Sunday afternoon, I started reading a new book. It was one I picked up in the children’s section at a library recently, and was based on the true story of a girl who was captured by Indians in the 1700s and chose to stay with them when given the chance to return to her original life. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find my new favorite book, but it sounded interesting.
The introduction that gave some historical background was fine. But I only got three pages into the story before commenting to my mom about how badly written it was.
The book read like a middle school-aged kid’s homework assignment to write a story about a person they learned about in their history class. Maybe one that had been carefully edited by a grownup for grammar and such things, but still.
“The main character did this thing. When she was done, she also did this other thing. It was hard, because she felt sad.”
That’s… basically how the whole thing went. It was painful. There was zero emotion. You never once got into any character’s head at all or cared about what happened.
I suppose the publisher thought this was acceptable because it was educational and just for children? It was educational. I did learn some things. But all this does is teach kids that books and history and stories are super boring, which is a terrible message.
And people are getting paid for this?
Sunday night, I started reading the last chapter of a fan fiction. It was written using characters from the TV show Voltron, which IMDb summarizes as, “Five teenagers become the last line of defense for the galaxy in an intergalactic battle against the evil alien force led by King Zarkon.”
I have never actually watched this show, but a friend has told me lots about it and showed me two or three scattered episodes, so I have absorbed enough to be familiar with the main characters and interested in them. I suppose I’m a secondhand fan. So when said friend was exclaiming over this fan fiction, I was game to read it. And the main attraction was the last chapter, where the leader of the team had to rescue his crew after a spaceship crash.
Every. single. sentence. contained more emotion than the entire book I skimmed through earlier in the day. Every. one.
Sure, some of the prose could have been smoothed out, but it was all fixable stuff. The story structure was good. And I absolutely cared. A lot. I’m still processing some of the emotion from that story.
I couldn’t help comparing the two reading experiences. Having something published seems like the Ultimate Success for a writer. And it is a success. But it is not necessarily an accurate measurement of how skilled a writer you are.
Sometimes absolutely terrible books are published. Someone gets to see their book in print and get paid and receive recognition that they don’t deserve. Meanwhile, others write beautiful, moving stories that will never be read by more than a few people.
It’s not fair. But to those of us writers who have yet to publish anything, it can also look like hope.
Don’t let publication or lack thereof define your value as a writer.