The Self-Hate of Writers Part I: Comparison

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Envy, jealousy, yep, yeah, normal part of life and being human, cool, we just deal with it because we all know that there is always someone bigger or better or richer or smarter or whatever than us. We’ve heard all that. A billion times. They’ve become platitudes with which we try to soothe ourselves, knowing all the while that it’s the equivalent of placing a Band-Aid on a mortal wound.

Note: Before I begin, I would like to say that I haven’t published anything in my life. I’m still trying. I’m still young. My goal is to publish something, anything, before I die, so my expectations are not high. That said, I like to call myself a writer. Because, though it is a title that can be earned, I think a writer is who I am, my soul, my being, my essence. Make of that what you will. It may only be sheer presumptuousness on my part.

When writers deal with envy, we take it to a whole other level. It’s a battle. A raging war. You know there are going to be casualties, and most of them will be pieces of yourself.

Let’s try and condense the envy of writers when they compare their work with other writers into a couple of acidic droplets, shall we?

Writing is a very personal part of writers. Duh, Sherlock. But I cannot emphasise this enough. When someone criticizes our writing, they might as well be calling our own baby a disgusting, wrinkled mole or personally insulting us. It hurts, because this jumbled mass of words is an ejection of our soul, and, by rejecting it, you are rejecting us. Irrational, but hey, writers are not the most rational of creatures. Which is why we have our imaginations and convoluted logic to make up for that (Pigs can fly, humans, like pigs, are animals, ergo, humans can fly. Boom! A story about flying humans. Never mind the fact that pigs can’t fly in the first place).

So, seeing as writing is basically an extension of our being, when another person’s writing (and therefore their soul, if you want to get dramatic about it) is better, more wondrous, beautiful or poetic than our own, we sometimes shrivel up into self-loathing and hate. I don’t care if you tell me that you are always the better person and sublimate envy into motivation to improve your own writing. Either way, it writhes within your gut, even temporarily, like a spitting nest of snakes. Not good enough. Three words. That’s it. A drum-beating mantra that shakes the shingles from your rocky tower of self-esteem and sends the whole lot clattering down into skeleton bones.

 But, you might say, I don’t think writers or artists/creators, feel envy much more strongly than, say, Bob, who is jealous of Penny’s new car and promotion. I beg to differ. For exactly three reasons.

1. Artists, of any kind, tend to be emotional creatures because without emotion art is nothing. Therefore, we just might feel envy more keenly than the average Joe.

2. A car and one’s writing are two different things. One is a metal husk which is not an extension of a person’s soul and could, or should, not be a reflection of oneself. And the another? It is the essence of who you are. Sometimes, it’s the only source of your self-esteem and the only reason you get up in the morning and keep living in this godforsaken society. It’s only thing that makes you happy and the only thing you want to be really, really good at. It is you. And having someone else’s ‘you’ be better than yours? Soul crushing is an understatement.

3. Painters, writers, actors, designers etc. aren’t always the most sociable, agreeable people in the world. Sure, there are happy creators of art but if you just take a look at the number of writers and other artists who have committed suicide throughout history, it is a bleak picture. We can be moody. Clingy. Anxious. Depressed. Sometimes even mentally unstable. They say there is great method in madness and perhaps that’s the source of our creativity. Either way, it can make us very dour people when mixed with a dose of envy.

I wish I could offer some inspirational advice. But they are hackneyed and well-worn. You and I both know that there are going to be writers who are better than us. You and I both know that our writing is far from what it should be. You and I both know that we are not putting in enough grind, seeing as procrastination is an occupation hazard when it comes to writing. You and I both know that maybe, no matter how much we love this thing, no matter how hard we work at it, sometimes nothing can replace genuine talent.

We might – no, we will – never be good enough. And that is terrifying.

Are we only chasing a fantasy? Our own shadow? Will we die with our dreams unfulfilled, the depths of our souls unplumbed, our inner treasures never having seen the light of day?

There is no point in thinking about that. In fact, there is no point in thinking at all. There is no point in envy, especially when we realize how petty our lives and affairs and worries really are in the full scheme of existence.

If this was your last week to live, would you spend your time being jealous of someone else? Or creating the best art you can create, in the time that you have?

You’d be a fool not to choose the latter.

I’m here to slap you in the face and make you realize what I have discovered, after years of self-hatred and comparison, feeling like I was a big, fat nobody, crying myself to sleep, hating every word I wrote, hating other writers with every cell of my body (Yes. I’m not afraid to admit it).

There is no time for envy. There is no time for hate. There is no time for thinking.

Just do. Just write. JUST WRITE. Forget about everything, just do this damn thing, okay? Just do it. Who cares if it’s not good enough. Who cares if every other writer in the entire universe is better than you and feels smug about it. Who cares. Think about your regrets on your deathbed. Think about how meaningless this existence is and therefore how inane your envy is. Muffle and strap that inner critic of yours to a chair in the basement. JUST DO. Do what your soul wants to do. Do what you were born to do. Do what you were meant to do. Do what you only can do.

Write. Write. Write.

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4 thoughts on “The Self-Hate of Writers Part I: Comparison

  1. I respectfully but completely disagree with you. Envy probably exisited before human beings had the ability to talk. It makes me ask the question “Why? Why does this very ugly emotion exist?” There must be a reason. I think the reason is explained by philosopher Alain de Botton: “our moments of envy… are our covert guides to what we should try to do next.” Envy doesn’t hve to be a waste of time. It can be instructive. Like every other emotion we feel. Is anger a waste of time? Is sadness? Art wouldn’t exist without anger and sadness. Or envy.
    I do agree with you that whatever we feel we should keep writing.

    • That’s okay. 🙂 I respectfully accept your disagreement, if that makes sense? That’s an interesting idea. It probably did exist before we could talk. Maybe we just couldn’t voice it. Is envy a purely human emotion? Did emotions exist before living things did? I think, though it can be instructive, many times it can also be destructive. I also think I might have been exaggerating when I said I hate other writers. I actually am only referring to one writer in my mind who has circulated in my (limited) social circle and was quite smug about his own writerly success. Either way, I completely respect your opinion and I do agree that great art can spring from envy but it could just as easily nip it in the bud.

  2. I am not a particularly envious person. I don’t covet fancy cars or big houses, or any other material things, but I do envy how good other writers are. I genuinely wish at times that their words were mine. But, that said, sometimes I read pieces and know that I am a 100 times better! haha I put off writing a piece of fiction (I have started, several times, even sent one off to publishers), and I actually like my fiction. Yet, I sit and procrastinate how I don’t have the time, yada yada yada. When in reality, I don’t have the strength to do it (both mental capacity and self-belief). Very inspiring post – good for you!

    • Thank you. Oh, don’t get me started on procrastination. It’s the killer of success. I feel that way too! Like I don’t have the strength, the mental capacity, the willpower! I’m glad you found it inspiring. I wrote it while procrastinating in order to stir up motivation.

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