Even as a kid I loved telling stories, to myself if not to others. But I first thought of becoming a writer in my late teens (17, 18) and of telling stories on paper for others to read.
Two things persuaded me to try my hand at the author thing. On the positive side, I wanted to tell stories to enthrall others the way I had been enthralled by Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and John D. MacDonald. On the less positive side, I figured I could do better, or at least put more effort into it, than some of the writers I was reading. I won’t mention any names, but I was finding books that just didn’t move me. The prose was leaden, the pace stagnant, the characters indistinguishable from the stiffness of new jeans.
In most cases, it appeared that the writers I didn’t like were writing far too fast. They weren’t taking the time and giving the care to their work that being a craftsman required. To me, this became, and remains, the definition of a hack. In later years, however, I realized that I had learned quite a bit from the hacks, mostly, I hope, about the things a writer should not do.
I learned that well-written prose strikes the ear like music, not like the sound of a bell that has lost its clapper. I learned that good characters can’t become chess pieces to be shoved around willy-nilly. I learned that description is boring unless it fires the imagination or sets a mood. I learned that good writing takes time and effort and there is no substitute for either. And while I have not always achieved these things, I have always tried.
How about you? Have you learned anything from bad writers? Or do you think that reading bad prose leads to writing it? What’s your take?