Book Box | Writers, it’s okay to be jealous - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Book Box | Writers, it’s okay to be jealous

Jan 07, 2024 08:30 AM IST

Seven books that show you the dark side of being a writer, plus antidotes to writerly jealousy

Dear Reader,

The Artist's Way PREMIUM
The Artist's Way

Writers everywhere are talking about Cait Corrain.

She created eight fake accounts on Goodreads, the online books community, and used these to trash other novels. She lied, fabricated evidence and finally fessed up.

There is a dark side to being a writer.

You scroll through your social media feed to see "beyond honoured to be on the shortlist for the JCB literary award" from a girl you knew at school. The writer in you is racked with jealousy. How is this possible you think, she wasn’t even a writer?

An acquaintance posts: "Thrilled and humbled to announce the publication of my book on parenting by Harper Collins". Wife of a flamboyant businessman, when did she turn writer?

"My jealousy roars in the head, tightens the chest, massages my stomach lining with a cold fist as it searches out the best grip," says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way.

The Artist's Way
The Artist's Way

Jealousy stalks every writer. Yet there are antidotes, The Artist's Way lays out exercises. Jealousy is a useful map that shows us where we really want to go, Cameron says in her book. "Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able to get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it," she says.

Here for you is your seven-step guide to the world of the jealous writer, a world of enormous creativity, deep insecurity, intrigue and even murder.

Writing Mentor: We begin with the mentor, the inspiring professor, who provokes and stokes your creativity. This person is your beta reader, giving you encouragement, direction and maybe even an introduction to a publisher or two. But beware the mentor in the world of the jealous writer. Take The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitiz. Here, Jacob Finch Bonner, novelist-turned-MFA-teacher is envious of a story written by his student. The student suddenly dies, and Bonner can’t resist publishing his work under his own name. Of course, complications ensue. A fast-paced, suspenseful read.

The Plot
The Plot

Writing buddy: "Writers our age—young, ambitious up-and-comers just this side of thirty—tend to run in packs. You’ll find evidence of cliques all over social media—writers gushing over excerpts of one another’s unpublished manuscripts (LOSING MY HEAD OVER THIS WIP!), squealing over cover reveals (THIS IS SO GORGEOUS I WILL DIE!!!), and posting selfies of group hangs at literary meet-ups across the globe," says the narrator of Yellowface, the literary thriller by RF Kuang. 

Beware the writing buddy in the world of the jealous writer. Add the thorny issues of cultural appropriation to this mix, and you have a novel that hits all the hotspots. As RF Kuang's narrator puts it, “Publishing picks a winner—someone attractive enough, someone cool and young and, oh, we’re all thinking it, let’s just say it, “diverse” enough—and lavishes all its money and resources on them. It’s so fucking arbitrary. Or perhaps not arbitrary, but it hinges on factors that have nothing to do with the strength of one’s prose.”

Yellowface
Yellowface

The creative writing class: What better than a creative writing class for your genius to flower? Add to these exercises to stimulate your writing bone and a cohort that provides convivial competition. But in the world of the jealous writer, creative writing classes may be more ominous than they seem. Read Bunny by Mona Awad for a spooky glimpse into how a creative writing class can crystallise into a cabal. A darkly funny and edgy story, it feels like Mean-Girls-meets-Doctor-Faustus.

Bunny
Bunny

Writing retreat: Get away from the stresses of daily life. Head for a cosy wood cabin in the quiet countryside, or a sumptuous villa with food and drink, to a writing retreat. Nourish your writerly soul as you write by day, and commune with fellow artists and writers by night. In this novel set in the world of the jealous writer, five lucky writers are selected for a month-long writing retreat at the remote estate of Roza Vallo, the controversial high priestess of feminist horror. During this time they must complete an entire novel from scratch, and the best one will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. Things turn sinister when writers start to disappear. Read The Writing Retreat for its propulsive plot and its eerie setting.

The Writing Retreat
The Writing Retreat

Your co-writer: Writing is solitary, and when you are blocked, sometimes all you need is the perfect co-author to get the writerly ball rolling. In The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li, Agnes and Fabienne are friends who decide to ‘co-write’ a book together. The two friends stage a literary hoax – Fabienne dictates a bold and bizarre tale, taking off from their lives in the French countryside during the World War. Agnes writes it down and plays the part of the author for the publisher, the press and the public. The book is strange and beautiful and gets you to reflect on themes like the power of creativity and the palatability of the persona of the artist.

The Book of Goose
The Book of Goose

The ghostwriter: In recent times, the ghostwriter has come to be a star. Like JR Moehringer, ghostwriter for Prince Harry’s bestselling memoir. Yet most ghostwriters stay in the shadows. Writing and staying invisible must be a bitter pill, triggering dark forces of jealousy, malice and even murder. Read Malice for one such taut tale – ghostwriters feature in this Japanese murder mystery that keeps you on your toes, with its turns and twists.

Malice
Malice

The publisher: And finally, the person on which it all rests – the publisher. Move over Sonny Mehta and David Davidar; instead, meet the ruthless Gerald Ochs Davis aka GOD in Olivia’s Goldsmith’s darkly satirical book on publishing. The Bestseller is a steamy potboiler packed with desperate authors, greedy agents and amoral publishers. Jealousy runs rife here in this wheeling-dealing world of publishing, as Goldsmith takes us through how a bestseller is made in what appears to be a thinly veiled version of the real thing.

The Bestseller
The Bestseller

In conclusion, here are these wise words from Ann Lamott from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. “Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading. And I.. have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are (a) getting older, (b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and (c) using it as material.”

Bird by Bird
Bird by Bird

Until next week, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal

Catch every big hit, every wicket with Crick-it, a one stop destination for Live Scores, Match Stats, Quizzes, Polls & much moreExplore now!

See more

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, July 22, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On