A few days ago, I was riding the roads of these quiet Virginia foothills, and I passed a driveway that made my heart shimmer. It was a long one – the house far out of site – and the owners had cleaned all the understory around the big trees at the entrance so that only green, lush grass lingered there in the shadows. I could imagine fairy tales growing there.
For just a second, I resented that driveway. I wanted ours to look like that – lush and quiet and not washed out by the latest summer rain. Then, I took a breath, honored my hope that one day the spindles of sugar maples on our drive will let us create this image, and let myself appreciate that something so beautiful was available for me to see. (Okay, it took me a few breaths and a little gritting of my teeth.)
When Writers Covet
I know not everyone – or maybe anyone – has driveway envy, but I know that everyone has envy, especially writers. We envy the time some people seem to have to write, the publication history of others, the ease with which some seem to come up with ideas, the space that a few have created for their offices, the website banners of friends (I’m looking at you, Blake Atwood), the pens certain writers use, their hairstyles, their cats. . . . Once we get going, it’s so easy to envy so much that other writers have because, well, having what we want and need to write is usually a hard-fought battle.
The irony, of course, is that most of the time we are fighting that battle to write with ourselves. We are struggling with our priorities or our work ethic or the willingness to say that writing is worthwhile. We wrestle with our own feelings about writing about the people we love or about sharing our positions on hot topics or about the amount of vulnerability we are able and willing to share with the world.
But these are hard things, and it’s far easier to twist them up into writhing balls of envy and place the “why” of our angst in the “but I don’t have” category. “I don’t have a great website like she does, so I’ll never find a publisher.” “I have small children, so I’ll never get the time to write like he does.” “I just want to write cozy mysteries, so I’ll never get the attention that he gets for his political posts.” Enough focus on what we don’t have, and we can pretty much talk ourselves right out of being writers at all.
Believe me . . . I’ve done it.
Harnessing Envy’s Energy
There’s no easy solution here. Envy is a natural part of doing something we care about a great deal. But envy doesn’t have to steal our words. Instead, it can fuel us to be better writers, not just in our work but in our support of other people.
If I love someone’s new website banner (ahem, Blake!), I can share it and tell people that I so appreciate what that writer does in the world. If I’m envious of that writer’s response to her latest post on the abominations being perpetuated against immigrant children, I can share that post and encourage other people to read it. If I wish I had that writers’ sales numbers or cover art or access to pens of all sorts, I spin my jealousy to support and spread the word about their work.
Giving away what we have to share – especially when it costs us nothing but a few words or the click of a button – can make us supporters instead of enviers. It’s almost a magical thing.
Then, hopefully, we find the energy we had devoted to resentment is freed up for use in our words. Suddenly, that twisting ball of jealousy unravels into creativity that becomes language that becomes story and beauty and all the hope of our hearts.
And maybe, just on the best day when the light hits the understory that sits at the beginning of our work, we see the joy there, the goodness that had been available to us all along.