PROFESSIONAL JEALOUSY AND WHY I READ NEVERMOOR
I have a confession to make.
Sometimes (perhaps even often) when I hear of another author’s amazing success, an ugly green-eyed monster rises within me. Sad fact. (But I don’t think I’m alone here.)
Take the new “sensation” Nevermoor, by Jessica Townsend. I only became aware of this “sensation” a month or two ago, but when I read of the frantic bidding auction for the manuscript, the six figure advance, the rights deals to umpteen foreign territories and the 20th Century Fox film deal, followed by the great reviews, the mounting anticipation of its release and the amazing marketing campaign and author tour, well, there were so many conflicting emotions flitting around inside me that I ended up lumping them together and feeling, well, numb. Of course, I was excited for this young debut Australian author. (I can be nice. Sometimes.) What an astonishing thing to happen to your first manuscript! But, truth be told, I also found myself shaking my head and tutting and wondering why her?; why not me?; I’m a failure; I’m not good enough etc., etc., etc.
This is not healthy self-talk. But it happens. And again, I’m not alone here. We all do it, I think. We look at someone else’s successes, even the less glittery ones, and suddenly feel not good enough, not talented enough, not clever enough. A total fraud. Even if these are only fleeting thoughts – it happens. And I think it is best to recognise it for what it is – a creative’s natural self-doubt – and then push that self-doubt over a jolly steep cliff and get on with our own work. Because if allowed to fester, it can be destructive.
Back to Nevermoor. In this instance, it was easy for me to push aside my professional jealousies, because when I read a little more about the book, I knew that I could never write that book – my brain doesn’t work that way; it’s not my thing. (Kirkuk Reviews reviewed it as “… Harry Potter is meeting Alice in Wonderland ...”) Regardless of this, I bought the book on release (a signed copy no less) and keenly read it.
There has been an interesting debate online lately about whether a writer should read and if reading could at times stifle your writing. (See these great blog posts by Jen Storer and Sandy Fussell.) I firmly believe reading is crucial to developing the craft of writing. So, I read Nevermoor – not so I could find out what all the fuss was about, not so I could work out how to tap into the latest trend, not to try to emulate her success. But to learn.
Here’s my three main reasons:
- As a writing coach, publishing consultant and editor, I need to know what the market is responding to and why. If something is “hot” right now, I need to be able to talk about it from a position of knowledge, not hearsay.
- As a children’s literature and literacy advocate and enthusiast, I need to know if I should recommend this book to readers and teachers. (Which I most definitely would, btw – especially to fantasy lovers and Harry Potter fans.)
- Most importantly, as an author, I read Nevermoor because I was sure there would be some lessons within the pages for me – even though it isn’t my preferred genre. And, yes, by reading as a writer, which means analysing as I read, I did make some great discoveries about characterisation, pacing, originality, setting and so on. I identified what I thought were the book’s flaws and also its strengths. I thought about these in the context of the book that I am planning and the one in its third draft. Not in a “how can I emulate this?” way, but in a “how can I improve my craft?” way. What elements can I strengthen? What traps should I avoid?
So, what this rambling post is trying to say is this: don’t let the success of others and those ugly professional jealousies intimidate you. Accept that you’re human, shove the green-eyed monster over a cliff, and then set out to do the best YOU can do. And know that’s enough.
(And Suzie Q, note to self: listen to your own advice sometimes, will you?)