Why I stopped reading your writing

Monday, May 19, 2014

My house is littered with the unfinished remains of many, many bad books.

I made up my mind some time ago never to finish bad books. I drop them at the end of the first chapter, or halfway through when I'm starting to lose interest, or sometimes after just a few paragraphs (looking at you, Twilight). Recently, and much to the amusement of my husband, I stopped reading Memoirs of a Geisha five pages before the end.

Listen up, authors of the world: My local library is pretty big, and my life isn't that long.

So I don't waste my time. Why should I slog through boring writing when I could be reading something that rattles my brain, or sends lightning up my spine, or makes me close my eyes and sigh and smile and feel--for the first time in weeks--the ground beneath my feet?

Now comes the harsh reality: This goes for blogs too.

I squeeze blogs into the cluttered corners of my life. I might catch a post or two in the middle of the day when the girls are both miraculously occupied. I could get distracted by a blog in the midst of finding a recipe for dinner, or when I'm answering e-mails, or at the end of the day when the girls are asleep and a million other things wait for me but holy hilarity, Batman, I have to finish this post first because it's making me pee my pants, I'm laughing so hard.

But unless those blogs are so utterly gripping that they'll make me ignore my toddler's request for juice, procrastinate dinner, let the baby cry from her crib one more minute, forget to call back one of my favorite people, and disregard my best friend (aka husband) for a few minutes, I am not reading them.

Allow me to explain exactly when, and why, I stop reading.

1. I can't hear your voice. You sound completely indistinguishable from every other blogger in your niche. If I read a piece of yours elsewhere, I wouldn't know it was you. And after I click close the tab that held your blog, I can't remember your name. I won't go looking for you.

Great writers all have voice in common. Think of the rhythms of their voices. Think of how they string sentences together, how they tack word onto word until it takes on a melody. I'm thinking of the rolling lyrical strum of Toni Morrison, the galloping run-away run-ons of Brian Doyle, the hard stamping anvil of Hemingway.

Your voice should have a music to it. Because if I don't catch the beat, I'm not reading you.

2. Your verbs slump. 
I went home.
I cruised home.
See what I mean?

You can tell a good writer quickly by her verbs. Her verbs kick you in the head. If you don't have killer verbs, then don't bother trying to get my attention. Because without good verbs, all your nouns are just going to lie there, like a cat in a spot of sun, doing nothing worth watching.

So quit with the "was" and the "had" and the "went"--GAH! We've literally got a million words in the English vocabulary. Certainly you can find something in there to paint the picture for me of exactly how you "went."

3. You're addicted to "very." 
Very Addicts are just wasteful with words.

Again: A million words of English vocabulary. Things do not need to be modified with "very;" you can find a stronger adjective, I promise. You keep telling me things are "very pretty" instead of "stunning," and all I can think about is how many moments of my life I'm going to waste reading unnecessary modifiers that leave your writing vague and muddy.

Nope, not worth it. I'm not reading you.

4. You just have nothing interesting to say. 
I get it. There's a pressure in the blog world to keep posting and posting--get several blogs up a week, they say, or you won't gain a following. But I say all this quantity comes at the expense of quality. Sometimes, in the pressure to just. keep. posting, you throw some filler up in there.

I don't think I need to tell you if you're writing filler. You know when you're writing filler. This isn't writing you're proud of, something to clip and put into scrapbooks for future generations. This isn't the stuff you're wishing you could say to all mankind. This is just something to take up space.

But as I've said before, this stuff has got to command my attention better than my toddler, and my toddler is really, really high-maintenance. So say something worth my while.

5. You only talk about yourself.
This one is tricky, because your blog is of course about you. There's nothing wrong with talking about you.

But when great writers talk about themselves you wind up thinking they are really talking about you.

The writing that stays with me means something to me. I have to think about where I'm setting my feet down next in this crazy life, and if you're a really, really great writer, you might make me put my foot down somewhere I didn't originally plan. You can do that by talking about yourself. But only if you draw me a connection.

Great writing should somehow be universal, about everyone, about what it means to traverse across this wild unpredictable treacherous beautiful world. That's what I'm reading for. To find it.

1 comment:

  1. Phew. I'm glad that you told me BEFORE I read this that you liked my writing. Ha. No but seriously, there are a lot of really good reminders here. I especially love your last point, and the image of the wild unpredictable treacherous beautiful world. Thanks for making your writing one of the beautiful parts of it.