Evil Monkey Helps Me Understand

You may have noticed that I called this blog “Writing Every Day,” but you could be forgiven for thinking what I really mean is “Reading Every Day.” Now that I’m about halfway through trying to blog every day for a month, I’m starting to wonder exactly I’m doing. While mostly I’ve been sharing my reading notes, I’m not writing reviews, just examining my own reactions to stories. So how is this about writing?

Well, it’s definitely part of Jeff Vandemeer’s Evil Monkey’s Guide to Creative Writing: Tips for Beginners, in particular Rules 3 & 4.

“(3)Reach your own opinions about books.”

I’m used to being in the minority when it comes to what I think. There’s a lot of stuff out there that you get the impression that you’ve supposed to like, but too often I don’t understand it, shrug at it, or just plain hate it. Which leads to Rule 4.

“(4)Read books you don’t like.”

This is easy. If you read a lot (and if you want to write you must read a lot), there’s going to be books you don’t like in the stack. Over time, I’ve read and finished plenty of books I didn’t care for, many of them nominees and award-winners. That doesn’t mean they were bad books; they just didn’t do it for me.

It’s not hard to work out why, when you don’t like something. Bad writing is a major culprit. Stupid plots. Flat characters. Whatever prejudice you happen to hold against something. (Like vampires.) But even a book you hate has something somebody loved. Ambitious writing that fails to actually tell a story. Cool ideas. A setting that people love to revisit. Even vampires.

It’s much harder to understand why you love something. It happens so rarely, you don’t get much practice at analysis. Instead you bask in the haze of gratitude for such a wonderful story. You get lost in the word music, or fall in love with the characters, or get ensnared by the plot. How do they do that?

That’s what I want to know.

Tomorrow: I form my own opinions about some Nebula-nominated stories.