I read a post the other day on The Passive Voice about how some writers may condemn a bestseller book because of all the “bad” that’s in it. Though the title of the post points to the fate of today’s book bloggers — who are suffering from overload because they’ve become the new gatekeepers for the slush pile — a lot of what was written in that piece really hit home for me.
See, I’m human and, like many other writers, I get annoyed when I read a bestseller book that, in my opinion, is poorly written. Now, let’s get something out of the way before I go on, okay? What I consider poorly written is not necessarily what someone else considers poorly written. However, I do believe there are some universal traits on what most readers consider “bad”. Writers, on the other hand, are more critical because they deal with words and storytelling every day. When you put a book into their hands, they’re going to read it differently than your average reader will. And the writer who has more experience (read, words written and stories published/told) will be even more critical still.
What happens is, that writer will start picking the “bad” book apart. They’ll search out the so-called crap and complain. “How the &!%$ did that author get published with writing like this,” they’ll ask, “and make a fortune on top of it?” And maybe that writer has a point. Maybe there was a lot of bad in the writing. But apparently there was good, too. Maybe even more good than they want to admit.
This is one of the points TPV was trying to make. There comes a time when you have to push past the ego thing, when you realize that it’s truly time to take your craft to the next level, open your mind, and find what worked. A book becomes a bestseller because, d’uh, something worked. Finding that winning combination is what will help you get past the “that was crap” mindset and into “oh, I get it now” way of thinking.
Which brings me to the point of today’s blog. A lot of book review bloggers out there are suffering from burnout. Too much reading that’s available. Too many authors clamoring for attention. Too many stories that sound the same, and many that really, truly aren’t ready for prime time yet. So those bloggers have pulled back. They’ve decided to pick and choose the stories they want to read. And some have even decided to branch out past the usual genre they prefer.
Why? One of the reasons, I think, is simple: the only way to rekindle a passion for what you truly love is to expand your horizons and branch out past what is usual for you. Doing so gives you a stronger appreciation for what you do love, but also gives you perspective. We’re creatures of habit. We get stuck in ruts because we’re comfortable there. It’s what we know. But if you try to mix it up a bit? You just might be in for a pleasant surprise.
So the next time you’re feeling burned out — over anything — think about trying something new. Give it a week. Maybe even a month. Like those book bloggers, be selective but search out what’s different. Like the writers who must learn to find the good despite the bad, open your mind to the possibility that there are many other enjoyable things out there that, on the surface, might seem — dare I say? — icky.
Go on. I dare you. Then let me know how it goes.
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Nice post, Terri. And it reinforces my desire to get my science fiction out there. It’ll be a palate cleanser for my historical crime fiction. Or maybe my historical crime fiction will be a palate cleanser for my science fiction. 🙂
So wonderful to hear, Suzanne! I think using another part of our brain is a good thing. Refreshing and inspiring, I think. I’ve got a dark fiction bubbling around in my head. I’m thinking of tackling it after my current wip is complete. Thanks for stopping by!
Good post. One if your best.
well, thank you 🙂
A thoughtful reflection. I like to be challenged as well, and I enjoy reading beautiful prose. But more importantly, I think, is the story. What’s the point of having a (bestseller) book that is beautifully written but doesn’t manage to capture my attention? Neil Gaiman once wrote that it all comes down to four words: “… and then what happened?”
I think our challenge as a writer is to both write something compelling for other writers, while engaging average readers, as well.
I also love your idea about branching out; it made me realize that I probably read too much of one genre, one era, or even one particular author (notably Haruki Murakami). Maybe it’s time to mix it up! 😉
I love that quote, Daniel: “and then what happened?” If I’m not asking that question, that means I’m not turning pages. And if I’m not writing that way, that means readers aren’t turning mine!
Reblogged this on Chronicles of a 40-something Nurse Wannabe and commented:
Book Reviewers – Check out Terri’s discussion on burnout and re-igniting our passion for reading.
