(This post was originally published on my new Tumblr.)
So, I love to read books about writing. I think most authors do. It’s nice to see what others think, and gain ideas, inspiration, etc. I have been reading “Walking On Water: Reflections On Faith And Art” by Madeleine L'Engle, and I came across something I had never thought of (quite like she puts it) before.
Of course, naturally, looking through the book I can’t find the section I’m looking for. Highlighter, why don’t I use you enough?
I will keep looking, and hopefully find it so that I can post the section, but I’ll sum it up here:
Basically, Mrs. L'Engle writes that we shouldn’t judge other authors – and yet most of us do, don’t we? I can’t count the amount of times I have said that I didn’t like a book or a writing style; I know that everyone does it at some point. She goes on to point out that every book has a home somewhere, and a person who will love it, and so it’s worth something whether we like it or not. Books change lives, whether those lives belong to us or not. And someone, somewhere, worked very hard on that book.
I’ve been thinking about this, and I believe that she’s right. And what’s more: the moment I stopped consciously saying I didn’t like a writer’s style, or that they were not as good as another writer, I felt oh so much better about my own writing. A sort of reverse judgement, I suppose – the less I worried about whether or not someone else’s writing was “good enough” or not, the less I worried about how someone else would perceive my own writing.
We can do our best – and we should, of course – but none of us is perfect, and that’s why we have room to grow. By not looking for faults automatically, and by focusing on the good elements of a story, even if it was not our favorite, I believe that we can actually learn more about the craft and gain further confidence in our own unique abilities.
We all have different styles, and that is good, because there are plenty of different readers out there. We can all learn something from one another, even if a style or subject isn’t our personal cup of tea. And we can all respect the work that is put into making the stories we write into beautiful things – different, yes, but no less beautiful.
So, when you find a book that isn’t to your fancy, don’t judge it quite so harshly. Look at it, and figure out what you can learn from this author. Maybe you felt the plot was lacking a bit, but the imagery was really fantastic – what made it stand out? Maybe the plot was amazing, but the characters were flat – what elements did the author deploy to keep you guessing? Maybe the ending was not what you were wanting, but the characters were realistic – what made you connect with them?
Focusing on the positive will lead you in a positive direction in your own work. Not only will it make you feel more creative, but it erases the sense of competition you might feel, and your writing will be given a boost because of it.
Writing isn’t a competition, it’s a way of life – and we all have a different way of living it.
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What are some things you've learned from books that weren't quite your cup of tea, but still had something to teach you?