Bad Writing

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.

bookshelfRusty’s Dirty Little Secret


7 thoughts on “Bad Writing

  1. No bad book discussion is complete without a Vince Flynn book, so i wasn’t suprised to see it on your pile. Worst book I’ve ever read was a Vince Flynn’s first Mitch Rapp book. The problem is, that book turned me off so much, I won’t touch any book that has made physical contact with a Vince Flynn book.

  2. I promise you that when you get your “e-reader thingies” you’ll open up a whole new world of bad writing. Might want to try the “Look Inside” feature. Also notice that the first 5-25 reviews are always by the author’s friends. But just like in the bricks-&-mortar stores, you do find treasures.

    And Happy Birthday!

  3. First, Happy Birthday, pal!… 🙂

    Second… Susan is correct. The freedom to publish has resulted in a lot of nonsense. (I confess, I am *still* struggling with the entire concept of ‘Zombie Porn’!) Then again, walking through a bookstore, there are dozens of books that hold no appeal to me as a reader. Point being, everyone has different tastes, and what I think is awful, someone somewhere loves it.

    It’s really not all that different from the brick and mortar stores. I cannot list all the times I bought *THE* Big New HOT Book of the Year, read the first three chapters, and thought, “Did I buy the same book everyone is raving about? This is what everyone is talking about?!?!” And there is always the possibility of finding a new author (‘Michael Slade’ out of Canada was a sheer accident on my part that turned into a Collecting Obsession) and that is what we always hope for.

    It’s not all that different: you see a book, flip through it…. and take a chance. You may only get through the first chapter before surrendering, or you may lose your heart and mind. You just never know…:)

    • Thanks, Will.

      When I use the term “Bad,” I’m not talking about “not to my tastes.” And I agree that others may not be as sensitive to “poorly written” and thus can enjoy a badly written book, but that doesn’t make them not bad.

  4. Happy late! Though I think I caught you in time on FB.
    Bad writing… that’s so subjective. REALLY BAD WRITING… is NOT subjective. I believe. Then again, who determines, REALLY BAD? 😉

    • My thoughts exactly. On my bucket list is: Never Read Another Marilynne Robinson Novel. I think this is one I will check off! I hate her writing, but clearly I am waaay out of the intelligentsia mainstream here. Then again, there is REALLY bad writing, as in the book I finished this afternoon. I’m thinking 99 people out of 100 would agree. (Why did I finish it? The story idea was fun and the writing in the middle 50% was fine.)

      • Oh, never heard of her. I’ll have to research. I’m finding myself reading manuscripts that were submitted to me at a conference this weekend (don’t know if Rusty’s ever told you but I’m an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate –where he’s publishing, and that’s just a fancy way of saying I look at books and decide to send people a contract so we can publish their awesome manuscripts). Anyway…

        I’ve been reading manuscripts, and as always I’m enthralled with people’s creativity, and I sit back in amazement at some of the skills writers have, and different voices, and imaginations… WOW!. When you read and it feels like no time has passed at all but you’ve read 50-100 pages … something must be right with it.

        This is so cool. I get to help people make their dreams come true. Is there any greater feeling?

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