So I’d like to tell a story.
When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I made a (rather poor) attempt at writing my own novel. I made a ton of rookie mistakes. I started with the title, which is a bad idea, since the title should come later from the ideas explored within the book. I based the book on Dungeons and Dragons, which in itself works fine if you have ever read something like the Dragonlance Series, but I did a bad job with it. I was too focused on the way combat rules and specific spells worked in D&D, and it hampered my creative freedom. I had no idea for a plot when I started, and just sort of wrote randomly whatever came to mind.
Then I read “The Eye of the World,” by Robert Jordon. To this day I consider him (and his successor, Brandon Sanderson) to be among the best authors I’ve ever read. At the time, however, reading his book made me look at my own with disgust. I threw it in the garbage; to this day it’s the only piece of writing I’ve ever discarded instead of saving.
Now it’s more than sixteen years later. I’ve been studying writing at Rowan University, and I’m about to graduate this spring with a major in Writing Arts and a minor in Communication Studies. I’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing.” I keep a copy of Stunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” by my desk where I can always reach it. I’ve attempted at least half a dozen novels that stalled out by 50 to 100 pages, completed three that have a full first draft done, and my main project, “Manifestation,” is now on a third draft and I’m determined to publish it no matter what.
This week I started reading “A Memory of Light,” Robert Jordan’s final book (ghost-written by Brandon Sanderson from Jordon’s notes, after Jordon’s death). I started this series sixteen years ago. It’s the fourteenth book. I’ve been waiting half my life to read it.
And I’m not just reading it. I’m critiquing it.
I still don’t think my writing in on par with Jordon and Sanderson. Yet at the same time, I’ve developed a critical eye. The story is amazing, the world Jordon created is phenomenal, and the writing style is excellent… but not perfect.
When I threw out my first ever WIP, I thought my writing would never be that good. Today, I can’t read this book without analyzing what I’d do differently… yes, I’m reading a book by my idol, and in my mind I’m proposing changes. Minor ones, the sort I’d give to someone during a critique at a writing session. Nothing to change the overall course of the story. But there are still things I’d suggest he do differently, here and there. Sentence structure, punctuation, a few spots where the pacing could be adjusted. Minor things, but things I never would have seen sixteen years ago.
Somewhere along the way I turned from an appreciator of fine work to a critic of it. Which isn’t to say my analysis is critical in the negative sense of the word. I still think it’s amazing writing. But I’ve reached a point where I go beyond appreciating it, and see the flaws.
I imagine this is what most published writers do when they read the work of their peers. We learn by reading the work of others. We see what they have done, and consider whether we’d do it the same way. Some things I see in this book are giving me ideas to improve my own writing. Others are things I see and decide not to do. Either way, it’s a learning experience.
And learning is something I never want to stop doing.