It's such a weird mixture of relief and angst when it's out of my hands. But the positive is that I'm now able to reclaim the parts of my life I've been neglecting in order to make my deadline. Like blogging!
(Thank you all for the comments on my last post btw. My wife was duly humbled by your kind words, and I'm slowly working my way around repay each of you with a comment in kind.)
Should We Aim to Write Above the Reading Standard?
I posted a couple of weeks ago about the somewhat fallible notion of "good writing". I related it to the subjective line between a good house and a good home, saying, "The worth of a house is based upon function, form, location, etc. The worth of a home is based upon memories and feelings. Your house might be worth $150,000, but your home might very well be priceless. "
(Note: I don't quote myself out of hubris. It had just been so long ago since I'd posted that I had to go look it up to remember what I said. LOL)
Anyway, in that post I made a couple of offhanded references about the basic mechanics of "good writing", specifically calling out adverb spamming as a common stumbling block.
Well, you fine people took me to task in the comments (and in e-mails), pointing out that the presence of an adverb will not destroy a story. I actually agreed with you in the post, but didn't articulate it very well.
So I'm afraid I gave the wrong impression. To the extent they aren't related to style, I view things like adverbs, passive phrasing, repetitive word choices, etc. like mosquitos in our writing: They are inevitable, but we should kill as many of them as we can because they are at best a nuisance, and at worst a disease spreading menace.
Purely from a fundamentals standpoint, I've never read a perfect novel and I doubt I ever will. (God knows I'll never write one...) Furthermore, I can guarantee that a grammatically pristine read does not universally translate to a "good read".
But all of that being said, I had more than one person let me know of various bestselling books they've read recently that are riddled with things deemed to be mistakes or sloppy writing. They use adverbs in every other line, begin every third sentence with 'it', etc.
I've read them, too. And it's true that many of the foibles we fuss over in our critique circles the average reader could care less about. At least there's plenty of evidence to suggest that's the case.
But does that mean we shouldn't worry over them, either?
Not unlike other artists, I believe most writers hold their work to a higher standard than the general expectation. For most, there is a reading standard and a writing standard. Even though an average reader might not demand a certain level of word wielding acumen , we're going to try to achieve that anyway.
Claude Monet, the great French impressionist, once destroyed dozens of his (what would now be considered near-priceless) paintings because he didn't think they were fit for public viewing. Granted, he was going blind and severely depressed at the time, but there was clearly some level of motivation in him to achieve a standard that most people wouldn't even be able to discern.
Similarly, when I read Hugely Popular Novel X, and it isn't the most polished, it doesn't make me relax. I don't suddenly think, "Well, I don't have to worry about getting any better, because I'm already better than that guy, and the readers love him!"
It keeps me up at night. I worry about falling into a sense of complacency with my craft. My insides fester with the notion that yes, I'm getting some good reviews, but is my work really living up to my own standards?
That's not to say my writing sets some crazy high bar for writers everywhere. (ha) But I do work at trying to get better each time.
We live in an age--a beautiful age in my opinion--where authors are able to make their own decisions about when a work is fit for public consumption. But that freedom also comes with the burden of self-restraint.
We are truly the stewards of our craft, or at least more so than any generation of writers that has come before, and I believe we ought to struggle with that.
What about you? Are your reading and writing standards different? Have you read a successful novel that wouldn't live up to your own writing standards? How did it make you feel?