Creative jealousy

Two bizarre statements I heard this week from aspiring writers:

1) I never read that author because I’m too jealous of his writing.
2) I don’t read contemporary literature because I don’t want it to spoil my own writing

I can hear the resounding intake of breath from here, so let me deal with each of these separately and then I’ll let you say your piece.

I never read that author because I’m too jealous of his writing.

green eyes

Keep the green-eyed monster away

What sense does that make? Surely you read the authors you enjoy so that you can learn from them? Avoiding your favourite writers won’t make your own writing process any easier, and you lose out on some valuable learning. Keep up to date with the writers that you would like to emulate. It’s not copying, it’s infusing good technique, style and quality prose into your own writing. It’s called self improvement. Try it!

I don’t read contemporary literature because I don’t want it to spoil my own writing.

Rather than spoil your writing, reading your contemporaries should inform your work. How can you learn anything about what people like to read, the publishing industry and good technique if you avoid reading current literature? Reading is an important part of any writer’s life and is one of the best forms of education. Why miss out? Also consider this: if you don’t enjoy reading contemporary literature, why are you trying to write it?

In my mind, both of the above statements are the result of creative jealousy – and like any form of jealousy, this leads to destructive and detrimental situations for the person involved. Without knowledge, learning and the motivation to evolve, any aspiring writer will remain exactly that. In short, unpublished.

My advice to any other aspiring writers who want a successful writing career is to make use of the resources around you, including contemporary literature. Don’t succumb to creative jealousy. Read like a writer, soak up the language and technique and see where it leads your own writing journey.

What are you reading at the moment and how does it influence you as a writer?


10 thoughts on “Creative jealousy

  1. Kate Curtis says:

    I’m ashamed to admit that those comments do resonate with me to an extent. It’s not quite as they phrased it though. For me, it’s more being reminded how far I have to go. A reminder that my ideas are not original. A fear that my ideas are already out there and better than I could ever write them.
    I’m aware this isn’t rational. But it’s my truth.*grimace* There you have it.
    I’ve just starting reading JK Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’. It’s not my preferred genre, but I love her way with words.

    • ERMurray says:

      Hi Kate – yes, I think it was the particular phraseology that I found so bizarre. We all have fears as writers – at least your recognise yours and understand it so it won’t inhibit your writing. I haven’t read Casual Vacancy yet – let me know how you get on. I find reading outside my favourite authors/genres stimulating – there’s always something to gain. I’m in a local book club for this reason. Enjoy Rowling’s way with words and I look forward to hearing all about your continuing writing journey.

  2. t upchurch says:

    Interesting post, this made me smile. I’ve always said that I won’t read while I’m in the thick of writing or editing a big piece because I like to keep my work my own. I’m wary of infusing my own story/ies with other people’s terminology or cadence — when I write, I’m a literary hermit. It’s not jealousy, it’s just a natural reserve, a need for (brain) space. In between writing projects, I agree, reading is essential for enjoyment, information, and perhaps to bolster the vision of our own writing journey.

    • ERMurray says:

      Good point, Tracey – and thinking about it in this light I realise that when I’m editing, I tend to read completely different genres. During the early stages of a novel, or when I’m writing poems/short stories, I can read the same genre without issue. Thanks for taking the time to comment – I really appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. SJ O'Hart says:

    Really excellent post, Elizabeth. I can’t understand this sort of thinking personally, but in a strange way, I can almost see the logical process a person would use to convince themselves that not reading in case their own work was influenced was a sensible thing to do. I’m not saying I agree, just that I understand.

    I’m currently reading a biography – not my usual fare – and am learning lots from it. More about the subject and her time period than how to write, in fairness, but it’s always good to stretch your reading life! I think if a person aspires to write, it enriches their reading life so much. Denying yourself that joy is silly, really.

    Thanks for your post.

    • ERMurray says:

      Ooh – what biography are you reading? I just read Tete a Tete – the Lives & Loves of Simone de Bouvoir and John-Paul Sartre thanks to my local book group. It’s not something I would have picked up but I got so much out of it. We’re reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes next, along with a book of short stories. Really enjoy widening my reading and challenging my expectations.

      • SJ O'Hart says:

        It’s ‘The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton’, and I’m *really* enjoying it. It’s so detailed and rich, not to mention engagingly written. I’d love to read the Beauvoir/Sartre book, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’. Shamefully, though, it’s still on my ‘to-read’ list! 🙂 Hope you enjoy your reading.

  4. ashnfinn says:

    Great post and hm, I’ve never actually worried about reading interfering with my own creativity. Always finding it very stimutating rather than anything else and as you are saying it facilitates learning and self-development. As to what I’m reading currently.. Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems are always at hand, and I’m also reading Pynchon’s V and by way of conincidence and result of what I did last Sunday afternoon am dipping in and our of H.P. Lovecraft’s Complete Collection. 😉

  5. Damyanti says:

    I do try not to read books similar to the one I’m writing at the moment, because I’m afraid I’ll channel their voices. I’m pretty omnivorous otherwise, reading from all genres, all my contemporaries and those a little (and a lot) senior. When I read, I mostly forget who wrote it — the book is in and of itself, it takes me places, and becomes my friend. Never had an attack of jealousy, cos I think writing is an occupation where the only person who you need to constantly compete with is yourself.

  6. Michael Offutt says:

    Just playing the devil’s advocate, but in some ways, these are the strategies ppl use in order to keep said jealousy monster in check. Not everyone is equipped to deal with jealousy in the same way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s