From a very early age we’re taught what qualifies as “good” art. There are lots of lists that make it easy to adopt this opinion. There are NYT Bestseller lists, Oprah book club lists, and the top 100 examples of Great American Literature. Even on plaques at museums you’ll see instructions for what you’re supposed to think is beautiful, and what you’re supposed to feel when looking at a painting.
I want you to know, today and for the rest of your life, that you’re allowed to disagree. Keep reading and learning until you find what works for YOU.
I’m not a big fan of Joseph Campbell anymore. I also don’t much care for Tolkien, Lovecraft, or Stephen King (with the exception of Wizards and Glass.) I don’t worship Steve Jobs, either. These are all popular names who have made widely celebrated contributions to their fields. It doesn’t mean I’m obligated to like them. It doesn’t mean we all have to emulate them.
That’s not the same as saying the suck and should never write again. There’s lots of room on the shelf for all of us, and tearing each other down benefits no one.
There is a plethora of advice out there about what constitutes good writing and bad writing. There are ‘good’ writers that will bore you, and ‘bad’ writers who reach into your soul and squeeze. It’s important to trust your gut on this. If someone suggests you read a wildly successful series, but you hate it, try to understand why. What are they doing well? What’s boring you? What is it missing? The same goes for the ‘bad’ book. What revelations are you getting from it? How does the author convey them? Were they ahead of their time, or did they write in such a way that they alienated most other readers?
If you think you can do better, you should definitely give it a shot.
Read broadly and incorporate what calls to you. Don’t feel hemmed in by what your writing is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be GOOD. What constitutes ‘good’ is all up to you.
“In a world of shit, my heroes are the people who choose to be just a little less shitty. Sir Galahad is dead. Good. Fuck him.”
— Richard Kadrey
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
— Steve Jobs