Friday, November 7, 2008

"Do you remember that day?"

Stephen King once gave a lecture on writing, and someone was nice enough to put it up on Youtube for the rest of us. I watched a portion of it the other night, and he said something that stuck with me. I'm paraphrasing, but it was something to the effect of, "We all remember that first time, when we were reading something that had been published, and we went, 'Wow. That is truly awful...I can do better than that!'"

You know why that stuck with me? Because I can remember exactly where I was, and what I was reading. I had just finished two books I really liked, THE TWELFTH CARD and DECEPTION POINT. And then I read this third one, which I won't name, by a different author, who I won't name, and I thought, "Geez, this is from a NYT Bestseller? Hell, I can do better than that."

I know how arrogant that sounds. And I'm also smart enough to realize that I just finished my first novel while this writer is still hitting that NYT list consistently. Doesn't matter. I still think I can do better (although I've now realized that I couldn't do better my first time around...I think it's good, but I can do better than it, too).

So I guess my question to all of you is this:

1) If you're a writer, did you ever have that moment? I don't want you to name the book or author, but can you remember which specific book you were reading that made you say ,"Yep, I can do better"?

2) If you're a reader, have you ever hit one by a NYT Bestseller and thought, "Man, they mailed it in on that one"? Have you, even if you never intend to write anything, ever read a published novel from a respected and/or famous author and figured you could do better than that effort?

PS - Yes, I'm well aware that I am as yet unpublished, that someone will read this, then see my first published short story in Spinetingler and think, "Pfft, I could do better than that." And should I ever get a book deal, there will be aspiring writers out there who read it and think the same thing. I won't be upset or embarrassed. I'll just be excited to read what they have to write, because my thinking that is what finally got me to do it, and frankly I just think the world needs more good books.


R.J. Mangahas said...

First Jake, I wouldn't say you're unpublished. The short story counts.

As to your questions, you have to remember that the NYT list is subjective, just like any other review or list. Unfortunately, if it's in a big publication, your average reader will take it as gospel truth and not give a new author a chance.

The other down side of that to is that it also makes it hard for new authors to break through because the list always seems to be occupied by a few select individuals.

jnantz said...

I know what you mean. It will always be harder for new authors to break through those lists.

I guess my thing was more about the inspiration that gets people to finally do it. To just sit down and say, "I'm going to write this." Because for me, I never thought I'd be good enough. In fact, my high school 'writers' studio' teacher told me so. If I ever get a novel traditionally published, I'll have a signed copy waiting for her.

But that's the thing. For almost ten years I either wrote nothing or I started and never finished. I just figured it would never be good enough to publish. Then one summer I'm coaching at a local lacrosse camp at State, and I'm in the dorms reading this paperback by a NYT Bestseller, and thinking, "Geez, I can do better than this."

So I got home from the camp and started plotting it out, and now the first draft is done. We'll see where it goes from there.

R.J. Mangahas said...

If anything, Jake, when people tell me I can't do something, it only makes me work that much harder to prove them wrong.

jnantz said...

And I'm the same way, NOW. At the time, when I was in High School, I had a lot of respect for the opinions of my teachers. I was just getting interested in writing, and while part of me wanted to say FU to her, that nagging self-doubt kept saying, "Well, she would know if it was good enough."

Either way, time lost or not, I'm working on my writing career now, and I ain't stopping ever again.