When I read, I have the habit of mentally rolling my eyes and muttering “for God’s sake” whenever I encounter a tremendous writing cliché, such as having a character describe their appearance while looking in a mirror. I am eight pages into a book which the internet (scoff as you please) has insisted was worth reading, and so far my eyes have rolled three times.
This is too many times for a ‘New York Times bestseller‘. Am I being overly critical? Or, as a writer, should I applaud anyone who deigns to contribute to the literary history of our world? Is it just bitter jealousy to criticise someone who is fully published, while I am still in the stage of second drafts?
I’m sure there must be someone amongst these 7 billion souls who is both a chef and a food critic. Charlie Brooker, for example, is able to put his own creations on TV whilst also subjectively judging the work of others. After years of university work-shopping, I have been trained to read somebody’s writing, and spot the main issues like a hungry predator. I have to ignore the feelings of sisterly affection I have for this brave people who are contributing to an art I so admire, and be honest with myself as a reader.
Yes, a part of me feels guilty when I don’t enjoy a book, because I know how much struggle goes into putting your thoughts and passions into something another will read. It is sharing a part of your soul, and even showing work to a lecturer was terrifying; I can’t imagine how scared I’ll be when I actually try to get published…
I can’t deny, there is a great amount of arrogance involved in judging literature to be bad, when you yourself are trying to write your own. But this isn’t as simple as “well, you write something better then!”, because quite frankly, I can’t write something better. Of the great pantheon of genres and writing styles, I have my niche, and every other niche remains untouched, but just because I can’t write adult romance or science fiction or realistic drama or screenplays doesn’t mean I can’t spot mediocre material when it’s in front of me.
But am I going too far? Is it naive of me to shun a few lazy plots when they obviously have proven very popular? Is it all about profit-making potential > quality?
Perhaps yes. But it shouldn’t be! It’s leniency like that which is why you hear so much grumbling these days about the state of music or film.
The fact is, even if (and this is genuinely my nightmare) nobody ever reads anything I write, I would like to know that what they are reading is worth their time; that the stories are original and important, that they are learning about the art of being human, rather than something superficial. I want to know that the words deigned good enough for print actually show language to be as beautiful as it can be, and the characters created have as much effect on them as their living friends.
Fiction is one of the big arguments for the existence of a greater good. It has no long lasting monetary value to anyone but the writer or publisher, and yet we devour it constantly, and will continue to do so. Galleries don’t accept bad art; pages should not accept bad writing!