceive, and something we can ignore…envy makes us insist that the good is something a work has to club us over the head with. Normally when I read something, I assume it will be good. I come to it open-minded, and looking for the good. And I find it. Envy makes me read differently. I look for the bad, and I have no trouble finding it. Stories have to be truly excellent in order to even register with me, and even then I nitpick at them. Envy makes the excellent seem merely passable, and the good seem mediocre.
That’s not the way I want to be. On a practical level, I can’t grow as a writer unless I can really see, and appreciate, the interesting things that my peers are doing. But on a more spiritual level, it’s also just pitiful. One of the great gifts that increased writing prowess has given me is more joy in reading. Never before has my understanding been so great, and never before have I been able to enjoy as many different kinds of stories. But if I can only give that appreciation to writers who I am not in competition* with – mostly because they’re dead, or old – and am unable to extend it to struggling writers who are often just like me…people I might actually meet and see…people who write for love, and for praise, and who pray, as I do, for a thoughtful and sympathetic reading…then that is just pitiful.
In an effort to combat that distressing tendency within myself, I decided to read all the original stories published in November by what I consider the top online SFF magazines** and what’s more, to read them with a genuinely open mind, the way I’d read a story by Chekhov or Tolstoy…and then to blog about them. So far, it’s been genuinely interesting. I want to make it a monthly thing.
That blog post, however, will come tomorrow, since I kind of felt like prefixing my thoughts on the stories with a 500-word reflection on envy might be sort of the opposite of what I’m trying to do.
* To the limited extent that any writer can ever be in competition with any other writer.
** Apex, Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons