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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Envy and Its Uses

By Cynthia Light Brown

By Kotzian (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the more people used Facebook, the less satisfied they were with their lives. Envy can be even more insidious, causing us to want to cut down the person we are envious of so that we look better. Writers aren't immune: when we focus too much on other writers we can let that envy get us down on ourselves, sour our writing, and even stop writing.

Here's the good news: envy can be good for us, when it's the right kind. Researchers in the Netherlands conducted experiments with over 200 university students. When they triggered benign envy, it drove the students to study more and perfom better on tests of creativity and intelligence.  Another study by a Texas Christian University researcher performed experiments where half of the participants were asked to recall envious feelings from the past, and the other half weren't. Both groups then watched their peers in fake interviews. The half that had recalled envious feelings could recall details better about the interviews.  And other studies show that unchecked envy can ruin careers, but benign envy can help us focus in the right direction to achieve better results.

How do you make your envy "benign" and not malicious? Here's a clue: yet another study asked people to evaluate a rival's idea. Half of the participants were asked to first recall their own accomplishments, and the other half weren't. The group that had recalled their own accomplishments spend 60% more time learning about the rival's idea than the group that had not first recalled their own accomplishments.

Here's my recommended list of things to do:

1. Do NOT read negative reviews of your work that are malicious in any way. No good comes of this.
2. DO read reviews of your work that are positive, or that have some mixed comments that can help you improve.
3. DO list your writing accomplishments and strengths. Don't just think them; write them down (other research shows that actually writing things like this reinforces them better). And don't be shy. No one else will see this; if you think you write great dialogue, write that down.
4. After being armed with your own accomplishments and strengths, go look at what other writers are doing and let yourself be a little envious. Did they get an agent? A 2-book deal? Praise for their excellent plotting? Soak it in, but don't get overwhelmed. Let it push you forward.
5. Know yourself. For some people, a very little goes a long way. Maybe you're so sensitive that you shouldn't read about other people's accomplishments at all. Or maybe you've gotten complaisant and need a kick in the pants.

Envy and Its Two Lovers

Go the Wall Street Journal for more info on the subject.

Serendipitously, there's another article in today's WSJ about a photographer who photographs the world's oldest living organisms. There's a fantastic photo of a 2,000+ year-old  that looks like a big green blob and I wanted to put in as a photo here, but wasn't sure if I had permission. You can view it on Rachel Sussman's site (third photograph): Rachel Sussman

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