Monday, October 18, 2010

Positive Envy

We writers are an envious lot.

It shows when a peer gets a good review. We grumble when another has a successful signing. A good contract—well, you get the idea.

It may be human nature to covet the good fortune of others. But such expressions of spite are negative envy, which is not a good thing. In its stead we should employ positive envy. Positive envy, you might ask. Is there such a thing?

Most definitely. People, however, have a tendency to envy others and pass off their good fortune as luck. Webster defines luck as a casual event or accident. A secondary definition is having good fortune or being successful.

In one form or another, luck crosses our path every day. How we respond determines the outcome of these exposures. The same applies to our reaction to the luck of others.

One positive aspect is to employ envy as a stimulus. Instead of being jealous examine what the other writer did to achieve good results. Consider how you might profit by their example.

You might also consider what I have dubbed OPW. This is a most valuable procedure many overlook. In business there’s a principle called OPM (Other People’s Money) which means you get someone to assist when you have insufficient resources. With OPW, you utilize another person’s labor to supplement or conserve your own energy.

You can start by seeking mentors, people with wider knowledge and experience who are willing to share what they have learned.

Another aspect is that of cause and effect. It may be a cliché, but we really do get what we give out. The Internet has vastly expanded opportunities for networking. But don’t forget, networking is a two-way street. Be prepared to share. If you want your work critiqued, be willing to do something in return. If you want a contact, be willing to offer something in exchange.

For example, Ray Bradbury never went to college. Instead he educated himself in the public library, spending all day, three times a week for a period of 10 years. In gratitude, he now makes a habit of organizing fundraisers for libraries.

A chance encounter with British writer Christopher Isherwood in a bookstore provided Bradbury the opportunity to put The Martian Chronicles in the hands of a respected critic who gave it a glowing review.

And—though they might not seem to have much in common—it was Truman Capote who recognized Bradbury’s talent and pulled his story Homecoming out of a slush pile and convinced an editor to publish it in Mademoiselle. In turn, Bradbury helped Hugh Hefner get Playboy off the ground by giving him copy at a price he could afford.


  1. Interesting taker on envy, John. As usual you give me something to think about.

  2. I'm actually happy when other writers are doing well. I think there's enough room for all of us. Great post.


  3. Nice post John. You raise some very relevant points.Envy sometimes can be good, if it spurs you on to greater effort, but it can also destroy you, if you let it.

    Well, that is my humble opinion.



  4. Personally, I'd just be happy to make some royalties! I'm not envious, I just wonder what I'm not doing that they are. So I read/listen/try to learn. I guess that's what you mean by positive envy, eh? Interesting concept. Sounds like an oxymoron, but isn't?