Category Archives: Writing

In Defense of “Free”

Last week I came across an interesting post by social media maven Kristen Lamb about the dangers of authors making ebooks available for free. You should read the full post for yourself, but the general theme of the post was that because the ebook market is flooded with free stuff and most of it is worth less than a barrel of turds (because, hey, at least turds make good fertilizer) so making your book available for free could do more harm than good merely through the power of negative association.

As some of you may know, I’ve had some experience with the free side of the ebook market in the past, both as a seller and a buyer. And while I’ll concede that there are dangers in offering your ebook for free, in my experience there are also some advantages.

Last year Amazon made my ebook Derelict available for free without my prior knowledge or consent. It hit me as a shock, but it was perfectly within Amazon’s rights to make the change, and rather than gripe and moan about what was happening to my book, I decided to take a positive outlook on the situation. After all, it wasn’t like I was burning up the internet with that story before it was offered for free, and at least now people were READING it. And more than just reading it, some people responded with generally positive reviews.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago when Amazon took the book back to its original price. Of course it didn’t move in the same numbers as it did when it was free, but it still outsold the rest of my fiction by a factor of a thousand percent (that’s a multiple of ten for those of you who ain’t so swuft with the math stuff.) Today it continues to sell just as well.

Which is why, when I recently released another short story, The Fisherman’s Nightmare, I chose to make it available for free on Smashwords. Of course the free book selection on Smashwords is even worse than what it is on Amazon, and the traffic there isn’t nearly as heavy which means I didn’t have terribly high hopes for the story, but not only did it move at a reasonable rate, it also drove a few sales for my other paid books as well.

Now this is only anecdotal evidence, and I’m not trying to say that everything Kristen said in her post was wrong, but I do feel like there’s a little more to the story.

We all want to get people talking about our writing, and as an unknown author it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, lost in a sea of other authors of varying ability, all them trying to break through to become the next Amanda Hocking. There are lots of ways to get the message about your books out to the world, but the core of the equation remains: are they any good?

And whether you choose to spread the word via social media, or making your books free, or hiring out a plane to do skywriting, people aren’t going to respond if they don’t like your work.

Remember, there is plenty of bad self published fiction out there, and at whatever price it makes the rest of us look bad.

Do your part. Don’t make it worse.

Of Ghosts and Gears

So some of you saw my previous post where I waxed eloquent about writing. And some of you saw the post that came before that where I said I was basically done with writing. And some of you said, “Um…Albert. Didn’t you say you weren’t going to write any more? Because clearly, this is writing. What exactly is the deal here?”

The deal is this. 2011 was a great year in a lot of ways. I wrote a lot, this blog grew, I met new and interesting writers.


In the beginning of 2011 I was reading a lot of writing blogs. And these blogs, almost without variation preached a common message: write every day. Feel like it, don’t feel like, doesn’t matter. You get up every morning and you commit to that schedule and write something. And in the beginning of 2011 I bought into that message hard.

And for a while it was working for me. I was really enjoying what I was doing, and, if I may toot a little ditty on my own little horn, some of the stuff I wrote this year was really good.

But toward the end of the year things started to grind. My brain felt like a machine with sand stuck in the cogs. And still I tried to follow the mantra, write, write, write, all time, every time, forget the muse, forget inspiration, just go.

Until finally, those little grains of sand stripped my cogs, froze up my bearings and torqued out my grommets, and I ground, shuddering, clanking, wheezing, to a  halt.

I gave up, said I couldn’t do it anymore, that I was done, that even the desire to write had gone. And that was true for the moment.

But after a while I found that I couldn’t quite stop thinking about the shapes of words and stories. Somewhere inside the old machine I could hear a steady ticking, a last holdout of a mechanism that hadn’t quite gotten the message that it was time to shut down. Sometimes in the dead of night I would wake to the sounds of thunks and squeaks and groans coming from somewhere within that old derelict heap of metal. The machine had died, but some part of it refused to stop, lurching and groaning forward like a clockwork zombie.

