Writer Envy…

October 13, 2010 § 8 Comments

The saving grace of this lovely large annual issue last month was not so much the fashion as it was an article about Jonathan Franzen and FREEDOM along with a bonus. The article about him and his new book, also mentions his girflfriend (ex?), Kathryn Chetkovich and an essay she wrote called “Envy.”  A writer (she’s well published) writing about writer’s envy.

Her essay is actually found  in the Life’s Like That Granta 82, Summer 2003  (and you can read it here,  in The Guardian).

Well, didn’t I have to run to the shelf and take it down and read it! I had no idea he had a girlfriend (why wouldn’t he?) and that she would be a writer (why wouldn’t she be?) and since I’m always so damn curious about writers and writing and writers who hang out together and the writing process, yada yada yada , well, I had to read her essay and then re-read it.

And discover the links to Franzen whose Confessions I own, whose book of essays are on my wish list and whose Freedom, landed him on TIME’sAugust 23, 2010 cover.

So what does a writing girlfriend say about her writing boyfriend who is on the cusp and then in the thick  of uproarious success with his novel despite its timing of coming out a week within 9/11?

Actually, she writes of her own struggles about putting pen to paper, how she reads his manuscript when he asks, how he disclaims on the few pages he was able to knock out and how horrible he thinks they are, and she thinks they’re brilliant and adds that even on a good day, she doesn’t write stuff that even comes close to what Franzen might refer to as crap for his own part.

Yikes. Competition. I’ve seen it at work in the writing world, but on a journalistic level.
It’s different, I think, with fiction. With fiction, the writer has to come up with everything.  So the competiation between two fiction writers may be more quietly, clandestinely tooth and claw, a very edge-y ego thing.

 Chetkovich realizes in the closeness of their relationship that Franzen is a stunning writer, and that she is not only envious but doomed to keep scratching away and…feel terrible about her own process along the way. 

It wasn’t love at first sight for them. They met at a writing retreat (oh, geez, pls just knock me over with a feather – they met at a writing retreat? how about just going to one to begin with?)  Anyway, they had a kind of  growing friendship, one that intensified through conversation and conjoined by both being writers.  

Then she was called away from the retreat ; her father was ill and she had to go home. And while there, found that the now long distance Franzen was the person, the friend, she wanted and needed to call and talk to.

Together again, she watched his Confessions go ballisticly popular, even the sight of the book stacked in bookstores was tough for her  to tolerate. Overall, Chetkovich discovered that she must, above all, continue to write, which is her work. The envy was a “thing,” a truth she had to endure as she realized it is her lot to write…no matter what, envy, notwithstanding. 

Had I not read that page in VOGUE, the overblown review of the book (overblown meaning “long” in this sense since VOGUE usually gives book talk nothing more than one page and covering several books), I would not have connected Chetkovich to Frnazen. He is a quiet guy, in his way, at first decrying Oprah footlights, and other small things, like use of a touchtone phone.

We allow him his quirks and give him his fame, and so does Chetkovich.
There arel essons to be learned here.
Above all, push on, endure. Don’t not write. Write.

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§ 8 Responses to Writer Envy…

  • Bone Daddy says:

    Maybe someday you will be on the cover of Vogue. I bet you are up to the assignment! Enjoy your weekend and keep these fine pieces coming.

    Thanks for sharing with us out here in the dark world.

    • oh says:

      Ah, BD – me, make the cover of VOGUE? makes me smile. I’ll keep working at it, though. Or maybe I’ll just start a Midwest Vogue….

  • jeanie says:

    Very interesting indeed. I’ve never read Franzen, don’t know her. Yet the whole thing of the competitive fiction life is fascinating. It’s not like everyone is starting out with the same stuff, and oh, my. How frustrating it is to not have the idea or the whole plot or the whatever.

    This I know. I can write with the best of them when research is involved and I’m pretty good at developing a character and describing it. But once the plot gets sticky, I’m the one who is stuck.

    • oh says:

      Dear J – oh, you made me laugh with your truth on the stickiness of a plot. Too bad a story even has to follow one – I concur with you! And way cool that you are a researcher – which actually I find difficult to do.
      As for non-ficiton, I look at one of the books on my shelf and kinda laugh. It’s one of those titled “Make $100,000 a year as a freelance writer.” I’m not saying it’s not possible. But it would be quicker for me to fill the Grand Canyon with water, using a teaspoon than to jump htorugh all the “freelance” hoops to make that amt.

      So, it’s a sticky wicket. We write cuz we love it. sigh.

  • shoreacres says:

    I’ve popped in and out several times and finally figured out what I couldn’t – I don’t have “writer envy”, I have “writing envy”. At least I do from time to time.

    I rarely envy the work of another writer, although there are plenty of times when I think “Oh, gosh. I wish I could do that!” – especially where poetry is concerned. Mostly I just think, “That’s good”, or “I think I’ve done better than that”, and that’s the end of it.

    What I envy is the time some people have for writing – the freedom to sit down and wrestle what they have in their heads to paper. I look at my files and go… “Ohhhhhhhh… I could do something with that!” But even my blogs take me such time, and the thought of tackling a real story… Well, I just haven’t found the way yet.

    Which means: I haven’t gotten serious enough. To quote one of my favorites: There are lessons to be learned here. Don’t not write. Write.

    • oh says:

      Linda- yes, absolutely and perfectly put, the “don’t not write. Write.” That’s key to the whole darn thing.

      Right. “Time” too, as you mention. For so many, getting the time to write means cheating sleep. Or, ignoring the dishes and laundry. Or, going to the grocery store and sitting in the parking lot, writing before going in. What? Who would do that? 🙂

  • Arti says:

    That’s why there’s the advice to never marry someone of the same profession … imagine two lawyers under one roof, two cooks… not a bad idea, this one. I’m reading Franzen’s Corrections now, seems like it’s going to take some slow reading. Thanks for an interesting post… and the links!

  • litlove says:

    Funnily enough I came across the essay through a Guardian piece that I read after hearing about the terrible printing error that occurred on the first UK edition of Freedom. The typesetters opened the wrong document and printed an old version of the book basically! What a disaster! So those copies (all 80,000) had to be recalled and destroyed and people could return their books and swap them if they wanted. Anyhow, that took me to this essay which was stunning in its candour, but undoubtedly a pit into which any less-successful author-girlfriend of a rising star could fall. I enjoyed Freedom very much when I read it, although it had its faults, but I liked her essay just as much, so maybe she will get launched off the back of his success after all.

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