Good Book, Bad Book

I read a lot.Owl read

Advice from a best-selling author:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” -Stephen King

Okay, I’m not so good about writing a lot. My inner editor and perfectionistic streak get in the way, and I make excuses to myself why I don’t have time to write, or why I should organize my pens or do my laundry instead.

But by golly do I read a lot. Not enough, I feel. I don’t think I’ll ever read enough to satisfy myself. I have a big list of books to read, and those are just the ones I know the titles of. Thousands more await me, full of characters I haven’t yet met, full of facts I haven’t yet learned, full of stories and words that will make me shiver in delight.

It’s a funny thing, when you’re a writer. Suddenly, a book I might have enjoyed five years ago bothers me so much I put it down and can’t pick it up again. (If it’s really bad, I have the urge to chuck it across the room. I rarely give in to the urge.) The story is too illogical, full of plot holes, or the characters are all the same, just wearing different cliches. The descriptions are mundane, the vocabulary boring–I find myself thinking, “I could write that. I’d do it much better.”

And then there are the books that I whiz through, inhaling with every page turn, taking a quick gasp at the bottom of the page, and repeating for 300 or more pages. These books haunt my dreams, because I long to write with as much skill as these authors. When I reach the end, I put the book down and spend a long moment revelling in the quiet, replaying the most gorgeous bits in my mind. Then the despair tries to grip me, as I stare at my own notebook full of words and wonder why I bother, because I will never rise to the excellence of these authors.

Well, I may never write a book that lands in the classics section of the library in one hundred years or so, but I can still learn from reading books both good and bad.

From the bad books, I learn how not to write. If I didn’t know already, I discover that certain characters are overused, certain plots are far from original, and cliches are never ever an option. They’re also confidence boosters, because if this terrible writing is published, there’s hope for me.

From the good books, I absorb how to create a character arc and weave main plots and subplots together without dropping any threads. The vocabulary and phrasing and uniqueness of these books sink into my brain, and presumably influence me for the better. We shall see how well I learn from those who go before me.

Because I am a writer, I can never read books the same way I once did. (Well, I do have an English degree, so that did me in too.)

I don’t think I want to.

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