And then came the Krampus. I first heard of the Saint Nicholas’s dark and ancient companion in a piece on NPR about people who still included him in their celebration of Christmas. It seemed strange to me that I had never heard of such a creature before, a monster who both contradicted Santa Claus, and also, strangely completed him. It got me thinking about our culture and about how we have expunged all the darkness, all the unpleasantness, all the judgement from our cultural consciousness. And suddenly the machine clanked into life once again, and spit out a conversation between to very old friends; Of Teeth and Claus was born.

It was not the best story I’ve ever written, but despite that it was a story that I deeply enjoyed writing. And I realized that that was what I had been missing over those past few months. Joy.

Around the same time, I happened to read The Automat’s post about Leonardo da Vinci, and his comments about the rivalry between Michelangelo and Da Vinci struck a strange chord with me.

Michelangelo worked like a dog from get on to get off, rarely slowing down. Leonardo took lots of long breaks to eat bacon and stare at his knuckles. He was always dragging his feet over some project or other, allowing himself to stop just short of actually completing something that had never been done before, and the people loved him for it.  This drove Michelangelo crazy.

Now I am not comparing myself to either of these great artists, but the basic gist of the story for me boiled down to this: Michelangelo wrote painted every day. Da Vinci wrote painted when he felt like it. And no one (except possibly Michelangelo) would dare insinuate that Da Vinci wasn’t a “real” artist.

But he didn’t let his art overwhelm him. He didn’t ruin his back painting the Sistine Chapel. He didn’t obsess about how well his rival Michelangelo was going. He just painted.

So this year I’m trying a different approach. Because the thing is, I’m not a freelancer. I’m not a novelist. Writing isn’t my job. I do it because I love it. I do it for me. And if I happen to get paid for it, well then great. If not, that’s okay too.

From now on, I’m going to write for the joy of writing. And if the joy isn’t there, if the muse does not speak, if the words do not roar inside of my head demanding to be released into the world, then I will remain silent.

Because I can.

Because I should.

Because the machine has a soul.

New Years Irresolution

Write for yourself,

Write for others.

Write every day,

Write when you feel like it.

Write for money,

Write for love.

The Muse is nothing but a shadow of a fantasy,

The writer is nothing but a tool in her hand.

Tell the world loudly and often about your work,

Huddle in a corner and burn your pages one by one, so that none but the gods and you may know their secrets.

There are no rules, no commandments ten.

Only give me a pen and a place to write, and I will move the world.


Of Typewriters and Time

The thing both great and terrible about having a blog like this, is that it focuses your thoughts. It’s great because, somehow the act of putting one thought down on paper gives birth to another, deeper thought. But it’s terrible because most of the time you have the second thought, right after you’ve published the first.

Such was the case with my previous blog post. It was only meant to be an encouragement a word of help to writers who might not be keeping up with the faster ponies in the NaNoWriMo pack. But not more than a couple of hours after I wrote it I came across this blog espousing the benefits of something called fast drafting, and it got me to thinking: what is up with our obsession with speed? NaNoWriMo, Book in a Month, Novel in a Weekend, the list goes on. In fact I’m pretty sure that every single month of the year has some kind of “fast drafting” push writer can get involved in.

Now before I get too far into this, let me say I’ve got no problem with fast drafting or any of these other writing initiatives per say. There is a great deal of wisdom in the idea of silencing the inner editor to a point.

But consider these words: “First drafts are supposed to suck.”

If you’ve been entrenched in the writing world for any length of time at all, you’ve probably heard this mantra. In fact I’ve given this advice myself from time to time. But is it true? Or, asked differently, is it helpful?

From one standpoint, the answer is yes. Every writer struggles with doubts. Every story brings with it a certain measure of uncertainty and apprehension that what is being written is utter crap. As writers we have to move beyond these kinds of uncertainty and press forward to the finish.

But there is a danger, I think, in taking it too far. Your task as a writer is not to simply upchuck sentences until you reach your desired wordcount. You do not get to smear literary excrement all over the page and call it a first draft.

I know, I know, you get revisions and rewrites and edits, and loads and loads of chances to make that story better. But I want you to look at something for me. Just take a minute and look.

