“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler
“Learn as much by writing as by reading.” – Lord Acton
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King
I’m a member of Goodreads social network. At the beginning of the year I pledged to read 50 books. That’s a small amount of books compared to the number some of my friends and family members read every year. However, I enjoy savoring a book. I look forward to going to bed early, reading and then dreaming about the book. I find myself thinking about it at various times during the day and if the book is good the characters come alive for me.
About a year or so ago, I joined a book club group made up mostly of women who had taken my journaling class. It’s interesting to be part of the group because many of the books we read are not ones I would ordinarily choose. The latest book the group chose was, in my opinion, boring. It’s always distressing to me when I begin a novel that fails to grasp my attention because I know how much time goes into writing a novel. In a way, I feel like I’m betraying the author by not liking his or her book. Writing a novel is a huge investment of time and effort. I always want to be completely enthralled by every book I pick up, so when I begin one that I don’t like, I feel sad. I was going to slog through this particular book to the end because I felt a responsibility to the author and my fellow book club members. However, eventually, I just couldn’t continue reading.
Part of me felt bad about putting aside a book that was written by a New York Times best selling author. I thought, “Who am I to say the book wasn’t good.” Then I thought, “I’m a reader, that’s who I am. I have a right to say whether or not a particular book speaks to me.” The wonderful thing for readers is that there are so many books available. We will undoubtedly find many books that touch our lives throughout our reading lives and some books just won’t be worth our time.
As a writer, I feel sad about this particular book because I wanted to like it. It’s historical fiction during the time of the Civil War. Part of the novel I’m writing takes place during the Civil War, I was hoping to get a different perspective about the war from reading this book. I have to say that some of the scenes did give me a different perspective on the war, which is something I always look for in a good book.
As is my custom, I thought long and hard about what it was about the book that made me dislike it. I believe that’s an important exercise for all writers to undertake. The answers can help us become better writers. I’m lucky because I have a background in theatre. I’ve done lots of analyzation of plays and characters. In my opinion, what was missing from this particular book was an emotional connection among the characters. In my mind, all the greatest stories have something in common. They are multilayered and deal with universal themes. When the reader or audience can get a glimpse into a character’s soul, that’s what grasps our hearts and makes us continue reading. This particular book missed the mark in terms of character motivation and connections among the characters.
I’m in the final stages of getting my novel ready for publication. You can be sure, I’ll be going through my manuscript to make sure I’ve done the best I can to make the characters live on the page. At the same time, I’ll have to remind myself that not everyone is going to like my book. That will have to be okay. It will hurt when people write bad reviews, but as the Octavia Butler quote above says, this novel I’m working on might be crap, but I’ve got to keep writing so I can improve my skills. And I’ll keep reading to learn as much as I can from both good and bad books.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015