For a struggling author, there's nothing worse than reading a great book.
Finding an author who is patently superior to yourself can be a most humbling and depressing experience.
What more confirmation do you need that you'll probably never reach the heights - or, it seems, even be able to put a decent sentence together without embarrassment.
One such superior author is Denis Lehane.
I just spent the last week reading Mystic River - a work of fiction so profoundly brilliant I decided at one point I was never going to write another word.
Why should I bother when this guy has got the whole writing thing down pat...
I mean, not only is the characterization consistently awesome, the plot is multi-layered, complex yet simple in all the right ways. It's also superbly written with an understanding the English language that seems effortless and divinely inspired by equal measure.
I've read interviews with Lehane and he's no slouch when it comes to writing. He's studied it profusely, endlessly debated its merits with writer friends and made a determined effort to be the best he can be - something he is clearly achieving.
All well and good. Just as it should be. But where does that leave the rest of us?
What's clear to me is that brilliance at writing is not a fluke.
It takes a heap of work and a keen, vigilant intelligence to be able to write well. Something that the majority of wannabe writers are blissfully unaware of - or refuse to accept.
Just as well sometimes. Ignorance is strength. Naivete a boon.
I guess that's the thing. If we knew how hard something was going to be before we started, we'd never start anything.
Come to think of it I know lots of people who never do anything because they guess (rightly) it's going to be really hard!
We actually need to believe some things will be easy - or that we can rise to the challenge, otherwise nothing would ever get done.
Everything would end up in the infamous "too hard basket" as they say in Australia.
Having been suitably chastised by reading Lehane - who seems to be saying to me: Give it up, lad, I've got this covered, I went in search of more novels - from the bargain bin of course.
Glad I did.
I found a couple of authors I'd never heard of. Both of whom had written about eight novels apiece and, according to their blurb, wrote full time.
Though the writing was not on Lehane's par, it was at least encouraging. Because, reading them I immediately felt happy.
I had that nice reassuring sense of: I can do better than this.
This is the way I want to feel when I read other people's novels!
Because it gives me a reason to write myself!
I won't name these other authors - because I don't want to seem mean spirited. Besides, they're doing well as far as I can tell. They write full time. They have agents, pets, and loving families.
They, I assume, live idyllic lives getting paid to write novels that people are actually buying and reading. And despite living this enviable lifestyle they have the added advantage of being completely anonymous in the eyes of the public.
They don't need to worry about being recognized or mobbed in the street - and they can live with the calm satisfaction of knowing they got the dream.
Plus, if they thought about it, they should know that they're inspiring new authors everywhere - to emulate their success and know that it's entirely possible to make a good living as a writer without necessarily being a household name.
And without necessarily being the greatest writer in the world.
I feel another novel coming along already!
(c) Rob Parnell