Reading Woes: Breaking my own rules

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. And exercising, I’m down to 165 lbs., and fit as a fiddle!

I’ve had this long standing rule when it comes to reading of always finishing a book I start. It’s what forced to me to struggle through Homer’s The Odyssey. Three pages of action followed by sixteen pages of Greeks eating mutton. Seriously, that book sucked in an epic way.

The rule was also what got me through one of the greatest Sci-Fi series I’ve ever read: Issac Asimov’s Foundation. A great story that I found hard to read at times because it was a little too bogged down in technological and political detail for my ever wandering mind. It didn’t help that Asimov wrote much of it early in his career and as short stories which were pieced together for the novels. A writer’s early days are a time when we are full of inexperience and great ideas. It is a time when the words do not flow as poetically from the pen as we would like and the struggle between blank page and full is readily apparent. Read the Foundation Trilogy and then read Prelude to Foundation to see what I mean. Foundation was almost awkward to read, while Preludewhich was written towards the end of Asimov’s careerdanced like a ballet of words, plot, character and ideas.

With the purchase of our Galaxy Tab a few months back I was able to start reading more. My main problem with digital publishing is I find it unconscionable that a digital copy of a book (especially by mainstream authors) costs as much as a printed hard cover. The industry needs to rethink its sales angle. Given that I’m not obliged to contribute money to established publishing houses that are obviously stuck in the publishing days of yore I’ve been searching for others to believe in. New writers.

So I payed 99 cents for a book and quickly realized I had wasted my money. After that I decided to look for free offerings from intrepid new writers before investing in them. Aspiring authors would do well to consider their first publishing effort as a trilogy and give away the first book for free (just remember, each book needs to have a beginning, a middle, and AN END). The “competition” is thick in more ways than one. It costs people nothing but time to publish a book these days; evidenced by the sheer amount of unfinished books in my Kindle library.

Yes, I’ve broken my long standing rule of late.

From basic grammatical and spelling errors on the first page, sometimes even in the first paragraph, to a complete lack of structure and an obvious ignorance of basic plot elements and devices, the list of shortcomings I’ve seen in the free offerings on the Amazon store would take far too long for me to compile. The one thing new authors (and some mildly successful ones) can’t seem to grasp in their fervor to publish is it’s the little things you ignore as a writer that tell the reader you either just don’t give a shit or believe the reader is too stupid to notice.

For the love of all that is holy, take the time to edit. This includes shelving the book for a month or two so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. A lot of the mistakes I see are simple oversights that a vacation from the material will alleviate. Something happens in the writer’s mind when he or she has been poring over the same pages day in and day out for weeks at a time. The writer will no longer see the words as they are written. The writer will begin to see the words as they appear in his or her head. The mind, especially a tired one, can be a fickle prankster all too willing to play tricks on you in your time of need.

And what’s with all the stories in first-person? First person is only good for deep and engaging character explorations of deep and engaging characters and then only if it’s a short story. A lot of aspiring authors are using first person as a cheap and easy way to keep plot hidden from the reader. It’s a terrible concept and a bad habit to fall into. Almost as bad as killing a TV family’s dog and using time travel to bring him back to life again. C-H-E-E-S-Y.

I feel bad I have so many books unfinished. I really do. I feel I am betraying the writing community. But I’m sorry, some of the crap out there simply can not  be read. At least not without a little more care and attention to detail being paid.

What say you?

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About AJ Beamish

Just this guy.

Posted on December 17, 2013, in Productive Pondering & Lollygagging, Reading Woes, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well first of all, congratulations on slimming down so much! And during the holidays! You’re a better loser than I, Gunga Din :) My temp doctor (my other one is retiring) told me mid-November I had to lose weight and I said, “Can this wait until January? I’m about to do Thanksgiving Part Deux in a few weeks and NO ONE diets at my sister-in-law’s!”

    I’ll be a good girl come Jan 2. Honest. Am already planning out the Diet Nazi Regime. Which will mostly be an anal-retentive rigidity regarding exercise, healthy food, and no more sugar or alcohol until I’ve gotten back to a place where a “muffintop” is something I see when I pass a Cinnabon :)

    As for bad writing and not-ready-for-prime-time novelists, I’m with ya 100% of the way. There’s still way too much crap out there. Books that might be good, might have been good, if only the writer had a clue. Many of them don’t. It’s not that they’re egotistical or careless or lazy, they just don’t know what they don’t know. I had no idea how badly my first draft of my first draft sucked until I read a book on self-editing. I had committed so many Klooless Noob errors. Fortunately they were rectified and it STILL has yet to be sic’ed on an innocent public.

