Who Are You Jealous Of?

Winsor McCay, 1930 by Alan Light via Flickr

Winsor McCay, 1930 by Alan Light via Flickr

While meandering the multitude of articles covering aspects of writing earlier this month, I came across one that presented something I’d never heard before. While the article is called How to find your voice, I didn’t take much away from the topic of voice because not only do I agree wholeheartedly with the author, but it’s nothing new.

However, he covers a workshop, and in part of the transcription provided, is this little gem:

Read widely, read all the poetry you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you’re searching for something. Not so much your voice. You’re searching for poets that make you jealous. Professors of writing call this “literary influence.” It’s jealousy. And it’s with every art, whether you play the saxophone, or do charcoal drawings. You’re looking to get influenced by people who make you furiously jealous.

Read widely. Find poets that make you envious. And then copy them. Try to get like them.

I’ve heard of finding writers you admire and emulating them. I’ve heard of writing the books you want to read. I’ve heard of rewriting books that you think you can write better. This idea of jealousy is novel and exciting as far as I’m concerned.

Because Collins, the lady transcribed, hits the nail on the head!

The stories that stay with me, and I mean really stay with me, are the ones that kind of make my chest swell. I read them and get helplessly absorbed in them, to the point I wish real life didn’t exist so I didn’t have to eat, sleep, or all the other necessities, so I can just keep on reading. The ones where when they end I feel like a piece of me has broken off and I don’t know if I’ll ever find it anywhere but in the pages of the book I have to put down. The ones where if someone says they’re name my heart ka-thunks. I’m sure if someone were to scan my brain in the middle of reading my synapses would be flashing like fireworks.

There have been very few books that I’ve finished and stared at the ceiling wishing I’d written them. Hell, wishing I could write anything half as amazing. I used to think this was admiration, but it’s jealousy.

I’ve tried to do the emulating thing and I come off sounding like a hack. But that’s a good thing. The story wasn’t mine, or at least didn’t have the proper flavouring to make it mine. Yet it still let me learn something new. And I’m not going to stop trying, because obviously the goal now is to make some future writer equally jealous with my work. And that’s no small feat.

What stories have inspired this reaction in you?