Friday, January 06, 2006

In defense of bad writing

Do you play the piano? Are you any good? No? Then maybe you should quit. If you don't play well, you'll lower the art form in the world's eyes.

Does that sound a little harsh? That's what I thought when I saw a similar discussion on one of the writers' boards I occasionally look in on: "bad writing" is something one should be ashamed of. There was a lot of lofty talk about how terrible it is that so many published writers chase the almighty dollar by "cranking out" books with little apparent regard for quality. The assumption, of course, was that those writers could do better, but won't. And the consensus was that they ought to be ashamed of neglecting art for the sake of money.

I can't side with the finger-waggers on this. A novel can be glorious art or it can be simple entertainment. I like that. I don't see anything shameful in writing "solely" to entertain readers. Must every meal be a gourmet meal? I don't know about you, but every now and then I crave a cheeseburger. If some people are "cranking out" books just to make money, so what? Should we despise Wendy's for mass-producing cheeseburgers?

Also, shouldn't we admit that most published writers just aren't capable of producing great books?

I lack the necessary education, intelligence, and talent to become a great writer, but that's never been a dream of mine, anyway. I can please a few people and more important, I can please myself with my writing. So I make no apologies for writing "cheeseburger" books. I figure those who can do better should go right ahead. Their success won't threaten me, and besides, I'm always on the lookout for more good books to read.

If you want to read almost a whole chapter of my writing and judge it for yourself, just click on the bookcover in this blog's sidebar. (Yeah, that pregnant lady over there.) That's the best writing I'm capable of producing, so I'm proud of it. I think some of you might like it, but it won't make me cry if you don't.

And by the way, I don't play the piano, so I admire even those who do it poorly.


Roy Jacobsen said...

I've heard it said that the secret of great photographers (Ansel Adams, for example) is that they take loads and loads of photos, but they're very selective about the ones they show to others. They hide the vast majority of them away.

The secret of being a good piano player is to play it very badly for hours on end, gradually ironing out the kinks and getting better at it. Also, I've been at bars where the piano player isn't what a concert pianist would call "good," but he or she sure knew how to entertain a crowd. (Have you ever been to one of those "dueling piano" gigs, where two pianists riff off each other, and the crowd, who try to name songs that neither of the players can play? It can be a hoot.)

Bad writing? The secret of good writing is to do a whole bunch of writing, good and bad, and through that process, learn to tell the difference, and when to throw out the bad writing.

Finally, I think some of those "finger-waggers" are motivated by jealousy. "Why are Stephen King and J.K. Rowling raking in the big bucks when I'm CLEARLY a better writer? It's not fair!"

Shelbi said...

I think the general public will forgive almost anything if it's a good story. I know I will. Add a little humor and I'm a fan for life.

Writers probably tend to read stories with a writer's eye instead of a reader's eye. When I first read a book, it's all about the story. Unless the grammar is awful and there are a million spelling mistakes and continuity errors, I'm pretty easy to please if the story's good.

But, when I re-read the story and I am consciously looking for what the author did poorly, there isn't much I can't find fault with.

I think there's a fine line between examining someone's work to make your own storytelling better and ripping it apart to make yourself feel superior.

Speaking English is hard enough, but writing it down and having it be coherent and understandable to others is nearly impossible.

To be able to do it well and entertain people in the process, well, I figure there's a reason very few writers actually get published.

Which is something I don't think about too much, since I hope to be one of those published writers someday!

Dennie McDonald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dennie McDonald said...

At my romance chapter meeting, we had a speaker once who commented that every published book had *something* the editor liked so don't knock it. Just because I might not like it, someone else will.

That got me thinking. I view every author with a differnt eye now. I try not to critique but find what I like. What in the book catches my fancy - and you can always find something . . . maybe the way they described a sunset or the way they weave in little deatils that add to the characters - there is *always* something good in *every* novel!

And I read for escapism - therefore write for the same. I am not trying to win pulitzer - I just want to tell a story.

(sorry - the deleted was from me - I need to learn to re-read before I post) =)

Michael Rew said...

Every now and then, I dab a piece of steak in Heinz ketchup. Ketchup can taste good on a steak. But we know steak should not be ruined by ketchup, right?

Most people consider ketchup too pedestrian a condiment to include in any serious food. Why? Because the average consumer prefers the taste of ketchup. The worth of the sauce itself never seems to come up. Ketchup is a delightful sauce, a credit to whoever invented it (or, more likely, whoever learned to mass produce and mass market it).

Diana said...

What a freeing post. I think I'm going to go do some of the best writing I'm capable of today and not worry about what (or who) that falls short of. :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Brenda, I agree wholeheartedly with no qualifiers (and I won't mention the orchid)!

Brenda Coulter said...

That's the spirit, Diana. Have fun!

Mr. Rew, I like to think of myself as an open-minded individual who welcomes people of all faiths, creeds, political affiliations, and what-not to her blog. But I found your mention of catsup on steak to be deeply disturbing, and I'm certain many of my readers will, as well. I'm sorry, but I just can't allow that kind of talk here. Please be careful, or I may have to edit your comments.


Brenda Coulter said...

And Dennie, darlin', if you only knew how often I end up editing and then republishing my posts on this blog because of goofs that got past me the first time, you'd feel a whole lot better.

Julie said...

Ugh. I hate ketchup. I won't even taint my french fries with the stuff.

But I really got on here to comment about "bad writing." There are plenty of books that I don't like, but there are only a few that really tick me off. It's the ones that are poorly prepared, and it can't be entirely the author's fault. Sentences are repeated. Character's names misspelled. There's been a blatant overuse of the cut-and-paste function, often leading to bizarre leaps in logic. Dialogue doesn't make sense. "I think I'll have a cheeseburger." "You mean we're in danger?" Etc.

Am I being too picky?

1 L Loyd said...

Writing it badly is one way to get past a block. Besides, isn't writing really rewriting what you've already written -- badly. Everyone who I admire for writing prolificly writes because they enjoy it, no, LOVE the putting words on paper (or screen, etc.). That joy ends up coming out on the paper. And some of us can enjoy it when it isn't that good. Keep on writing people. =)

BTW Benda, I know what you mean about checking your writing. My post today was short, and I caught a two words left out when I looked at it 15 minutes later. Oh well. =D

Camy Tang said...

Hurrah for cheeseburger books! I think mine are more like french fries.


Sony Pony said...

here here~! I agree:)

Anonymous said...

Hurrah for cheeseburger books! I think mine are more like french fries.


Hey, I think my books are chicken nuggets. Want to get together and make a combo meal? LOL Thanks for this one Brenda. Very freeing.
Mary G.