Isn’t she beautiful? I mean really. When they made this baby, they distilled the archetype of what it means to be a writer and molded it into a single perfect machine. But think about what it would have meant to be a writer with one of these things. Every mistake you make you had to manually white out. Every edit had to be retyped. And cutting and pasting involved actual scissors and glue.

Do you think writers using one of these might have approached a sentence, a paragraph, a story with a little more caution? Do you think they might have lined up the words in their heads before they started hammering away at those keys, to be absolutely sure they were saying what they wanted to say in the most effective manner possible? I dare say they might.

But now computers have made things easy. And in a sense I’m thankful for it. I’m really glad I don’t have to use whiteout every time I misspell a word. But easy doesn’t always mean better, and it seems that words have lost some of their weight now that they can exist only in the ether of the electronic world.

I do not intend to discourage you from the practice of writing quickly, but rather I want to admonish you to write with purpose. If you are a writer you have chosen a noble path. You have the power to change the world with words. Do not ever use that power lightly, whether you are on your first draft or your fiftieth.

And if you approach that first draft with the proper focus, if you take the time you need to write the best story you can, it will be far easier to build on that foundation in the following drafts.

Nailing NaNoWriMo: Or Not

So NaNoWriMo is under way and I’m sure all of you are demolishing your word count goals, right? Right? Well, for those of you who can answer in the affirmative, I offer you my congratulations.

But it has come to my attention that there are some of you who are struggling. You’ve already fallen woefully far behind in the race and it’s looking more and more like you’re not going to be able to complete things on time. It’s only a few days in, but already you’re thinking you bit off more than you could chew. 1,667 words per day? What kind of masochist would put themselves through that kind of torture?

If you’re in the second group then I’d like you offer you my congratulations as well.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Whatever, it’s not like it matters. I just can’t keep up with the rest of you speed demons. Maybe this writing thing just isn’t for me.”

Hey now, lets not hear that kind of bummery. Turn that frown upside down, fellow-writer. Actually, never mind, that sounds like it might hurt. Instead, why not flex different facial muscles in such a manner that the corners of your mouth turn up rather than down? Because I am about to impart precious nugget of writing encouragement.

Here’s the thing: not everyone writes at the same speed.

Some of you just aren’t “there” yet. When I started writing I set a goal of a thousand words a day, and those thousand words were tough. I looked at NaNoWriMo and thought, “What, are you kidding? 1,667 words every day? That…that’s impossible.” And for me, at the time, it practically would have been impossible. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Speed in writing comes with time and practice.

Some of you just don’t have the time. I know, I know, writers make time to write, and that’s all well and good, but I can testify that making that time is a whole lot harder this year than it was last year. Why? Well for one thing I’ve got foster kids now. Also, my wife isn’t working which means in order to make writing time sometimes I have to say, “No I don’t want to go down and browse though that awesome antique mall with you. Spending time with the characters in my novel is far more important than spending time with the woman I married in real life.” Add on top of all that the fact that I’m working full-time, and trying to get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can say to the writers struggling to find time out there, I feel your pain.

And some of you just aren’t cut out to write, 1,667 words per day. Which is fine. Not all writers are cut from the same mold. (For instance, I was cut from that black mold that grows on your walls, and makes you sick sometimes. Don’t bleach me bro!) Not everyone can be Steven King and churn out six pages a days. Somebody’s got to be James Joyce, and obsess over the correct order of words in a single sentence for hours. Can you imagine how he would have reacted to NaNoWriMo?

But no matter what type of writer you are, the most important thing to remember is that NaNoWriMo is a tool. It’s a source of encouragement and common energy among writers, a chance to set an audacious goal and fight to meet it. But not every tool is right for every job.

So keep on plugging. And if you can’t keep up with the rest of the speed demons out there, don’t get too discouraged.

Always remember: NaNoWriMo does not define you. One single month out of the year will not make you a writer. The true test of your mettle is what you do with the other eleven.

Building on the Bones, or: Why Structure Doesn’t Have to be Boring

[The following post contains references to STORY STRUCTURE. This concept is known to the State of California to cause people’s heads to explode. But who cares what California thinks anyway? Hippies.]

