Guest Post: The Monster in the Laundry Basket: Part Two

by Caren Gussoff

In my last post, I tried to shake out our dirtiest secrets about professional jealousy, based on my personal experience and some conversations I’ve had with colleagues.  Here, I’d like to list out my last five of ten truths about professional jealousy (as I see it), which concern how you can deal with the green-eyed monster when it will not simply be slayed.

• There is, actually, plenty of “doing well.” There is not a single saucepan of success from which each ladle to someone else means less in your bowl. It simply isn’t true. We are a community of storytellers hoping to seduce readers into delving into our worlds of future, past and never-was. Anytime one of us gets through, we get another reader…who, one day, may be our reader too. Spend ten minutes at a fannish event if you don’t believe.

• You can’t win it unless you’re in it. You need to produce work, and send it out, enter contests, give readings, and so forth, in order to even be considered for anything, anyway. This isn’t rocket science. Each time you send out into the world, it is a risk. A risk you will win. And a risk you may lose. Forget the saucepan: the doing-well fairy will not ring your doorbell because they heard you may have a cool story. Show up.

• Their path is not yours’. It’s not going to happen on your schedule. This was the hardest, personally, for me to come to terms with. I’m entering my 40s, and have been writing seriously, professionally, even, for nearing-on twenty years. There are writers whose works have reached levels of recognition and acclaim on a faster track or who are much younger than I. This can make me feel quite discouraged when I compare myself to them or when I try and ape the routes they have taken to get their work out there. I have to sit myself down, sometimes daily, and remind myself that my path is my path, and, as long as I am producing and sending out work I am proud of, my feet are, indeed, planted on the right one.

• Shut it down and motivate. The way I deal, as I said, is to produce and send out work I am proud of. If I want to get to that next level, and the fairy doesn’t know my address, then I have to take my envy and use it to get my butt in the chair and work. I will allow myself five straight minutes of wild jealousy. Then, I shut it down and use that energy to draft, or revise, or find five new markets. I am not perfect at this and nor would I expect you to be, but it’s the hard truth. To be a writer, you have to write. To be successful, you have to keep writing.

• Someone is jealous of you. Right now. It may be me. You are reading this because you are a professional, or seriously aspiring to be a professional science fiction or fantasy writer. That means you take your work seriously. You sit down and do it. You’ve had success — of not publication, then by writing a great scene or giving useful feedback. And one of us, pinky swear, has thought: “I wish that were me.”

How do you deal with jealousy? Did I miss a solid coping tip? Please share.

Next time, I want to spend a little time talking about what success means for us, as the ways people read change so drastically and the publishing industry flounders around, trying to figure out how to keep up.

•••

Science fiction writer Caren Gussoff lives in the Pacific Northwest with two cats and an artist. She’s trying to sell her third novel, a post-pandemic apocalyptic little story that actually has a car chase. Publications, awards and mutterings are available at www.spitkitten.com

5 Responses

  1. Jonathan Vos Post

    To some of us it IS Rocket Science. Besides me, my deservedly better known colleagues (living and life-challenged) such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Dr. David Brin, Dr. Robert Forward, Dr. Geoffrey Landis, Dr. Charles Sheffield, Robert Anson Heinlein (spacesuit-designer), Buzz Aldrin… We all learned collegiality (where cooperation trumps competition) in NASA, Air Force, Navy, university, or similar venues. Not that all Science Fiction and Fantasy needs rockets in it. But it is true that Dr. Milton Rothman structured the modern Worldcon on the model of the annual meetings of the American Physical Society (hotel, badges, mult-track programming) as he explained to me at his Princeton Plasma Physics lab in 1962. My ghod, 50 years ago.

  2. J. D. Brink

    The timing on my reading this was perfect, as I happen to be at one of those confidence-waning slopes of the on-going, painful cycle of the would-be writer. I just had a story come out a few days ago and something in me couldn’t figure out why i wasn’t instantly an independently wealthy and successful writer with no further need for a day job. That’s ridiculous, of course, but you know what I mean. Thanks, I needed this little bit of reassurance.

  3. Liz Argall

    I often feel anxiety one of jealousy’s constant companions. I think I was 14 when I first looked at an author’s age for their first book and thought ‘I need to make it bigger than Dylan Thomas in under 6 years’… which has clearly not happened.

    My best weapon against jealousy is looking at history. History can be a source of anxiety (aka Dylan Thomas), but I find comfort in examining cohorts as a whole.

    The world is full of amazing people who knew each other _before_ they were famous and amazing. Poets that all went to the same cafe, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie sharing a crappy flat with Emma Thompson dropping in to steal their tea.

    So by my calculation, every time someone I know

  4. Liz Argall

    I often feel anxiety one of jealousy’s constant companions. I think I was 14 when I first looked at an author’s age for their first book and thought ‘I need to make it bigger than Dylan Thomas in under 6 years’… which has clearly not happened.

    My best weapon against jealousy is looking at history. History can be a source of anxiety (aka Dylan Thomas), but I find comfort in examining cohorts as a whole.

    The world is full of amazing people who knew each other _before_ they were famous and amazing. Poets that all went to the same cafe, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie sharing a crappy flat with Emma Thompson dropping in to steal their tea.

    So by my calculations, every time someone I know gets success, my chances of being successful go up. We succeed as a cohort. When a Science Fiction book reaches a new audience all Science Fiction gets a boost… and lets hope there’s lots of other books and short stories that reward the new audience for their time.

    I certainly feel jealousy, but I also feel excited. I feel like, yes, we are winning and shaping the fabric of the universe. Bwahahahahah… and selfishly if my friend wins that makes more space for me to win too.

    I get more upset when stuff I think is brilliant doesn’t get love… that I get really pouty about. Damn you universe, I want to feel jealous of my friends, I don’t want my friends overlooked!

  5. Melanie Lamaga

    I love what you said, “their path is not your path.” When we are living authentically we can’t trade a single step because everything teaches and makes us who we are, which in turn informs our work. Remembering and being grateful for that is sometimes all we need to escape the jealousy trap.