This post will probably get me run out of a few author groups, but I don’t care. I need to say what I’m about to say or I will erupt in flames (or similar) from frustration.
When someone starts writing books they are told when they finish their first book to ‘put it away and never pull it out again’. Why? Because it will be terrible.
Just like that. Terrible. It will be badly written and not worth the effort put into it. Forget it, don’t let it see the light of day. No one can write well when they start out.
Last year I decided to join a local book club. I have certain genres of book I love and I wanted to read something different. I thought the club would be a great place to do it as the books would be chosen by someone else and there would be open and friendly discussion. I stopped attending after several members of the group mocked certain romance books, and the convenor said “it’s so hard to find light books that are well written”. The group was more restricted in its choice of books than I was!
While I was a member of the group we read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, a best seller, as is the rest of the series. I didn’t like the book for a few reasons. The start has a lot of mystery and gets you thinking, and then the book goes back in time and the starting mystery is never answered. Big let-down. The bulk of the book recreates the childhood and adolescence of the main character and it is the most spite filled, abusive book I’ve ever read. It sent me straight back to my own school years and the bullying and nastiness I experienced. If I hadn’t had to read it for the book club I would have closed it at the halfway mark and never opened it again.
Mind you, the book is well written – in my opinion. I certainly felt the emotions the author was trying to convey. It didn’t make the book any more acceptable me, and I don’t think of it as a good book.
This gets me back to my point – what is good writing? Does it mean grammatically correct? Does it mean it follows the rules of writing (whatever they are)? Or is it more about the story that is told? And who has the authority to decide?
I get a bit annoyed by those who pronounce a book to be well-written when the story is dull and tedious. Are they actually trying to say ‘the story sucks, but the sentences are polished and well-constructed’? Books should, in my opinion, be taken as the whole, not deconstructed for analysis - leave that to courses in literature. I’m talking about reading for pleasure.
I think the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is apt in this situation. Good writing can only be defined by the person doing the reading at the time. Everyone has their own opinion and should be allowed to keep it without someone telling them otherwise.
Every writer is told at some point in their career their writing is bad. That only emphasises my point about the reader being their own judge. I don’t mind if you don’t like my books – that is entirely up to you. I honestly don’t care. I don’t write to please anyone, I write to convey the story in my head in the way I find suits me.
That brings me to another point about beginner writers. We’re all told that we don’t know the correct way to write, so go and do a course. If you don’t, then you’re one of those arrogant writers who won’t listen to advice, and yes, I’ve been told that too.
I haven’t done a course. One day I might, but I won't do one because I'm told I must. I have beta readers and a professional editor who give me loads of advice (and it can hurt!), and I listen to it all and act on it. But I still retain my own style because I wouldn’t gain any satisfaction with my writing if it wasn’t truly mine.
Can you imagine what it would be like if writers only wrote to a set style? It would create monotony and go a fair way to killing the book industry. So is there really such a thing a bad writing, or is it different writing?
I’ll leave answering that question to you. After all, your opinion is the one that matters to you when you’re reading.
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