And I knew what he meant. Now, I'm actually a very supportive author. I do my best to help those who've asked me to read their writing, be it a novel, query, article, story, email, grant, whatever. Most of the time I don't notice feeling anything, but occasionally, when I come across something really good, I think, "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" And if I'm not careful, I can start to think, "What if my own writing isn't as good?"
Interestingly, this phenomenon almost never happens when I'm reading the classics. I guess I just expect that Mr Dickens, Mr Forster, Miss Austen, and Sir Arthur are going to be brilliant. (It does irk me that Forster wrote A Room with a View when he was in his 20s and had no right being so insightful or so generous in spirit.) It's when I come across something that an "ordinary" writer like me has produced that I feel my hackles rise ever so slightly.
I do get over it. I don't spend the weekend sobbing in the bathroom; that's just a stupid waste of time. Nor do I allow myself to become paralyzed. Sometimes writer's envy can spur us on to try harder, and that's a good thing. In the end, what sustains a writer is his or her innate sense of self-worth coupled with a strong dose of denial. The odds of success are so slender we have to believe we will overcome them, or else we certainly never will.
And of course, a lot depends on one's definition of success. I have a friend who thinks success only means NYT best seller. In literary fiction. Me, I'm happy writing genre fiction, and I'm thrilled to have a contract with a small press.
So, if you've got author envy, what do you do about it? I'd love to hear. Peace.