You’d think that reading good books often is inadvisable to young writers because their self-esteem will be crushed, palpitated, then thrown off a cliff for good measure. For some odd reason, this is not the case.
For young people particularly I can’t think of any better aid to developing your writing skills than by studying how others have done it. — Chris D’Lacey
Read a lot. — Christopher Paolini
The best writers are voracious readers. — Rick Riordan
There are a few quotes from three of my favorite authors. Notice anything about them? Yeah, they all say the same basic thing: Read if you want to write well. Why do they say this? Because people get better at what they do if they watch the experts do it first. Perhaps this is only a bit of self-promotion by these authors, but I think it’s genuine advice. All of the writers we love, all the writers we admire, they all began simply: they read stuff they liked. Eventually they began to write, and what we see in bookstores today is what they wished they could have had to read as kids. I’m serious. If you don’t write what you’d like to read, you will neither like writing it nor will anyone like reading it. If you’re enthusiastic, it shows.
But I digress so massively I’m surprised the floor hasn’t begun to slope.
A month ago, whenever I read a good book, part of me would be thrilled (the reader part) and part would be depressed (the writer part). The trouble was that I recognized good writing. With a jolt, I’d realize all of a sudden that I wasn’t as good a writer as, say, Alexander Dumas, Rick Riordan, Cornelia Funke, Chris D’Lacey, Leo Tolstoy, or any other you’d care to mention. Especially with Riordan’s writing, I’d have a bad case of inferiority complex just after finishing one of his books. I remember finishing the Son of Neptune and writing to one of my friends on how “reading Rick Riordan makes you feel inferior.” I was just in utter awe of the writer’s prowess. Now, however, I’m quite happy to note that I’ve gotten over this feeling quite completely.
Unfortunately, I’m slightly ashamed of the reason for this.
You see, I had seen Rick Riordan as a perfect writer who had no flaws. Though people dock points on reviews for his books having too many typos, I always overlooked that since, well, they weren’t his fault. It was the typist, after all, who was falling asleep on his typewriter. It wasn’t the author’s fault that there were gross misspellings and errors in the text. But at last I found a flaw.
You know the best way to boost your self-esteem? Find fault in someone else. I say this half jokingly, since of course no one likes having their mistakes pointed out in a brutal manner. Politeness and tact is called for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh maniacally in your bedroom as you realize– “Rick Riordan isn’t perfect!” Just don’t crow it to the world with too big a smile on your face.
Many amazing authors used to make me feel very very inferior. But do you realize that you learn more from finding the flawed and realizing what could have been done better than from admiring the good stuff? Most of the time it’s a combination of the two, but usually it’s learning from the mistakes of others that can make you great. Everyone says learn from your own mistakes– why not learn from everyone else’s, too?
Admiration does not come from just standing and watching a perfect person from afar. True admiration begins when you see the fault of another, recognize it, and still like the person for what they are. Isn’t that the lesson countless fairy tales have tried to pound into our heads with a sledgehammer? Though finding fault with someone may mean the person isn’t as perfect as they first appeared, if you still think the person is great, even though you’ve found that fault, it means they are great indeed. If you find fault and they no longer have the same appeal to you, they probably aren’t worth your admiration.
In my mind, it is beneficial to find fault. In moderation. If you can find fault with someone you admire, it means that you aren’t following them blindly. If you live to find fault with someone, you’ll soon find yourself not admiring them anymore. It’s the difference between giving constructive criticism and insulting.
I have finally found Rick Riordan’s fatal flaw, but I admire him nonetheless. I found fault with Christopher Paolini and admire him much less (but still a lot), since his flaws were more serious. I found flaws in Obert Skye’s writing, and yet he remains one of the most creative writers I have the pleasure of knowing. You find flaws with something and you remove the film from your eyes. You see the person in a new light. But if the person still seems admirable in that new light, they’re worth the admiration.
Otherwise, they aren’t worth it. The rubbish bin awaits.