Listen up, people. You may have heard otherwise from your sources, but they are wrong. Dead wrong. Trust me. They are as wrong as wrong can be.
I am here to tell you that I know a thing or two about writing. Don’t scoff. I do.
I know exactly two things about writing. Yup. That is it. Two things.
- I know what I like.
- I know what I don’t like.
Why is it that since I dubbed myself a writer, I am more critical of the books I read?
In the middle of reading so many books lately, I find myself saying to the empty room, or to the dog, “This book is stupid.” I love that the dog always agrees with me. Sir William The Dog gives me a look that says, “Put down that damn book and give me a belly rub.” Oh wait, it was my husband who said that.
People Magazine, that bastion of all-things literary, named The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, one of the top ten books of 2013. Oh, please. In my opinion, the only interesting about the characters in The Interestings was that they were utterly, completely, 100%, no bones about it, uninteresting.
Oh sure, it was readable enough, if you have a thing for hyperbole (I have no idea what that word means but I like how it sounds), but I found the book insipid and pedantic (two more words I like but don’t quite know their meaning).
I’m sure fans of the book, The Interestings, are unfollowing this blog faster than you can say Jiminy Cricket. But I’m sorry. It is how I feel. (Chime in anytime here, Audra!) The book sold something like 4 bagillion copies, is a top pick for book groups, and the literary savants at People Magazine liked it. Who am I to judge, right?
I don’t mean to pick on just that book. If I had the time and space and a loyal readership, I would harp on and on about many other books I’ve wasted time reading this year.
My point here is this . . . being hypercritical of my own writing has made me a more keen-eyed, spit-wad throwing, eye-rolling kind of critic of other writing. Present company excluded, of course.
Speaking of keen-eyed, let’s take a look at this excerpt from that moneymaking machine, Dan Brown.
The Da Vinci Code, Chapter 5
“Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.”
Really, Danny Boy? Really? It takes a keen eye to spot a “hand-tooled mitre-crosier appliqué?” I could spot one at 50 yards.
Back to writing, with each sentence I write, I roll it around on my tongue and ask myself four questions:
- Does it smack of cliché? (Oops, I believe that is a cliché.)
- Does it propel the story forward?
- Are there weak words lurking in dark corners?
- Does it say something?
I don’t want to waste words or a reader’s time by spewing words on the page that serve no purpose. None (well, almost none) of the words in The Interestings served much purpose and I wasted precious reading time while I waited in vain for something to happen.
“Hang on a cotton-pickin’ minute, Robin. Are you saying your writing is literary brilliance?” Hell no. I’ve written grocery lists more entertaining than some of my writing.
So you don’t think I am a negative gas-bag who looks down her nose (or turns up her nose, depending on which cliché you want to use) at any writing but her own, here is a smattering, a potpourri if you will, of a few books that knocked my socks off (in a good way).
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Here is a favorite line from Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close:
“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train that I wanted to be on.”
The author packed nostalgia, longing, and regret in one simple sentence and made it look easy while he was at it.
Gosh, I wish I could write like that.