I’m a bad writer.
I don’t mean that I write badly. You can disagree, of course, but I don’t have any real doubts about my writing ability. My ability to string words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, is pretty reliable. I have weaknesses, but even in unfamiliar writing territory, I always believe that I can fight my way through and find the words I need.
No, I’m a bad writer because there are times when I’d rather let someone else do it.
It’s not that I want other writers to do my work for me. It’s that sometimes I get so sucked in by reading other people’s work in a book, or watching it performed that, frankly, I can’t pull myself out of their stories to write my own. And, this last week, with some of my favorite TV shows having their season finales–not to mention a new episode of my favorite show, NBC’s Chuck–I’ve gotten sucked into watching television while goofing off on Twitter rather than focusing on assembling paragraphs for your entertainment and edification.
But, by the end of the night, I’m regretting the loss of precious time and scolding myself like a dog caught with a stolen slipper. “Bad writer! Bad, bad writer! Look at all the time you wasted!”
Does this make me a bad writer? Or just a lazy one?
This is the question. Many of us started writing in the first place because we enjoyed reading so much and wanted to tell our own stories. Or we were so good at being persuasive we naturally segued into putting it on paper (or on computer screens). Or writing was a way to make a buck, and reading just became part of the preparation necessary to write a good article.
There are lots of reasons to spend some time with other people’s writing.
Education: You have to know the rules, and the fastest, most painless way to learn them is to see them in action. If you read advertently, you can not only pick up the rules of grammar, but also how a sentence should flow, when to use adjectives, which verbs are active and which are passive, how to end a chapter or a sales letter … you get the idea. Watching a master at work is almost as good as working yourself. When you pay attention, you can pick up all sorts of tips–even if what you’re watching is a light-hearted, spy-story television episode.
Inspiration: Reading good quality writing can only help improve yours, by making you aware of what is possible, so that you want to achieve that level too. When you surround yourself with things to aspire to, you naturally gravitate to that level. If you start eating at five-star restaurants, you’re going to be unsatisfied by throwing a piece of pizza in your microwave for dinner. If you see enough stunning, perfect photographs, you’re not going to be happy with your careless snapshots. If your neighbors all have perfect, beautiful yards, you’re going to want to do a little more than just keep your lawn kind of sort of mostly hacked down to pre-jungle heights. You don’t have to have Bill Gates’ bank account to appreciate the finer things in life … and, luckily, even the best writing is cheap to come by. It’s what they say that is priceless.
Relaxation: Sometimes, all you really want to do is relax. You don’t want to think about the work you need to do, or about deadlines, or how to make the best way to replant an African Violet sound interesting. You want someone else to do the heavy lifting for a change. Somebody else can provide the story and plot, depth and twists for a change. You just want to sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s no shame in this. Everyone deserves some R&R once in a while.
And while there are some books/movies/tv shows that are never going to wow you with their writing, there are many that WILL. And I’m not just talking about the elitist kinds that have the prestigious awards in their sights. Nobody ever said “quality” had to be boring. Or that “entertaining” had to be a waste of your time. If curling up with a romance novel or a silly television sitcom makes you happy, do it. Just remember that the ones that are really good are good because (1) the writing works for them and, (2) they know exactly who their audience is.
You can’t be a good writer if you can’t focus and write.
The trick, I keep telling myself, is that it’s fine to do this sort of goofing off once in a while, but it’s a bad, dangerous habit on a regular basis. The internet, especially, is a persuasive place and it can be a huge time-suck, distracting you in the most pleasant way possible from doing what you need to do.
So, having let myself be pulled completely out of focus the last few nights … Am I a bad writer?
Though, luckily, I can redeem myself in my own eyes by reclaiming my focus and … writing.
Isn’t that what YOU should be doing right now?