Overly Critical

Blog No. 140

Some time ago I was on a website (either Reddit or Imger, I can’t remember) and I saw a post about someone giving away digital copies of his book. At the time, I couldn’t decide if it was a good idea or not. There was something about it that didn’t feel right (and I don’t mean the three different fonts on the cover). I’m starting to think, now, that the idea was good (why not give away some digital books for free advertising) but I there was something off-putting about the execution. The post was self deprecating, disparaging, and melancholy. It was a woe-is-me, nobody loves me, cry for attention that left a sour taste in my mouth. I can understand being discouraged. Writing is hard, selling what you’ve written is harder, but trying to guilt me into reading your book (or maybe just spilling your sad sack guts on the internet) is a turn off. But hey, a free book is a free book.

I downloaded it, put it on my aging ereader and, like so many books I have to read, let it sit for a couple of weeks. Last Saturday I had a long shift at work and decided I would take my reader and give the book a shot on my break. The first page was a challenge. It was slow without the feeling that something was building. There was a nice description of washing dishes, but a grammar gaff stood out like a sore thumb. I bit my tongue though. Not every book has to open with a bang, sometimes a simple beginning can grow, and I’ve read books before were I struggled to get into it and loved it in the end, no big deal. As for the grammar gaff, I am a frequent mistake maker myself, so I let it go.

By the second page dialogue had started. It was a little uninspired and feel into the dialogue tag trap that I’ve been working to master. I am a fan of snappy dialogue and strive to achieve it in my own writing. Sometimes it becomes unrealistic (like an Aaron Sorkin show). While it’s clever and fun, it’s not how most people talk. Still, entertaining is better than flat, but I thought it may be a character thing. It was only the second page and we hadn’t really gotten to know anyone yet, so I kept going.

I got to the third page and my mind started to wander. I’m a slow reader, but three pages had taken me way too long to get through. I frequently stopped and started, reread, daydreamed, and started again. It wasn’t grabbing me at all. A couple more mistakes (and a few style choices that left my eyes rolling) sealed the deal. I was not going to continue to read the book. It was a hard fantasy story (which usually isn’t my jam) so it may have been up against a wall to start with, but it just wasn’t for me. I checked the time (there was a lot left on my break) and switched over to Calvin and Hobbes. I can always go for some Calvin and Hobbes!

The next day I took a minute to find some reader reviews for the book online. There were a lot (the publicity stunt seemed to have worked) and most of them were very positive. I’m not decrying those readers, everyone is entitled to their opinions and I’m used to not being in the majority. I do disagree with them, but I think it may be something about me that caused it. I’ve gotten used to editing. I edit Christians stories and all the submissions to Adventure Worlds. I am part of two writers groups filled with edits and being edited. I struggle to write well, challenging myself to do better. I think in my striving to become I writer, I’ve become a snob. I’m not a jerk about it (at least I try not to be), but there have been a few books I used to love that I can’t seem to read now. Taste does change with age and experience, and I have been getting lots of experience with writing in the last few years.

I’m not going to say the name of the book or the author because I don’t want my feelings (as little as they are read and with nearly no power to influence) to taint peoples reading of the book. As I said, a many people enjoyed it and while I may (and will) argue for or against how good a book is, I will never argue taste. You can like a terrible book (and I like several) and no one can tell you, you don’t. Maybe I just need to lighten up, but I’m afraid I’m ruining my enjoyment of reading by writing. Kind of like a butcher not liking hotdogs anymore. Nah, I just need to read better books.

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2 thoughts on “Overly Critical

  1. Congratulations! You’ve joined the ranks of real writers who have difficulty dealing with poorly crafted work. You’re reading has become more detail orientated and bad writing will stop you cold. Never fear there are tons of great books out there – but you might want to avoid the free ones.

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