    We need a good filtering system somehow. Something that separates the wheat from the chaff. Amazon reviews have developed a well-deserved reputation for being largely useless – not the case before the self-pubbing revolution. I myself am trying now to establish myself as a respectable book reviewer there – not handing out any more highly undeserved 5-star reviews (there were only a few of those from me, fortunately) just to help out a fellow writer. I’m giving honest reviews and I’m not going to review many self-pubbed books – unless I can honestly give them a good review. I won’t give a *bad* review, even if deserved – just tell the writer I can’t give him/her a good review and that if they rewrite it I will reconsider.

    Kudos to you though for taking a chance on newb writers (and there are some good ones out there!) Maybe focus a bit more on indy publishers which put a little more time and attention into books, but still make it easy for a writer to get publlished.

    Hmmmm…maybe we should put our heads together…throw it out on Twitter…maybe blog about it…how to find the good newbs in the great mass of mediocrity out there?

    To be fair, I could ding what’s in the bookstores these days of same…they’ve become as risk-aversive as Hollywood in taking a chance on something new. A remake of Naked Gun? Oh yay. “Pride & Prejudice with Zombies”? Jane Austen is rolling over in her grave – and not because she’s a a zombie!

    • Thanks, Nicole. I’m actually just as surprised as everyone else that I lost weight over the holiday. Either I’m sick and slowly dying or I’m doing something right!

      Part of the problem falls back on that “wanting to write ruins my read” article I did awhile back. As a writer you can’t simply enjoy a book anymore. You start dissecting it right away. Looking for examples of brilliance to emulate and faux pas to avoid. It makes you ever so hyper critical.

      Lately, if the author doesn’t capture my attention within the first three pages, I’m out. I don’t know what it is about starting your story as close to the end as possible the people do not get.

  2. AJ, I’ve been lurking around your blog, trying to keep up as best as possible. (I’m subject117 from PGL, if you don’t remember.)

    I enjoyed this post. I’m in my third semester of school for creative writing. It’s been a great experience. I’ve gone back and looked at some of my early stuff, and it is bad. I’m rewriting one of my short stories for my current fiction class. I’m really excited right now, because I think I wrote some really good stuff lately. I have to turn in my draft for workshop this week, so I’ll have 23 critics reading it.

    On the subject of all the self-publishing out there, and besides the topics you mentioned, I have one that bugs me a lot. The over use of the F-bomb. Don’t get me wrong, I can fling the effenheimer with the best of them, but when it is every other word in the dialogue, it just seems lazy to me. A lazy crutch. I finished an e-book not too long ago and was glad to be done just to escape the effers for a bit. It was a book that I wanted to finish, but I’d take long breaks from it just because I’d had my fill of effers.

    Just something for all you self-pubbers out there to consider. F-bombs lose their impact when there’s a dozen or so on every page.

    And congrats on the weight loss. I’ve gained 8 lbs. since Thanksgiving because it’s been too darn cold to go out and walk. I was walking up to 35 miles a week before winter. Can’t wait for this ice age to end. Cheers!

    • Hey subject, I remember you, though I haven’t been keeping up with my blog reading lately and it’s been a while since I’ve visited yours… sorry bout that, It’s on my todo list for next week.

      It’s great that you’re doing that creative writing course. Fantastic. Wish I could go back to school. Keep at it, brother and keep that enthusiasm up.

      I think the F-bomb thing is happening because a lot of aspiring authors have watched one too many Tarantino films and they believe their crime fiction should be riddled with a criminal element that likes to show it’s peacock feathers and the way to do that in print is through cussing. I suppose if the character is interesting enough it can be pulled off or if the story is intriguing enough it can make it bearable (Dexter’s sister, for example). There are better ways to handle it in narrative, though. The following sentence is one of my favorites and it immediately came to mind when you brought this up…

      “Another stream of curses, some of them more creative than usual, but Niner wasn’t terribly creative, and no one dared to swear in his presence, so his arsenal was limited to variations of the word shit.”

      I love that sentence. Simple, elegant and to the point. It’s from Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy.

      Don’t fret over the weight gain, it’s normal over the Holiday season. I’ve been working out but I’ve been a bit depressed lately and haven’t been eating as much, and I’ve been slacking off the past month. I haven’t worked out once this week… I’ll get back on the horse in a day or two. I’ll blame it on Arkham Origins and leave it at that.

      Stay frosty, brother.

  1. Pingback: Dissecting Fiction: Writing an Epic Tale? (Part 1) | The Dead Console Society

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