I am not a book reviewer, or professional blogger. I only review books that have moved me to write a review because they were incredibly well written, poorly written or a debut novel worth reading. I have written reviews about ARCs/eARCs I have received, as requested by the author.
Like Tara, I turn to old favorites that I believe are written well, to “decompress,” after a “bad” book. They never fail to remind me why I love to read. But, there are some troubling issues that may bias me against a book, series or author. These seem to have evolved over the past two years, after the success of “50 Shades of Grey,” (which I did not like. At all. I STILL want my money and time back for THAT series).
Irresponsible depiction of other cultures or alternative lifestyles, namely D/s or BSDM. There are authors who have a deep understanding of how relationships of this nature develop, either through personal experience or years of extensive research. They write about the lifestyle with depth, respect, humor and NEVER skimp on discussions of unbreakable rules (e.g., safe, sane, safewords, etc.) in any of their books. In some of the newer books (written for “shock” value, IMO), these discussions “vanish” or happen off-stage, for the sake of the story. Uh…NO.
The “epidemic” of trilogies. Here’s a thought: write all three books, edit them and consolidate them into ONE book. Starting the advertisement for your next book as, “A new trilogy from _____” is a sure-fire way to irritate me and push your book to the back of the purchase pile. If there are vital, material facts, scenes or characters who need more pages, then, give them more pages. Each story should be strong enough to stand alone. “War and Peace,” is ONE book. And, did you hear the one about our poor economy? So did I. Your next trilogy ad should read, “____________ needs a new pair of Jimmy Choos or to pay for the kids’ braces! Enjoy this trilogy!”
“New Adult.” Are these adults from other planets? How are they “new?” Have they experienced a remarkably different growth and development process from other adults? Let’s call them what they are: troubled, horny, beautiful, horny, entitled, horny, whiny, horny, bratty, horny college-aged people. Nothing wrong with regressing to a pre-teen level of development when you begin to experience life as an “adult,” on your own. These books should also be labeled as such: “Michelle – please do not read me. I know I may sound like a compelling coming-of-age-overcoming-adversity-finding-my-voice story, but you’ll be better served to read the Harry Potter or Trixie Belden series, again or watch reruns of “Greek,” “The Facts of Life,” “One Day at a Time,” “Charmed,” or a Mary-Tyler Moore/Rhoda marathon, followed by any of John Hughes’ movies. You are too old to understand the complexities of growing up in the 21st century. DO NOT READ ME. It will not end well for either of us.”
I guess what I’m saying to authors is….write what you know, Readers, like me, LOVE to discover new/indie authors! I have read three debut novels this year, that have blown me away. Those authors are now on my “automatic purchase” radar for books. Indie publishing has also given some of my favorite “traditional” authors additional outlets to release stories that would not otherwise be published. There IS room for everyone – readers are everywhere! Any one of us, could become a reviewers…and a new fan.
Michelle – I don’t think I’d call that a rant but it’s definitely the truth and not the first time I’ve heard these words. In the end, you’re right. Write what you know and not to the trends. And don’t release until the book is ready!! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It’s so very truly appreciated.
Interesting. When I feel overwhelmed and underwhelmed by what I’ve been reading and reviewing, I usually take a breather and grab something I really enjoyed and read that again. It recharges my batteries. I want to feel stimulated and challenged as a reader. I want to learn from authors I admire so my own writing will continue to improve. There will never be an end zone to cross for writers. We should always strive to move forward and refine our skills.
Your advice to step away from preferred genres is excellent. Don’t be afraid to take a break from fiction altogether, if that’s what it takes. You might be surprised at what you discover.
Like you Tara, I want and NEED to be challenged as a reader. I want to be grabbed by the throat, figuratively, when reading a story. As a writer, I’ll also try to figure out why a story grabs. Even the ‘badly’ written best sellers are worth a study, if only to find out why they were so hugely popular. But, in the end, writers need to write for themselves and not a trend.
And to add to that, I too will sometimes go back to my bookcase — 1100 books and counting! – and pick out a winner to erase the bad taste, so to speak. For me, it’s usually Crais or Coben. 🙂