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Friday, August 22, 2008

Some Thoughts on Professional Jealousy Among Writers

I enjoyed reading this blog post recently by Mitzi Szereto. It's about 'precious' writers, and one in particular Mitzi has had dealings with recently. Judging from the number of comments the post has attracted, it's struck a chord with more than a few readers.

The post made me think of another unattractive characteristic displayed by a few writers. That's professional jealousy towards another writer or writers, which in turn can lead to backstabbing and worse.

I've experienced this a few times in my career, so I thought I'd share a couple of instances here...

The first happened a few years ago. It concerns another writer whom I'll call Mary. We originally met when I became a contributor to a newsletter she was then editing. Later she went freelance and we kept in touch. We were both able to put some work the other's way, which is something I always like to do.

Anyway, a client for whom I had written a correspondence course was looking for someone to act as a tutor on it. I didn't fancy doing this myself, so I recommended Mary for the job. At first all went well, and she was earning a steady if not spectacular monthly income from the work. I assumed she was quite happy with this.

But, though I didn't know it at the time, resentment towards me was obviously building up in her. This culminated when she wrote a letter to my client pointing out what she felt were a few shortcomings in my course, and suggesting he scrap it and hire her to write a new one. At the same time, she started putting snide comments in the feedback she was giving to students, causing several raised eyebrows.

Fortunately I had - and still have - a great working relationship with the client concerned. He copied all the relevant correspondence (both Mary's letter to him and some student complaints about her) to me. We agreed that in the circumstances there was no way either of us could go on working with her, so my client told Mary that her services were no longer required. We found someone else to take over as course tutor - actually someone who had taken the course herself - and she is still doing the job today. No prizes, then, for seeing who came out of this situation worst.

My other example is more recent. A fellow writer I have known for many years and recommended to others on various occasions took it upon himself to 'expose' me on someone else's blog. I can't remember all the details now, but among other things he criticized me for claiming to be a local celebrity and saying I had a lot of holidays (both, incidentally, things written about me by a publisher rather than me personally). Yes, it really was that petty!

This is, by the way, someone about whom I'd never previously written a bad word, and have even recommended in this blog (and still do in the relevant archived post - I wouldn't be so petty as to delete it). I can only assume his action was brought on by professional jealousy, arising from frustration that his own writing hasn't achieved the recognition he thinks it deserves. But clearly, I won't be recommending him or his websites in future.

On a brighter note, these are isolated incidents. Most of the other writers I have met during my career, for all their little foibles, would never dream of backstabbing a fellow writer in this way. This applies especially in regard to my forum at I am pleased to say that we have a growing core (corps?) of writers who will go out of their way to help other members, and genuinely rejoice in their successes. This in turn has resulted in many collaborations, joint ventures, publishing projects, and so on.

So while professional jealousy is a particularly unattractive quality in writers, I hope and believe that it is a rare one. But what do you think? I'd love to hear about YOUR experiences!



Anonymous Ann Isik said...

It's clear from what you've written Nick that these people (and I believe I know one of them) seem to spend an inordinate amount of their creative time in researching how to bring fellow creatives down. Creative people are already, generally speaking, socially marginalised. It's healthy that we should be supporting and learning from each other. As an ASPIRING creative, I have experienced some savage attacks which have astonished me. I mean, I'm NOBODY! Unless I feel I absolutely have to respond, I tend to just 'go away' from the source of aggravation as I will not spend my creative time in counter-attacks or in defending myself. I try to think of these types as irritating flies to brush off! Fortunately, I've had more support than antagonism.

Ann Isik

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Karl said...

Fantastic post, Nick - I saw the article when you originally posted it on your Twitter feed.

When will people learn that bitching always come back to bite you in the ass? :)

Great work, great blog - as ever. Keep up the fantastic Web presence!


PS. As the publisher ultimately responsible for the "frequent holidays and local celebrity" comments... I'll add that I still stand by them, 1000%! :)

12:57 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Many thanks, Karl and Ann, for your comments.

Ann, I'm sorry you've experienced these savage attacks from a fellow writer. I think I know the person concerned, and he is clearly a disturbed individual.

Speaking for myself, I've learned to accept that the occasional attack (or bitching, as Karl puts it) is inevitable when you get a reasonably high media profile. I'm sure most writers and other creative people experience this at some stage in their careers.

While I don't enjoy being abused or insulted, in a curious way I also find it quite energizing. Putting it crudely, I guess it triggers my "**** you" reflex! It simply makes me more determined to be the best writer I can be and redouble my efforts to achieve my writing goals.

9:23 AM  
Blogger bonitakale said...

There's a long tradition in genre fiction of helping one another. Science fiction and fantasy writers are the ones I know best -- the ones who came up with the Clarion method of critiquing, the ones who send money to replace the lost laptops of students who've had them stolen, the ones who really seem to want to help one another.

And yet, they get in furious fights, too. Maybe it's part of being a writer. If you're both articulate and in touch with your emotions, perhaps fights are inevitable.

There's bound to be envy out there. But if your Mom and Dad raised you right, you don't express it in such awful ways.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

I agree with Karl - fantastic post, the thing is that anyone reading it can tell immediately that you are talking sense, and that you have the experience to back it up! I have "met", either in real life or online, plenty of people who are very quick to call themselves 'writers' but forget that one of the most called upon features of a successful (and I mean really successful) is to be a 'people person' - to feel empathy, compassion - etc - well that's my opinion anyway.

In fact some of these individuals seem so precious, so bitter and so twisted that I wonder how they manage to untangle their stress-induced writers' block so that they can produce anything at all.
What goes around comes around!
All the best Nick and long may your success continue.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Wow. What can I say in reply to that? Thanks, Linda!

10:01 PM  
Blogger anthonynorth said...

As a writer, I tend to receive snobbery from some writers - I put that down to my lack of formal education.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Snobbery is another very unattractive characteristic of some writers. In fact, quite a few of the world's most famous and successful writers have had little in the way of formal education.

9:58 AM  
Blogger KimyaShafinaaz said...

hi nick

ive just confirmed my order for your 28day course, and i am incredibly excited at the prospect of writing at such speed! i am on sabbatical at the moment, and have just begun a novel with the intent of fictionalising women's narrative in a way that makes for greater readability. my previous work is a non-fiction study called "Daughters are Diamonds:Honour, Shame&Seclusion-A South African Perspective" (2007) and i have met with my fair share of peddlars of professional pettiness!

best regards..

8:51 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Kimya. I hope you enjoy studying my course!

9:09 AM  
Blogger Peter Knight said...

As you've said elsewhere (MWC), writers are usually quite supportive: we all face the same troubles and joys after all, whether beginners or veterans. Before I started on this writing lark I was for a time in lab science research - much more jealousy; scientists can get pretty awful at times, probably because "fame and fortune" become involved and doing science drops down the priority list. Is there something similar in this case? Maybe.

Peter (aka Quixote)

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Judiles said...

Hi Nick
Love any thing you write. I did the 28day course and couldnt believe how helpful it was!!! My belief is small people have small minds and nothing better to do. If they put their negative energy into something positive just think what they could achieve!!!

Kindest regards and thanks

Judi Handscomb (Australai)

12:08 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Judi. I couldn't agree more with you!

8:11 AM  

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