The Q: Do You Have Writer Envy?

The QAll I’ve ever wanted to be one of the most clever writers in the world and, thanks to Facebook status updates, I’m not even sure I’m the most clever writer in my house.

Not a day goes by where I don’t read an article, short story, book or tweet and think to myself, Oh man, that’s so good. I wish I’d have written that. The disease is called Writer Envy and I have it. BIG TIME. There are signs everywhere, like when I can’t put down a book because the story is so riveting (The Rule of Four). Or when I retweet someone else’s witty one-liner (like this).

This got me thinking: Is it healthy to have Writer Envy? Shouldn’t we all have it? Isn’t it in our nature, as writers, to be a little envious of great writing? I have to think that we weren’t on the constant lookout for great writing we’d never mature as writers. So I’m glad I suffer from Writer Envy. I hope it’s an ailment I carry with me the rest of my life. My only hope is that one day someone reads something I wrote and thinks, Oh man, that’s so good. I wish I’d have written that.

So here’s my question to you: What writers cause you to suffer from Writer Envy the most?
(Note: My top two are Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Barry. Hands down.)


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14 thoughts on “The Q: Do You Have Writer Envy?

  1. JordanC.Lee

    I agree. I love looking at other peoples work. And yes i am envious. I don’t like my work at all. I don’t want to publish it or show it off for any amplification. I wish i could be creative like Steig Larrson, incredible like Quasimodo, deep and sad and heh… boring sometimes like Stephan Crane and William Blake.
    passionate and interesting Harold Hart Crane. And think differently… like William Shakespeare

    I know its different to hate your own writings, but I don’t do it for the Art, or, an amplification. But to reach the latitudes I’ve always wanted to, you know… Actually believe I was at-least descent.

    I’m an envious writer, but, still just a piece of work that God speaks through. I wish i was good. But in all honesty… I wish it could be me. Who was envious to my own work. Maybe some day I’ll publish something and become immortal like Homer. But right now I’m just stuck writing a story using my character.

    Oh yeah! and to all advice to any new writers or writers in general, always keep everything you write down. Because I’ve lost things that I didn’t think that was good and …ha I was wrong. everything you say is important, but it takes a real poet to realize their poetry is not a valueless expression. But an incredible form of genius. that has sensation intuition and taste. That is art.

    And I love the article. Thank you, for helping me describe myself better.

  2. hughti

    I would not use the word “envy” to describe how I feel about an author’s work. I think the word is too negative and can sabotage your own potential talent. Instead I find it healthier to say that I aspire to have the same dedication to hone a craft as the master writers whose work means so much to me.

  3. laurah

    I have been envious of Stephen King for so long I can’t remember when I didn’t want to breathe life into characters the way he does. The lives of his characters are so real, I wonder if he isn’t just a little mad, or perhaps I am the one who is mad. His stories sing, because his characters dance.

  4. Khara House

    Oh, gracious …Who am I *not* in envy of?! As a poet, I’m currently suffering major envy in regards to Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Beasley, D.A. Powell, Nicole Walker, Bob Hicok, Terrance Hayes, Natasha Trethewey, Nikky Finney, Kevin Young … I could go on forever. In general as a writer … is it too much to say that my major envies are you and Robert Lee Brewer? I’ve been following both your writings in blog and editorial form for years now, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve considered both your jobs “the dream,” ha-ha!

    Personally I think writer envy is grand. It keeps me motivated. In the iconic words of When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what [they’re] having!” Writer envy makes me want to write until I achieve what they’ve achieved. I joke constantly that I’m going to be the next Poet Laureate, and while my sights aren’t really that high (at least, not entirely) my writer envy of Natasha Trethewey makes me think, “If she can do it by 46, I can maybe do it by … 30?” 🙂

  5. erifnosmirc

    Amy Tan, most probably. Her stories ring true for everyone, regardless of your culture or ethnicity. I’d love to have that kind of cultural, creative impact.

    I think Writer’s Envy isn’t a bad thing, so long as it inspires you to actually write and improve. I have a bad case of it, but it tends to incapacitate me and block me for long stretches of time…

    1. Darren G

      I agree. Envy may at times motivate, but I think it rarely inspires. I became a more productive writer when I was finally able to let go of it. I always think about Brian Wilson when it comes to envy. When he heard Sergeant Pepper’s for the first time he wept, supposedly had a nervous break-down, and shelved his own album in the works as being impossibly inferior. The irony is that Paul McCartney said later Pepper was partially inspired by The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds album. This is envy at its worst–crippling, incapacitating, ugly and destructive, an emotion with the potential to silence us completely. Perhaps I am being “unwriterly” but I believe it is best to celebrate the achievements, skills and talents of others while keeping in mind that the stories we tell are uniquely ours, and no one else is qualified to voice them. I believe one has not only an obligation to write well, but to live well. Not so popular with the Sylvia Plath set, but it has made my life and work a hell of a lot easier.

  6. vicki.orians

    As a person who reads (and writes) Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy, I definitely would’ve wanted to write The Hunger Games, Vampire Academy, Fallen, Twilight…I definitely have writer’s envy!!

  7. stewysmama

    Ken Follet and Gregory Maguire. Both have such vivid imaginations and engaging characters that I get a little misty eyed reading them. They are my favorites!

  8. rebelmommy91

    Anton Chekov. Irene Nemirovsky. Mark Danielewski: his novel “House of Leaves” was a revelation–a crazy, hot mess–but creatively brilliant.

  9. the1bethanyw

    There is a genius with whom I am acquainted named Douglas Shull. Very witty, and good with the bass guitar. He may not be a writer though. However, I think he should be. Then there is the brilliant James Scott Bell. His generosity and willingness to teach about writing astounds me. He is amazing! Mark Twain…. WOW!! There are so many writers who have my accolades What a blessing to have them here, on this planet, in this era.


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