Megan McGrath is the author of the novella, Whale Station, and winner of the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award. Her acclaimed short work is published in literary journals and anthologies including Griffith REVIEW, Meanjin, Seizure, Tracks, Writing Queensland and Tincture Journal, among others. Follow Megan on Twitter @megansfictions or visit her website megansfictions.com.
This is the second in a three-part series of columns on literary jealousy. This part appeared in Issue Fourteen and the rest will appear in the journal throughout the year. Please support our work and buy a copy today.
I’m pushing along with the novel at a rate of two thousand words a day, buoyed by a weekend writing retreat that unlocked a few plotting secrets and changed the way I’ll write forever. It helps too that I’ve been reading rubbish books. Popular books by mid-career authors who have found a way to publish their mediocre writing about mediocre characters in mediocre towns, and I think if I can just keep going I might be able to break the back of this stupid long thing I’m trying to write. I think that if I can finish, maybe, I’ve got a shot at being ordinary, too. Somehow I’ve managed to make myself believe that being just OK and published is good enough.
But then I realise I don’t much feel like settling anymore.
When has OK been good enough for me, or for my writing? I realise I have 30,000 words of rubbish writing and an express ride back to uncertainty.
It shouldn’t be this easy to derail me. I’ve always done the work when there is work to be done. I’ve balanced writing with a career in the arts, a partner and demanding family, and a bad habit for playing and watching sports and frequenting pubs. So this wedding shouldn’t be my undoing. But with this project, it is.
Around this time it feels like everyone is moving forward around me, again. And in this instance, it’s true. I am stagnating. Not writing. Not even trying to write. I give up on reading the mediocre novels and instead I go back to reading lit journals, hoping they’ll stir me in some way. I read (and am confused by) an article about jealousy (I think?) in Meanjin and the subsequent (perhaps obligatory) response in Overland. I follow the fallout across the literary scene. With every word I feel more and more like an impostor. Nothing helps.
Finally, in Kill Your Darlings I find a ripple. A simple truth from Anna Spargo-Ryan, author of The Paper House, published by Picador. She writes, “There is no other way to write a book. Unless you actually write it, you will always have zero books.”
Does half a book count? Because that’s what I have. Half a rubbish book.
I go by Anna’s blog see what other wisdom she has for me, and find where she has written about a low point of her own. “I spent a lot of time lamenting to other distressed writers, to remind myself that we all have this common experience.”
Common, at least, was better than mediocre. I take her advice and reach out. Who were these other writers, I want to know. And isn’t she jealous of their success and wisdom?
“I’m not jealous of their wisdom,” Anna kindly writes me back. “We all learn this stuff the same way, which is through the hard slog of doing it. They know more than me because they’ve done more than me. One day, I will have done more and hopefully the things I’ve learned will help another emerging writer. It’s so easy to feel jealous, as a writer—every time someone publishes a new book or finishes a new draft or wins an award—but at the end of it, if you’re wasting time being jealous, you’re not doing your own work.”
I haven’t thought of just not being jealous. Turning it off. Stop wanting after things I don’t have yet. And Anna, with her confident voice and honest style and her natural, easy going humour, makes me believe it’s possible. She makes me want to keep going.
So I do.