You know what’s fun? Watching movies after you’ve learned about three-act struture. Specifically the bit about the first plot point appearing at exactly twenty-five percent of the running time. It’s like magic. Try it sometime. Look up the total running time of the movie, divide by four, then sit back and wait for the midden to hit the windmill. It never fails.

You’ll be able to amaze your friends and family. Pretty soon they’ll be so amazed by your seemingly-psychic ability to predict the path of the movie they’ll have stopped watching movies with you entirely. Those brave enough to stick it out will remark in wonder, “Are you going to do this for every movie we watch?”

Okay, so maybe this isn’t the best way to endear yourself to your friends. But understanding structure is vitally important to composing long-form fiction of any kind.

However structure can be a bit of a brier patch when you’re first wading into it. For instance you might be tempted to say to yourself, “The first twenty-five percent of the book is spent on this boring ‘getting to know you’ crap? What kind of snooze-fest do you want me to write?”

Well, today I thought I’d share an example from a book I’ve been reading recently that follows the formula of structure to perfection and yet showcases the amazing amount of latitude afforded us writers within the confines of what structure dictates.

The book in question is Neal Stephenson’s Reamde. If you have even passed by this book in the store or at the library chances are you had to fight just to escape the gravitational pull generated by the sheer mass of the thing. Weighing in at over a thousand pages it’s easily the longest book I’ve read since the time I decided that Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations might make for an entertaining afternoon browse.

If you’re like me at this point you’re wondering, how in the heck is anyone going to spend two hundred and fifty pages just on setup? Surely when you’re writing a book this long you can skip ahead to the good stuff right?

And for a while it seems like that’s exactly what Stephenson has done. By somewhere around page one hundred we already have a bona fide bad guy on the scene and our heroes are off on a high stakes adventure. But then, just as you’re settling into the flow of the story, at almost exactly the two-hundred-and-fifty page mark everything is turned on its head. The placeholder bad-guy is unceremoniously killed off and the real Big Boss Troublemaker enters the narrative.

Right. On. Schedule.

It is only then that we learn that all the stuff with the hackers, the Russian Mafia, the ex-military security consultants, all of it was 100% pure unfiltered setup for the “real” conflict. And it wasn’t boring.

The takeaway here is that just because structure dictates that the first quarter of the book should be dedicated to setting up the story, that doesn’t mean that it has to be a total snooze-fest. It can and should have conflict. It can even have bad guys. You’re just not allowed to introduce the bad guy until that magical twenty-five percent mark.

There’s lots more I could say here, but the  main point I’m trying to make is that the three act structure is more flexible than it appears at first glance. I understand why writers balk at the concept of being “constrained” by structure, but for me learning these principles has been a altogether liberating experience. And whether I’m watching a movie or reading a book, it’s always fascinating to see how so many stories work within these basic principles.

With InBoCoLuCy (International Book Composing Lunar Cycle) just around the corner I think my fellow authors would be well served to have the fundamentals of structure at least knocking around somewhere in the back of our heads as we wade into the sea of words.

Don’t let structure tie you down. Let it set you free.

Sharing the Results of My Not-So-Grand Experiment

Some of you may remember that a few weeks ago I announced I would stop blogging every day, and cut the frequency of my output down to something more like a couple of times a week. There were a few reasons for this, but the main one was that I just didn’t feel like I was getting any kind of personal return that justified the time I was putting into it. I’m not necessarily talking about money here (though it would not hurt my feelings at all if you were inclined to buy one of my books). But the simple truth is that blogging every day had become more of a burden than a joy. Are times you should stick with things even when you don’t enjoy them? Sure. But there are also times when you should cut your losses and think hard about why you’re voluntarily participating in something you hate.

Anyhoo, I was thinking some of you blogger geeks might like a little insight into the results of my experiment. I was going to call this “running the numbers” but I’m not actually going to give you any numbers. Unfortunately “running the vague comparative value statements” doesn’t have quite the same punch.

