The Good, the Bad, and the Unreadable

Or, don’t nudge a book by its cover (yes, I did mean nudge).

…or why you should read widely.

You can find any amount of quotes and memes about this one. I know one excuse might be ‘I haven’t got time to read; I’m too busy writing.’

When did you ever hear somebody say ‘I haven’t got time to eat; I’m too busy cooking.’ or ‘I haven’t got time to wear clothes; I’m too busy sewing a pair of trousers.’

dog walking and matching socks

True, time is short for everyone. I rather envy these Dynamic Dinahs who can churn out a book a week while juggling their time between being a full-time mum and the CEO of a global corporation. And this is all while they’re doing the football/ballet/Tai-Kwon-Do runs and taking their pack of perfectly-trained pedigree pooches to Best-in-Show success at Crufts. Okay, so I’m exaggerating madly, but come on, we all know someone like that, don’t we? Me? If I can find matching socks and get the dog out for a walk, I consider myself ahead of the game.

It’s like everything else, it can be just another thing that you need to make time for. But let’s get something straight – this is work we’re talking about. If you want to be a writer, then reading should be a part of the job description. If you work in an office, you’d probably never say ‘I don’t have time to read my emails.’ If you’re a scientist doing a research paper, you’re not going to say, ‘I have to get on with writing my paper; I just don’t have the time to review all of the previous work done in this area.’

So, reading widely… does that mean you have to read stuff you don’t like? Possibly.  But how will you know until you’ve read it? Does it mean reading good and bad books? Definitely. But similarly, you won’t know until you’ve read it. Trust me, though, if it’s a bad book, it won’t take long to spot. I recently read a book… no, hang on, I have to rephrase that… I recently read the first page of a book and within the first paragraph, I had the gravest doubts about how much more I could endure. I’ll say no more than that, other than a truly unpleasant read is a bit like true love- you just know when you see it.

To quote my writing hero…


As I’ve said before – until I started acting, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a bad play (I know, naive) but since then, I learned from watching the bad plays as well as the good ones. It’s the same with writing. You can learn how to improve your style by reading a well-read book and using some of that writer’s techniques. Have you ever seen any of Van Gogh’s really early stuff? He busied himself trying out the painting styles of the greats before finding his own. And apart from the ear and the dying, it all worked out pretty well for his art.

And the bad books/films/plays? You can learn how not to do something!
Here’s a fun little exercise – this is a deliberately bad piece of playscript. How many howlers can you spot?


ELLEN and THOMAS are sat in THOMAS’s living room.  It is a nice tidy room, with an assortment of various types of furniture.

They are ill at ease with each other.

ELLEN    I simply cannot believe that in all our twenty years of working together in this corporation that you are now coming to me with a suggestion like this.

THOMAS   I haven’t had time.  You have no idea what’s it like to be running the Accounts department all by yourself!

ELLEN    But you’ve always been so utterly determined to stand on your own two feet – why the sudden show of uncharacteristic weakness?

THOMAS is hiding something from ELLEN. THOMAS’ face is strained.

THOMAS   But what about this unexpected upheaval?

ELLEN    I can’t be held accountable for your boss quitting suddenly, can I?  And yet you expect me to drop everything in this irresponsible way and look over your project proposal for you before your meeting tomorrow morning? You know I have a long-seated problem with authority.

THOMAS   How could you be so completely self-absorbed? It’s clear you have no compassion whatsoever with my predicament!

How many did you find?

Anyway, enough of that!

Happy reading! Happy writing!

next time…

  • The 8 9 links you really need!
  • 2k a day keeps the deadline at bay

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This entry was posted in Author, Editing, Manuscript preparation, new fiction, Novel, Proofpreading, Research, Self-improvement, Uncategorized, writing, Writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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