Saturday, November 1, 2008

HOW WE DO IT: TWO WRITERS TALK TECHNIQUE, Clea and I talk about friendship and envy among writers

Writers and envy.  How do we handle it when a friend gets something we want? Or when an acquaintance snags a prize and we weren't even in the running?  It's something writers deal with day to day, or let's me honest, second by second.

Please visit Clea Simon's great blog for my entry on this provocative topic.  I always think of Clea and me as equals. I always perceive us on a see-saw.  Some days I'm struggling with rejection and Clea has won another accolade, but other days, I'm doing well and we are in balance.  I think what makes our writing friendship and our regular friendship work so well is that we really are in the trenches together. We boost each other up, we soothe wounds, we celebrate together. We make each other writer, write, write.   I know I absolutely depend on Clea as my daily writing vitamin, as I do with other writer friends.  We are all in CONSTANT email connection, because really, who else knows what we are going through but our writer friends? Who else knows what it means to spend ten hour on one line?

So here is Clea's great take on this issue. Thank you, Clea.

"Oh, I hardly wrote today! Am I a bad person?"

There's only one person I can ask that question of, and you're reading her blog.  Yes, I talk to my husband and a variety of other friends about my writing. How could I not, when it's the heart of my waking, working life? But to have one friend who is also working on fiction, a friend who knows the highs and lows of creation, of trying to spin something out of air, that's invaluable.

That's also why, on the days when things go right for her – or for one of the dozen other authors who I know, if not as intimately – I have to be happy for her. I remember, for example, when Caroline told me that Algonquin had offered on her latest novel. Oh, the excitement! Oh, the virtual celebration! Was my own completed manuscript making the rounds by then? I think it was, still in the hands of my agent and a half dozen editors who just can't seem to get around to it. Still waiting to be sent off to a half dozen more. And I was still here smarting from the rejections it had already received. "Good" rejections ("love the voice!" "if only it wasn't similar to something else in my line...," etc.). But rejections nonetheless. 

Was it difficult? I don't remember, we were all so thrilled. But honestly, sometimes it is, horribly so. When one friend wins a prize or a multi-book contract, and I'm still sitting here, wondering if anyone will care about my work-in-progress, I feel it viscerally. My chest tightens up and I can't breathe with envy.

So how do we do it? How do we stay friends and find a supportive network in such an uneven and difficult field? Well, basically, we have to find a way. We share too much – the love of writing, our love for each other, our commitment to a crazy, wonderful discipline that has defined our lives – to let jealousy stand in our way.

What works for me is not pulling back, not distancing myself. At the times that I feel the most envy, I try to put myself in the prized one's place. How did she get there? How many tears did she suffer? In my heart, I know she worked for it. I know she earned it. And I try to learn from how she earned it, to channel all that excess, unwanted emotion. To think, "well, she wouldn't have won that if she didn't work hard, so get back to work."  And I do. But it's hard.

The payoff is that I know that everything I feel, my friends have, too, good and bad. Through my friendship with Caroline, I know that I am not alone with my anxiety, my desperation, or my fear of being an artist in a failing economy. That helps. A lot. And so with Caroline (and Karen Olsen, Vicki Croke, Vicki Lane, and a dozen other good author friends), I need to celebrate, as they will with me, next time fortune shines my way. We share the anxieties. Let's share the good times, and simply put those negative energies back to work.

Clea Simon
"Cries & Whiskers" 
"Highly recommended!"- Booklist


Jacqueline Carney said...

Hello Caroline,

I think friendship and envy is as much a matter of perspective as anything. I read your post today and, while I can certainly sympathize with your struggles I want you to know what a wonderful place you are in to have 1) become such a successful author in your own right 2) have willing, supportive and talented friends to talk technique with (among other things, I am sure) and 3) we are all in this economy thing together.

I met you at Backspace last August and was so impressed with your encouragement, voice of confidence and accomplishments.

I am now trying to re-wire myself as a writer and am envious of you!

Jacqui Carney

Clea Simon said...

Rather than focus on the envy, Jacqui, try to be inspired by Caroline. I am!

Caroline said...

Hi Jacqui, I remember you from Backspace Conference!! Please don't be envious for a nanosecond. I don't consider myself as anything but a working writer, as you are, which means we are colleagues. Glad to hear you are writing and please, if you need any boosts of support, just email me!

Gina Sorell said...

I have to say that you ladies are amazing!! Clea, this is such a great post and I think it is just fantastic at how you support each other!! You have my support!!

I too envy. I envy other writers successes, their sense of community, my perception of their belonging to a world that I feel I am still finding my way in. But thanks to Caroline and this blog, I do feel like I belong and having someone share their struggles and insights into the process of writing every day and all the pain and joy that goes with it, is such a gift. I now not only feel a sense of community, but yes Clea, a shared sense of triumph and celebration when a fellow writer achieves those hard earned victories!

We are all in this together, and our struggles and accomplishments are equally felt and celebrated.

xo G