Easy reading may be damn hard writing, but easy writing makes damnable reading.
The beauty of a well written book often goes unappreciated but the errors of a poorly written book never fail to be condemned. It is easy to identify these cheap productions within the first few sentences and throw them to the side. While with this practice, fire kindling would never be in short supply, I have found that there is a surprising value to these dime piece novels.
What makes the well written book so marvelous is that you hardly realize you are reading at all. But as your eyes flit over the words, you fail to notice the effort, the parallelisms, the metaphors, the syntax that has gone into it. Words flow together as seamlessly as the minutes fade to hours, still captivating the reader. But a badly written book makes the reader joltingly aware of each cliche, each poorly chosen word, the plot holes and forced dialogue. In this way, poorly written books may be of more value than the literary critics would dare admit.
It is often difficult to identify what exactly makes a writer great. Read one page of Henry James and you know this man is a master of the pen, but it will require a much more careful inspection of The Portrait of a Lady to understand how his use of stream of consciousness contributes to the novels’ success. This can make studying the great authors a bit tiresome and strenuous for the potential writer. Analyzing the classics is the most often cited method of improving one’s own craft, however picking apart the less celebrated authors can provide an ego boost for the aspiring writer, as well as a more manageable way of seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Walking into any bookstore, no matter how well respected, there is no doubt that a great majority of the books there are of a mediocre quality. And who wants to study mediocrity? Mediocre, even just plain bad writers, will be the easiest to help you establish what didn’t work. Oh so obvious sequence of events, the plot twist that leaves the reader feeling cheated, the character arc that is contrived or unrealistic. They are all plain to see, and easy to learn from. The aspiring author’s mind naturally groans when they see these easily avoided mistakes and quickly begins finding ways that the problems could have been avoided or improved upon.
When I have looked at my own writing for far too long and begin to question my probability of ever getting published, I pull down one of those clearance books. It might have been $2 but it was still published. Someone accepted it, despite that bad grammar, which I would never let slip through to my editor. Someone accepted it, despite that overused plot line. At these times, I flip to a random page and read through it until I have identified several things I might have changed if it were my own work. Then I rewrite it. I fix the grammar, I cut the adjectives, I intensify the verbs. Then I reread some of my older writing. I look for these same mistakes that I was so quick to judge in another person’s work.
After being so critical of someone else’s flaws, I am embarrassingly aware of my own. I find that it is easy to let myself slip when I am comparing myself to the classic writers. Why would I assume my work should have any comparison to the likes of Dickens and Hawthorne? But I have no consolation when I judge my work in regards to the lower standards of some publishers today. What I can not excuse in another’s work has no place in my own.