Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe author Karel Henneberger sent me an article that reinforced a valuable lesson: you can learn something from reading bad writing. The article’s author Daphne Gray-Grant tells of learning that lesson from a former boss in a roundabout way. Gray-Grant is a professional editor, so she’s read an abundance of both good and bad work.
The basic points she drives home to writers are these:
- Good writers make just about every sentence meaningful. Bad ones waste effort on recording every cup of tea their characters swallow.
- Bad writing highlights the kinds of mistakes we don’t want to make. It’s one thing to know we shouldn’t overuse adjectives. It’s another to read a plethora of sentences like this one: “The wearily handsome, nervous, stubble-chinned man slowly and carefully got out of bed when he heard the soft, mysterious sound of footsteps
in his apartment.”
- Bad writing is a reminder that good work always requires effort.
The moral of the story: finish that bad book you’re reading. Use it as a tool to spot the things not to do in your own stories.