Earlier this week I stumbled across an article in the Wall Street Journal, authored by Cynthia Crossen, that struck a chord with me for a number of reasons This article, What Makes Bad Writing, is short and smartly written. After acknowledging that “It’s impossible to define bad writing because no one would agree on a definition,” she quickly and succinctly lays out how, despite this, we all generally know bad writing “when we see it.” Her examples are thought provoking, and as Ms. Crossen lays out certain characteristics of bad writing (“phony, posturing, pretentious, tired, imprecise slovenly language”), she landed on something that I wanted to call out quite specifically. In addition to the above attributes (where she was quoting from Roger H. Garrison), she continues “I’d add repetitious, smug and disrespectful of readers’ time” (emphasis mine).
I’ve self-published two works: The Prince of Graves, a fantasy novella, and The Perishing Land, an apocalyptic horror short story. The novella sells for 99 cents, and the short story is free. The money I’ve made to date on these is negligible, but every time I see a download of either, I get a thrill. It’s not because I just earned 35 cents. It’s because a reader decided to invest his or her time into reading my work. This fact both flatters me and makes me somewhat anxious. While I don’t want to minimize that the reader may have just spent some of their hard-earned cash on my writing, I am more humbled by the fact that he or she will be spending several hours of life reading my work. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, that time can’t be refunded.
This investment of time, therefore, should make every writer pause before publishing something. I hope that, after reading something of mine, there will never be a reader who thinks “I’ve wasted my time.” That, to me, is a much more grievous affront than having accepted 99 cents for something the reader didn’t fully enjoy. In many instances, that money can be reclaimed if the reader truly disliked the story. The time, as I said, can not. While I can’t be sure that my writing will be loved by everyone, I can make sure that the reason a reader might dislike my writing isn’t because I published a sub-standard work.
I invite anyone to comment on this article. Please, I’d love to hear from you!