I have a confession to make, to anyone who doesn’t know me personally (you who do all know this already): I’m a technological dinosaur. Seems strange for someone who was a top-gun engineer for 32 years (unless you saw me drawing draft Piping and Instrument Drawings with a pencil on quad-ruled paper). But there it is. I still have a flip phone. And I’m going to have to get me one of those e-reader thingies pretty soon. Hey, it’s my birthday tomorrow — maybe then.
So as a rabid reader, a lot of what I read comes from the Used Book Store and Library Sales. As in books that I pick up and think, “This looks good” (or more likely, “this looks OK”) rather than something carefully researched. And yes, researching books is probably time-effective in the long run, but in the short run, you could be reading a book instead of a review. Or so my technological dinosaur brain says.
My method of disposing of books that I’ve read is to stick them on top of the bookcase in my bedroom until they are stacked so high that the intrude into the personal space of the picture that is hung there (maybe 7″ above the bookshelf?), and then sort them into piles: books I want to keep because I will actually read them again, books that I want to recommend to others or give to my son to read, and books to make the cycle of used book stores and library donations. Right now there are 25 books in that stack. Looks like Melissa’s bookshelf, only messier. About the only thing I’m less fond of than electronic gadgets is filing.
Of the 25 books awaiting processing, what I would consider a surprising number of them are bad. Not just weak or below average, bad. Four of them I couldn’t finish; at least three others I wish I hadn’t (would like to have that reading time back). One was so awful that it drove me to write my first Amazon book review.
There’s a lot of bad writing out there (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, visible right on top, is NOT one of those — one of the best books I’ve read in a long time).
As a writer, I’ve always considered this to be encouraging news. Somebody is willing to publish a lots of books that are a whole lot worse than what I write. I’ve thought an effective marketing strategy might be to just show up at the office of those publishing houses, make enough of a disturbance until they let you speak to someone up the ladder a bit, and then shake the handful of bad books at them and berate them before offering them your own manuscript.
The down side is, you’ve all been in a critique group or writers’ group where someone read a chapter that’s horrid. What’s the term? Dog shit, I think is the technical description. And you absolutely have to say something positive and encouraging and it’s a damn good thing you’re creative. “Emily, I commend you on your courage. It must have taken a great deal of fortitude and personal integrity to read this piece of crap in front of a group of writers.”
Here’s the good news: you can get better. Between the two critique groups I am a member of, we have at least 6 writers who started off pretty bad — maybe not dog shit bad, but at least slug-trail-on-the-patio bad — and are now much, much better. Mostly because they’ve continued to write, shown up at every meeting for another session of listening to what they could do to improve, continued to write, taken good advice to heart and changed things (and ignored the bad advice), continued to write, read about what makes more effective writing, continued to write, gone to workshops or seminars, and continued to write.
So if your dream is to be a writer, my advice for the day is (all together now): continue to write.