What happened to my traffic when I stopped writing new posts every day? So far, absolutely nothing. Actually there might have been a slight downtick, but really things have been running on a pretty even keel.

How is this possible? Well, the majority of my traffic isn’t and never has been visitors flocking to new posts. Actually, the majority of my traffic comes from people Googleing the word “clockwork” and finding this post. I have no idea how or why this happens since it’s not anywhere close to the first page on the Google results, but…whatever. It just goes to show that you never know which posts are going connect with readers. It also goes to show that SEO is a powerful force in the blogging world. You are making the most of it, right? (Hint: always use tags.)

But even putting aside the comparatively stable  number of visitors to my blog, this experiment has still been a huge success. On my side it’s freed up time for me to spend with my family and work on my other writing projects (though sometimes I still feel like I’m stuck in the mud). It’s also meant I can take more care in crafting the blog posts that I do make. Not that I was sloppy before, but I’m only one guy and writing an average of 500 words a day for public consumption on top of doing my real job and other writing projects means there’s bound to be some lag in quality somewhere.

But also, and I think more importantly, I believe the switch has been good for you the readers. If I’m updating every day, there are a lot of you who just aren’t going to be able to keep up with that volume. After all, I’m under no illusions that I’m the only blog you’re following. Scaling back the posting time means that your RSS feed or inbox isn’t getting slowly back up with posts you haven’t had the time to read. Even if all those posts were really good, basic economics teaches us that value is a function of supply and demand, which means that the more “supply” of my blog you have, the less valuable it will be to you.

So those are my thoughts. What are yours? Have you experienced anything similar with your blog? Has the change of pace in posting affected your opinion of the Unsanity Files blog? Think I’m full of hot air? I’d love to hear what you think, so drop a line or ten in the comments and share your blogging wisdom.

The Last Demon

You wanna win the lottery. No, really I’m pretty sure you do.

I get that you probably don’t actually play the lottery. No, you’re too smart for that. You know the odds are stacked against you. You know only stupid people fall for that stuff. But somewhere deep in the back of your mind you’ve got a “wouldn’t it be cool” scenario playing.

I’ve got one. Mine is: “wouldn’t it be cool if some rich inventor (don’t talk to me about there not being any real inventors any more, this is my fantasy, darn it!) just happened to strike up a conversation with me, and sees that golden truth that somehow everyone else has managed to miss, which is that I’m an incredibly bright young individual, who could, with a little mentoring, step into the rich inventor’s shoes being as he’s lacking an heir to his empire? (he’s infertile and he’s opposed to adoption for some reason, shut up!)”

I know it isn’t going to happen. I also know I don’t have any rich relatives that are going to die and leave me all their money. I know I’m not going to stumble over a briefcase full of money from a bank heist gone bad. I know all that stuff, sure. But I can hope, right?

Hope. Now there’s a nasty bugger if ever there was one. Did you know that when Pandora released the demons from her jar (not a box, study some real mythology) there was one left clinging to the inside of the rim? And that last demon was named Hope. That’s right. The ancient Greeks said that hope was in there living it up with all the rest of the nasty things in the world like hate, envy, and canned green beans.

And the worst thing about playing the lottery is when you start to believe that it really could happen. After all, somebody has to win right? We hear about them on the news. Our best friend, knew a guy who was in the same gas station as one guy who won (okay, not actually at the same time he won, more like five days earlier, but still, who knows? It could happen.) Next time it could be us!

Writers have a special variant of this kind of hope. It’s the “wouldn’t it be cool if my first novel became a runaway bestseller and I got like totally rich off of it, and I could quite my day job and write my next novel in between fielding calls from NPR programs in which I discuss my ‘process’,” variant.

And I am here to tell you, no. No it would not be cool. It would suck. Okay, having those buckets of money would be nice for a while, but think about the writers who have trod this path before you. To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, those ring a bell with you? They made a big splash, a huge splash even, but when the time came to follow them up…

See, the problem with winning the lottery is that people who win the lottery don’t know what money means. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the vast majority of them end up back in poverty far faster than you can imagine.

