Reading Matters

Writers: Get thee behind me, envy!

Sarah Manguso, a writer herself, talks about writerly envy in the Jan. 29 issue of the New York Times Book Review. She says writers are known to suffer from the envy of money, of accolades, of publication in this or that place. That’s in relation to other writers, of course.

And she goes on: There’s envy of accomplishment and of potential; envy of great writing; and “envy of those who, despite not being great, seem immune to self-doubt.”

And then she says this most wonderful and remarkable thing:

“I can tell that I’m making the wrong type of effort when I start to lament my work isn’t turning out the way I wanted it to. This feeling depends on admitting to myself that I had an idea of how it should turn out, and that some part of me is trying to reverse-engineer the piece I admire. Some vocations demand this exact strategy: Buildes, surgeons and chefs must do this. Writers, though, must not.

“Writers must labor from a vague feeling, usually some large, old emotion, and in so laboring, come to undertand the qualities of that feeling, and the source of it, and the reason they still feel it. That effort is practices in a place typically insulated from even the idea of publication, and it depends upon a combination of exerting and relaxing one’s will over the writing.”

To read the entire piece: Green-Eyed Verbs