Updated: Nov 4
After months or maybe even years of heads-down, lonely work, authors often emerge from a finished project with a fresh enthusiasm to engage. All that coffee and editing, those twisted details needing sorting, have often morphed into a black hole swallowing the unspent emotion of reduced social contact. True the dauntless writer feeds on that internalization, redirecting energy into characters and world building, but we aren’t alone in the world even if the publishing gauntlet fosters that impression.
So when we do choose to emerge from solitude, we must be on guard for the camouflaged demons of benign envy perhaps lurking in the friendly weeds. Malicious envy is Iago wishing death to Othello; benign envy manifests as withheld attention or muted support. Writing a book is a birth of sorts, and afterwards writers want a celebration, a kiss on the cheek for our new progeny, maybe even an accolade or two to replenish our drained fortitude. Such eagerness carries with it the jeopardy of emotional unpreparedness as we reengage with our friends and family. Sometimes those friends we thought ready to throw flowers and confetti our way offer instead a dull stare, a promise they’ll get around to reading our latest creation after the labors of draining Netflix dry are finished.
Benign envy as veiled resentment rarely finds open expression; it lives in the world of snide remarks, whispers, and rolling of the eyes. Experiencing its toxic effects, some writers will brood and withdraw. Some skulk into a new project where characters become friends who don’t wound us by accident or with the scalpel of judgment. The secret to handling indifference in our familiar world lies in the realization that our personal change is all we can effect. The judgers and sneakers must make their own shifts in behavior.
Whereas malicious envy crushes motivation, benign envy, if mindfully reacted to, can be used to foster inspiration. Resisting indifference helps redirect emotions like rejection or inadequacy into the controlled action that buoys the spirit. A good technique for converting negative reaction into engagement is to find thematic links from our books, then reference them when a friend’s life situation hints of a similarity. This anchoring of their own self-interest to our books provides them with a reason to be curious about what you’ve written because there’s something in it for them other than merely supporting your project. Submit to writing contests, approach your local library, attend that dreaded high school reunion, these and a thousand others can stimulate both engagement and a sense of control. Who knows, unexpected delight may be waiting for you to do something.
In Russian, they have words for white and black envy as does Dutch. In English we aren’t so lucky, so we must create our own interpretation and use it to trigger a willingness to act, to level up the heavy tow of negative emotion. Keep writing my friends; keep engaging; in your heart you know it’s worth it, and someday your friends might know it as well. Arthur