Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bad Writers

Is it just me or is my writing getting more incoherent lately? Don’t answer that. Please. The most important skill an author can have is the ability to evaluate his or her own writing accurately. The great writers all have this ability. The shabby writers all think they have this ability. And the thing that keeps the rest of us up nights is wondering which camp we are in.

I encounter bad writing frequently. There’s something about it that makes me think we ought to be able to quantify it and describe it, but I’ve failed every time I’ve tried. I have, however, noticed a characteristic common to many bad writers. They are easily angered by people they feel don’t respect them as writers. But we can’t go around offending writers just to decide if they are good or not. Besides, I figure that writers learn to handle criticism as they are learning to become better writers.

Still, there are some people for whom it is safe to say they’ll never “be ready,” to use the euphemism publishing industry uses to say an author isn’t very good. Mark Twain said that if you can’t get someone to pay you to write within three years then you ought to go into sawing wood instead. These days, it’s hard to find anyone who has gotten a contract within three years. Maybe we should all be sawing wood. In any case, it’s difficult for some people to accept that they aren’t writers and never will be. There seems to be a fine line between persevering and being delusional. At some point, I think we need to realize that we don’t need writers who persevere as much as we need good writers. That may be the question that we writers should be asking ourselves. Am I persevering or am I improving? If all we’re doing is persevering then maybe it’s time to check the help wanted ads in a logging magazine.