Most of the people who get rich and stay rich do it the hard way. They work and they invest and they get lucky once or twice, and they keep working on weekends while everyone else is having fun, and after thirty years or so of that they’re the head of a good-sized company that employs hundreds of workers when it used to employ just them.

And just like most people who get rich quick don’t stay rich for very long, so too do writers who make it really big with their first book often fall by the wayside with their later work, never quite managing to find that spark of genius that they unwittingly captured.

You wanna be a writer? Don’t aspire to winning the lottery. Take the Terry Pratchett road instead. Terry Pratchett, for those of you who may not know, is a wonderful British writer of comedic fantasy that manages to craft brilliant stories that also make you think. But just this week, when I was encouraging one of my friends to check him out I said, “Don’t start with his early stuff.” Because, as much as I love Terry Pratchett, his early work just isn’t quite as good.

Pratchett did not streak across the sky like a beautiful shooting star, never to be heard from again. Rather he started with a spark, and through care and craft slowly built it into a raging inferno.

There is no mystery to his success. It is evident to anyone with eyes to see that he learned by doing, over long periods of time. And in my mind he is one of the most fully successful authors living today.

Wouldn’t it be cool? Wouldn’t it be cool if you did the best you could and maybe it sucked for a while, but then it started sucking a little less and over time, you started to see what worked and what didn’t work, and you just kept at it through the sheer force of will and stubbornness, until, finally, years later, you were able to write books that would make people laugh and cry and think, all on the same page?

Wouldn’t it be cool? Yes. Yes, it would.

Abandonment Issues

Someone smarter than me (And probably richer too, so why should I bother to look up his name?) once said, “Novels are never finished. They are only abandoned.”

Unfortunately for us tortured penmonkeys, that does not mean that we can just give up in the middle of writing our book and expect someone to pay actual money for it. What it does mean is, “Your book is never going to be perfect, and you can only do so much revising, so eventually you’re going to have to learn to be happy with what you have and just put it out there, bucko.”

It’s a reality that every writer who ever plans to publish anything must face. And earlier this month it stared me straight in the eyes.

I was putting the finished touches on The Mulch Pile. I had done multiple edits on my own, in addition to farming out proofreading work to people nice enough to do it for free. (Speaking of which, huge thanks to Creste Meyer and Ellie Soderstrom for volunteering to help me make my work as pristine as possible.)

I was coming into the home stretch, reading through the story one last time, applying some final edits, when I was struck with a stunning realization:

The Mulch Pile I had written nearly two years ago was not the story I would have written today.

Okay, so maybe it should have been all that stunning. But it was somewhat disconcerting. After all that hard work, writing, rewriting, tweaking, rewriting some more…all of that and yet somehow looking back over it my current writer self was saying, “I could have done this better.”

It’s possible that’s just wishful thinking. It’s possible that everything I’ve learned in the past two years wouldn’t have improved the story of The Mulch Pile at all. But somehow I doubt it. I feel in my heart that if I had it to do over again, I could have created a better, more focused story and crafted a plot with better structure.

And yet The Mulch Pile went live a week later, largely unchanged.

Why? Is it because I’m a lazy bum, and I’m sick and tired of looking at this thing, obsessing over every little word, every turn of phrase and every hidden symbolic clue that no one’s likely to pick up on anyway?

Well, yes. But also, it’s because I’m not the writer I used to be.

The writer I used to be wrote The Mulch Pile. And it’s a good story. Not perfect mind you, but good. And if I let the writer that I am get pulled into constantly trying to improve and rewrite, I could get bogged down with this one story for the rest of my life.

Because the truth is, I’m getting better. I’ve been getting better over those two intervening years, and I plan to continue getting better over the years to come. The writer I am has his own stories to write. And the writer I’m going to be may very well look back on the stuff I’m doing today, and think, “I could have done it better.”

But he won’t. He won’t, because he won’t have time. He’ll be working on his own projects. Because life is about motion. It’s about moving forward.

The Mulch Pile was the best story the writer I was could have written. And with that I am satisfied.

How about the rest of you? Ever have to let go of one story so that you could move on to another? Share your tale of abandonment in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

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.