The Parent’s Guide to Writing or: How to Learn from Someone Else’s Mistakes


Whoo boy, parenthood.

You know it’s actually not that bad. If you can get over the shower knob never being turned off. If you can withstand the constant stream of nonsense coming from the back of your car. If you can get used to asking, “Are you wearing underwear today?”

If you can do those, and approximately a hundred other things that I’m too tired to think of right at this moment, you’ll be fine.

But truthfully, kids are a hoot. Yesterday one of our’s looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Is this a dream?” And naturally I told him yes. And then he said that it wasn’t because you couldn’t bump into people in dreams, and proceeded to body-check me to prove his consciousness.

You can’t argue with that logic right there.

But having kids is more than just fun. It’s educational.

See I have this theory. I have lots of theories actually. But the one I’m going to share with you today is this: Kids and adults aren’t all that different. Adults just want more expensive toys. That whole business about “growing up”? Totally bogus.

There is no point in your life when simply because of growing older you magically become more responsible, or have better self-discipline. Case in point: the kids want to put off doing their homework. I want to put off mowing the lawn.

And it’s these similarities that fascinate me. Because everyone accepts that parents are supposed to train their children to be responsible, to work even when they don’t want to, etc.

But there’s a reverse of that too. While we’re training our children we learn things about ourselves. In correcting their mistakes, we’re more likely to see our own shortcomings in a new light.

After all, I can’t very well tell my kids to pick their clothes up off the bathroom floor if I’ve got three pairs of underwear wedged behind the toilet for some reason. I can’t make them brush their teeth every morning without realizing that I’ve still got bits of that burrito from two days ago lodged in my molars.

In other words, in correcting their problems I’ve become far more likely to correct my own shortcomings.

And I think something similar happens in writing too. As writer’s we’re told to read, read, read, in order to hone our craft to the place where we want it to be.

It seems only natural that associating ourselves with great works of literary art would help us in our aspirations toward greatness. But I contend that there is a place for bad writing in the writer’s library as well. In fact it may be better for us as writers to study what others do wrong, than to try to emulate what they do right.

After all, there is no better way to rid yourself from infodumps than to read a story with one on every page. And if you ever pick up a book that opens right into backstory without any context to the characters current situation that’s probably going to make an impact on how you view backstory in your own fiction.

Bottom line, negative lessons are far more powerful than positive lessons. And critiquing the mistakes others make can reinforce those mental muscles that will help you cut the fat out of your own writing.

By all means, read good books. But make some time for the bad ones as well. They have a lot to teach if only you will listen.

And now if you will excuse me, I need to go retrieve some…personal items from behind the toilet.


5 responses to “The Parent’s Guide to Writing or: How to Learn from Someone Else’s Mistakes

  1. Agreed.

    And though I don’t have anything insightful to say, I’d like to commend you on an very well-written post 🙂

  2. Funny and true. Also, you should think about flossing.

  3. Excellent points. Being a parent has taught me a lot. Sometimes I think I’ve learned more from them then they have from me. And reading a bad novel will definitely help you become a better writer. The more I learn about writing, the more I see in other novels. It definitely makes me take a new look at my own work.

  4. Pingback: Foster Files: The Conundrum of Normalcy | Albert Berg's Unsanity Files

  5. Pingback: Posts About Writing I have Liked « The Gig

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