I know this isn’t a particularly noble post to be writing. Regarding someone else’s creative endeavours in a negative way (when you yourself are aware of all the effort they must have put into it) is pretty low. That said, you can’t pick and choose where inspiration comes from, and I, unfortunately, am often inspired by reading something bad.
So in an attempt to glean back a slither of self-respect, here's what reading bad fiction has taught me:
- There’s a market for anythingWe all know the "guidelines" for writing fiction ... show, don't tell, active voice over passive voice, no head-hopping, no deus ex machina ... They’re helpful "tips", but when you read a book that’s broken every single one of them, you’re forced to accept that there is no right way for a book to be. Worried your Zo-Ro-Co (zombie romantic comedy) about a love-sick cow won't appeal to the masses? Don't be! Put your self-doubt monster to bed. No matter what you’re writing, someone out there wants to read it. Just stay true to yourself and write the book that you love.
- They must be doing something rightI think a good book needs to have complex, action-filled plots, snappy writing, believable dialogue and 3D characters. Reading fiction that lacks what I view to be the basic and necessary components of a story forces me to consider what is good. More often than not, it's fantastical world building and a unique premise. I can certainly accept that my writing suffers from the dreaded “white room” syndrome. No coincidence that my current re-draft of Pearl is to give it a more visceral sense of place...3. I could do better ... couldn't I?The dreaded, "I could've done that" is one of my pet hates. You hear it a lot in relation to modern art. "A toilet? Call that art?" The point, however, is that you didn't do it. They did. They thought of it. They put the effort into creating it. They pitched it and got it accepted. You didn't.However, there's a big difference between dissing someone's work when you've never put any effort into achieving something similar and recognising that you are better at doing something than someone else. The second can be motivational. If you're striving to become an Olympic swimmer and in your practise you surpass the score of the lowest competitor, then you can congratulate yourself. You're achieving you goals. That's a good thing. But in the same way that there's more to being an Olympic swimmer then just being fast, there's also more to getting a book published than writing one. Yes, you've recognised that the basics (swimming, or writing) are better than the competition, but what else did that person have to do to achieve their dream? What have they sacrificed? Are you willing to sacrifice stuff too? Did they write an amazing query? Did they do their agent homework thoroughly and keep querying despite hundreds of knock-backs? Did they hit a trend bang on time? There's more skill involved in success than just basic talent. Reading a bad book is proof of it!Until next time x