Monday, July 21, 2008

Why I Write: To compete

One of the main reasons I got into writing was to show other people that I was the best.

Writing was one big competition, with all my fellow writers as contestants - not that I'd ever admit I was competing (of course). But all of us were in a race to achieve the elusive crown of respect and achievement. And there could only be one, and that was going to be me (of course).

Competition is invigorating. It's helped me put pen to paper. But it has a pretty big dark side for me.

Jealousy has been a reoccurring experience for me as a screenwriter. I've found myself seeing the industry as a zero-sum game with extremely limited opportunities. Another screenwriter's success has deprived me of my rightful dues by squeezing me out of the frame.

I'd look for factors beyond my control to explain why this writer has 'succeeded' and I hadn't (ah, it's because they know such-and-such). And God knows I haven't approached their work fairly or with a positive attitude - I've been eager for them to fail.

Particularly galling is the success of a friend or someone I know. Then I have to congratulate them while secretly envying them and wishing for them to stumble.

Well, that's the dark side of my soul. But it's not the attitude I try to approach things with now. It's taken me a long time to turn it around, and sometimes it creeps back in anyway. Jealousy is a very strong emotion.

But I've tried to turn this around for me, because my jealousy hurts no one as much as myself. I'm the one who gets all worked up about the success of my fellow writers, and all that's doing is distracting me from the thing that counts - getting my work good enough so that others will be excited enough to help make it a reality or watch it. And therefore reaching towards achieving those successes I've been so jealous of.

Besides, I like helping people. I don't want to be the person dragging others down. And I believe the screenwriting industry, or whatever writing environment, isn't a zero-sum game. It can grow it, and I'll do it my part of that through achieving good work. Which will open up more opportunities for myself as well as others.

I believe that. It makes me happier believing that. When I slip away from that the jealousy creeps back in...


Benedict Reid said...

Yes. Jealousy is a real problem in the industry. I've heard people refer to it as the NZ tall poppy syndrome. But that's simply not true, because you only need to talk to writers from any country's industry to discover that it's a world-wide phenomenon.
I actually think a bit of jealousy can be healthy. Just as long as it doesn't become all consuming. It's fairly easy to find people who are so caught up in the (both real and perceived) unfairness of the industry that they aren't actually doing anything anymore. These "If only I had the breaks" people do tend to sit around moaning rather than actually writing. Speaking of which... I haven't started writing yet today. I should stop surfing and get on with it.
P.S. Listening to "We hate it when our friends become successful" always snaps me out of any stupid feelings of jealousy about the successes of people who I actually know. Also, I've noticed I only feel jealousy if I haven't actually been writing. Which makes the jealousy doubly stupid.

Helen Rickerby said...

Ah, jealously. I suspect this is a problem not only for all writers, but probably everyone who does anything that matters to them. It usually strikes hardest when we're most unsure of ourselves and what we're doing, but will even get us if we're glorying in success, because we know it won't last. I think that one of the ways to overcome is to work on writing (or making or whatever it is one does) things you care about and believe in for their own sake, rather than for what other people will think of it. And the other way to overcome it is, I guess, to try to be kind and open hearted. Harder than it sounds of course!

Sean said...

Yes, I agree with you both. Jealousy tends to come along when I'm feeling most insecure about myself and my writing. Which is usually when I haven't been writing.

So jealousy is actually a warning sign that I need to get writing again!

ed said...

hmm.. perhaps I should think more deeply on this one - but jealousy? really? - I guess so - but with people you know? - that all seems odd to me.

Jealous - yes of David Koepp when he writes 'Jurassic Park 2' or 'Indiana Jones 4' and I go
- 'that's wrong! not like that'
(though to give him his due he probably has to work with pretty demanding forces) or Mark Rosenthal when doing the sequel to 'Romancing the stone' and I am thinking
- 'the character arc is the same as last time and that doesn't make sense- she's changed!': "here - let me try".

So I guess I feel jealousy when people are doing things I would like to have a go at in ways I don't think are the way they should be.
Now if only they'd let me have a go at writing ...