Writing Wednesdays: Writing and Jealousy – Why you Can’t Compare Oranges and Unicorns, by Lisa Burstein

People are a jealous lot, probably because we can think. In the wild, if an animal has something another animal wants and that animal is bigger they just take it. If it’s smaller sometimes they pee on it, so the bigger animal doesn’t want it anymore. But people, we think, we obsess, we covet.

Before I had an agent and was published, I felt the pang of jealousy a lot. I was part of an author and writer bulletin board and would see posts each day about an author getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting two agents who wanted to fight over them in a boxing ring, getting twelve publishers wanting to fight to the death for their masterpiece. When I saw this, I would at first feel happy for the author, but then quickly my mind would travel to, “Why not me?”

I guess I thought this kind of thinking might stop once I was published, but unfortunately, I still have that voice in my head when I see an author who even though I am happy for–thrilled for– is doing “better” than me. What does better mean? It could be better sales, better exposure, better reviews, a better website, a better cover quote. It could really mean anything that my crazy human mind is deciding to use as a point of comparison.

So yes, I admit I feel jealous sometimes. I think it’s unavoidable.

Here’s something interesting though. I know an author on the NYT Bestseller list and in conversations with her I have learned that she gets just as neurotic about sales as I do. Even with her thousands and thousands of sales a day she is still worried about sales.


So this made me think. Her life seems worry-free to me. I would *kill* for the sales she has. Her admission helped me realize that there are probably some people out there who are jealous of me. Of my “success” that I am undermining by feeling jealous of others. I felt shame in how shocked those people would be that I also felt jealous, in the same way I was shocked that she worried about her sales.

This author’s book is different from mine, so I could never expect to have the same sales she does. Just like every writer has a different path and can’t expect an agent, book deal, success overnight.

Books are different, because people are different and we want them to be. We want to hear different voices. We want to be able to see different perspectives. Not all books can be the next Hunger Games and we shouldn’t want them to be, or every book would be like the Hunger Games.

Feeling jealous about our writing is like trying to compare oranges to unicorns. Sure unicorns are special and beautiful and magnificent, but you can’t eat a unicorn (unless you’re one sick puppy); you can’t smell a unicorn and think about sun-drenched citrus groves.

No one’s work is just like yours. No one’s path is just like yours. It’s all about finding your path, your readers, your voice. If you feel jealousy you are denying your contribution, you are saying that it is not as worthy as someone else’s.


There is only so much in this business you can control, so try not to let jealousy control you. Next time the little green monster comes calling tell him to take a hike because you’re writing about sun-drenched citrus groves.

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6 Replies on Writing Wednesdays: Writing and Jealousy – Why you Can’t Compare Oranges and Unicorns, by Lisa Burstein

  • Absolutely spot on with what you’ve said. I think every author has gone through something similar, but at the end of the day, you just need to focus on yourself and be grateful for where your hard work has taken you. Even if the green eyed monster pokes it’s head up now and then, it doesn’t mean you’re a a bad person, just ‘normal’ ;D

  • I have a competitive nature already. I can’t allow that to taint my writing career. It’s destructive in my opinion. All any of us can really control is the quality of our work. I try and write entertaining stories, then whatever happens, happens. I’m just glad I get to do something that makes me happy. Okay, not always, but most of the time. But then I live in a giddy-laced world, which is pretty easy to do when you’re as delusional as I am. 😉

  • Great post!

    Much like the smaller animals, I pee on things I want so no one else takes them. Works perfectly.

  • The only competition a writer has is with herself. Really! Sometimes it seems like we’re all competing for the same agents, editors, and readers, but we’re truly not. As you said, it’s unicorns and oranges or sometimes apples. If the person on the other end likes apples and eats an apple, then he was never going to try my orange. So, the apple is no competition and I have no reason to be jealous. In fact, I’m happy because the apple
    is awesome. I just have to find the people that like oranges (or unicorns). 🙂

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