They say, “Even a bad book can teach you something.” And it’s true: we can learn almost as much from a bad example as we can from a good one. Slow opening? Cut the backstory. Cheesy dialogue? Listen to how real people talk. Clunky or complicated prose? Read your work out loud.
These are all valuable lessons, yes, but what I’ve finally realized is that they can usually be gleaned within the first 100 pages of a book. (Or less.) The rest is just torture.
At least for me it is. See, reading has a huge impact on my creative energy. Over the past few months, I’ve had several sudden stops in my writing momentum, and when I looked back to find a pattern, it emerged pretty clearly: bad (or blah) books.
Every time I was reading one, my own writing came to a grinding halt. I didn’t feel excited by story or entranced by words. I didn’t want to chat with my characters or dance through the vivid settings in my imagination. Objectively I still loved my ideas and my work, but the bad/blah book stood between them and me like a wall — blinding me, blocking me.
It’s still hard for me stop reading a book once I’ve started. I think, Oh, but someone wrote this. Someone like me. What if they poured their heart and soul into this, and I just put it down? That seems so mean. I’ll read one more chapter. Maybe it’ll get better.
But maybe it won’t. Or maybe it’s just not for me. That’s okay. Not every book is going to please every reader — not even the best books.
As part of a vibrant online writing community, I think a lot of us are afraid to hurt other writers’ feelings. But look, no one has to know you didn’t like a book. (So long as you don’t blog or tweet about it. Be smart, folks.)
Now when I put down a book that isn’t doing it for me, I don’t feel guilty; I feel liberated. I look forward to trying a new story, to finding inspiration in its pages.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of amazing books out there. Don’t waste your time and energy on ones you’re not enjoying. Because whatever you might be able to learn from a bad book, I promise you’ll get ten times more from a good one.
Photo courtesy of Steve