Jun 02

The Good Things About Bad Writing

The Good Things About Bad Writing


Jack R. Stanley


            We’ve all read something not just poorly written, but down right badly written.  And, we remember it. 

The good news is this is the same thing that has happened to some of the world’s most successful writers; one day you could be one of them.  Let me site a couple of examples.

James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans and other Leatherstocking Tales ) is said to have begun his career as a novelist after reading a particularly bad British novel of his period (the 1820’s) and declaring, “I can write better than that.”

The same is said about Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, and other adventure/thrillers from ’55 through ’86).  MacLean was a middle school teacher who enjoyed Ian Fleming (James Bond) and what would today be called techno-thriller type of tales.  He told one interviewer that he took a stack of yellow legal pads home during summer break and wrote his first adventure, HMS Ulysses, still a classic of World War II navel fiction.

You may know of similar stories about other writers.  There are a lot of them around.

In fact, I once attended a writer’s conference in Ft. Worth (Texas is case there’s any doubt) and heard one of the speakers, a woman who wrote romance novels, tell her story.  She, like many women, loved to read a good romance and used to read them all the time – particularly in bed at night.  One night in the course of her favorite pastime while her husband was dozing off, she got so angry at the content of the paperback she just finished that she hurled it across the room where it banged into the wall.  As her husband jerked up as if he’d been poleaxed with a baseball bat, said, “What’s wrong?”

“I can write better than that!”

“Better than what?” he asked.

“That stupid book.”

Evidently this wasn’t the first time she’d made this claim and her husband, being irritate as he was, told her, “Then do it!  I’m so tired of hearing you say that.  Either write something better or shut up!”  And with that he buried his head back in his pillow as she said, “Okay, I will.”

The next day she began writing her novel. When she finished it he showed it to her husband, who told her he thought it was pretty good. So she boxed it up and send it off to Harlequin Romance books.

About six weeks later her husband received a frantic call. When he asked her what the problem was he replied, “They accepted the book.”

Like most men he didn’t get it. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes but they also send a letter asking me when my next novel would be ready?”

“So, what’s wrong with that?  Write another one.”

“You don’t understand,” she said.  “There isn’t another one.  That’s all I’ve got.  No more stories, no more plots.”

“Oh, come on,” he told her.  “I’ve read some of those books.  Plotting one isn’t that hard.”

“Oh, yeah,” she cried, “Mr. Engineer?” 

See he was a aerospace engineer working for N.A.S.A.  This was back twenty years ago when that was a great job to have.

“If it’s so easy, you come up with a plot.  I’m afraid to cash this check because it’s part of a multi-book deal.”

So, he took up her challenge and did dream up a plot for a romance and gave it to her.

“Oh,” she said, “I can write that.”  And she did.

In fact, they started doing exactly that.  He’d come up with the plot for a story and she’d write it.  Pretty soon they were doing so well as this and making so much money that he quit his job and they started traveling the world.  They would go visit all the most romantic places in the world and produced novels about places they’ve been and things they’d seen.

The woman and her husband told the writing conference that they had a great life because they loved to travel and to write.

I don’t remember the couple’s name but their story certainly stuck with me.  And the point is, if it hadn’t been for her reading something bad, she and he wouldn’t have been inspired to do something better.

This could be the exact motivation you need.  Read something crappy and then go write something better – and keep doing it.  Careers and made of just such actions and reactions.



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