Let me give you an example.
I go to a fabulous concert and see a wildly talented artist perform in front of thousands of adoring fans, who hoot and shout and stomp in appreciation, and I'm jealous. But I'm not jealous of the wildly talented artist, the recipient of the appreciative hoots, shouts, and stomps.
I'm jealous of the person who is hooting, shouting, and stomping in the front row.
I mean, let's face it: I could never be the wildly talented artist. I have neither the ability nor the inclination. It could never happen. It's wasted envy.
But that person in the front row? That could have been me.
The same thing happens with writing. In fact, it happened recently when I was reading the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I got jealous of J.K. Rowling.
I wasn't jealous because she is the best-selling author of an outrageously popular seven-part series of novels that has sparked the interest and inspired the allegiance of children and adults around the world. That's simply too far removed from my own personal reality. I don't even write fiction. I have neither the ability nor the inclination to write a short story, never mind an internationally best-selling seven-part series of novels.
But I can write a great sentence.
I can. Not always, of course. But every now and then I can write a really great sentence. Some of them appear right here on this blog - I stop back now and then to visit them. And so it was that a single sentence in Book 7 - one really terrific, stop-reading-and-marvel-at-me sentence - sent my envy into overdrive.
Have you read Deathly Hallows? You have? Then you must know the sentence I'm talking about. It's right there on the top of page 236:
"Dawn seemed to follow midnight with indecent haste."
You know just what she means, don't you? You have had nights that felt exactly like that, and there are no other words that could capture the feeling quite the same way. It's a really, really great sentence.
I could have written that sentence. But I didn't.
I'm so jealous I could spit.