When I was at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference several years ago, I heard a couple of community college English teachers lamenting the effects of reading bad writing on their creative writing. They counseled me against teaching at that level. Right now I’m reading an awful book. Just awful. It’s a modeling memoir, and I’m reading it because I want to know what’s out there, and I want to be able to respond when an agent says, “Oh, there’s this other modeling memoir that just came out.” I’ve bought a few of these over the past several years and most of them I couldn’t stomach. I would read a chapter and then throw it away- literarally throw it away because I wanted it off my bookshelf and out of my house. I feel like I’m eating potato chips all day when I read stuff like that, and I hide it when I’m on BART because I don’t want people to think I actually LIKE reading stuff like this. (And if you’re thinking, “But wait. Didn’t you WRITE a modeling memoir? Yes, but I like to think that mine is more of a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the fashion industry and not modeling-centric.) But this time I’m sticking with it (and hoping it doesn’t have a negative effect on my writing) because I’m learning some lessons:
1) I’m learning the value of stating what seems obvious. This writer defines basic modeling terms and explains the details of daily modeling events that I think people really want to know. The writing isn’t good, but the informative details are. I’ll add more of those to my book.
2) I’m reminded on every page of what NOT to do in a book – pat character descriptions, meta-moments when she addresses the reader as “you,” and personal traits that make me want to smack her.
3) I’m reminded what traits make a character likable, make you want to root for her, and follow her for 300 pages: a strong will, strong convictions, a healthy self-esteem, and good moral judgment.
4) I’m reminded that trash like this gets published every day, so I shouldn’t give up anytime soon.