Reading bad books can be good...

for your own writing, that is!

Recently I was gifted the 1st book in a cozy mystery series. The premise was great, the plot good, the main character likable & interesting - but, the writing was definitely not up to par. I can say this because two pages into the book, I was revising it in my head.

I thought about stopping reading - you know - time is precious when you're an author & also have a full-time day job & other commitments on your time. However, I was in the middle of working on a revision of my own & I realized that some of the errors the cozy mystery author was guilty of were awfully familiar! I went back and looked at my own story & Oops! I was doing the same things I was mentally correcting in the "bad" book!

There is plenty to be said for reading good literature and attempting to emulate it (not copy - but write up to those standards.) But, after my experience - I'm thinking reading books that are not great is a good idea, too. Because, a really well-written story doesn't make you stop and take pause at the writing the way a mediocre one will.

I think you can learn from both the bad and the good. It's a pleasant coin to have in one's pocket! What do you think?

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12 comments:

Deb Marshall said...

You know...you're right, I hadn't thought of it that way-!

Artemis Grey said...

I actually have an affinity for 'bad' books.

Sometimes, I just need to stop reading them - depending on how my querying is going - because I get bitter that whatever I'm reading got published, while I'm still struggling.

But assuming that I'm not in a query slump, I really enjoy reading not so good stuff. I feel as though my own writing is improved through it because I learn what NOT to do, while at the same time trying to discern what it is about the not-so-great book that got someone's attention to start with.

Matthew MacNish said...

It was actually the combination of a really bad book and a really good book that inspired me to write.

Sort of one of those Stephen King moments.

Stasia said...

I agree. I guess it's years of reading for work but I feel like there are many good books and few great ones. It's a spectrum. As I read books that don't quite click for me, I ask myself if I can see what the writer was trying to do--what world or metaphor they were trying to build. And I start looking for that in the text. I always learn something!

Indigo said...

It can definitely serve to bolster self esteem at the very least. If a book gets published with errors you can spot, not only can you spot them in your own writing; you know you, have the potential to have a better than average chance at getting published as well. (Hugs)Indigo

Catherine Stine said...

Yes, you certainly learn what NOT to do when you read a badly written book! Last year, when I read lots and lots of ABNA excerpts, I learned a ton, of not only points to avoid, but craft elements to add to my toolbox, because many of the excerpts rocked the house.

Stephsco said...

I just read a book by a very popular YA author, and while I cared enough about the characters to keep reading, it seemed to commit every writing "Don't" on the list. Lots of "justs" and "verys" and "there was" and past tense phrasing that some tweaking could have made more vibrant. I wanted SO MUCH to love the book. At least it helped me weed out similar fillers in my own story.

Dana Elmendorf said...

I have forced myself to finish bad books for this very reason. ANd then I get excited and think, if this can be published, so can I!

beck nicholas said...

Interesting way to look at it. i guess working out why it's 'bad' means i can hopefully recognise the same in my writing. Something to think about...

Perry Wilson said...

This is so true about everything. I learned more about people management from my worst managers, I learn more about writing from seeing other people's errors. Thanks great information

Nichole Giles said...

Good point. And I like the idea that any reading is good for our writing. Thanks.

Julia Karr said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! I think Nicole puts it quite succinctly - "any reading is good for our writing" (If we allow it to be, I might add!) :)