1. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    Ten books that aspiring writers should avoid

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Lazy, May 9, 2012.

    Courtesy of NPR: http://www.wbur.org/npr/150973750/from-kerouac-to-rand-harmful-reads-for-writers


    I saw this story a few weeks ago, when I first started reading On the Road and thought it was stupid, because everyone is influenced by what they like and they shouldn't be ashamed of that. But sure enough, a few days ago I found myself writing a short piece that was a complete rip-off the the style and substance of that book. And I don't even like the book that much.

    What do you guys think?
     
  2. simina
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    simina Senior Member

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    I think there might be a tiny sliver of truth to it, just because those books might have especially strong and distinct narrative voices, but I know that, personally, I have the tendency to be influenced to rip off any book that I've read and enjoyed. So basically, I find those listed books about as dangerous as any good book, and there are many good books.
     
  3. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    Well, here you can find the same author's list of ten novels every aspiring writer SHOULD read and his reasons. He believes they are inimitable.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's not really a good reason to avoid reading these books (or any book for that matter). Every writer's style has been influenced by that of several other writers. Sure, a writer just starting out may be inclined to imitate a certain style, but over time that writer will develop his or her own unique style.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If it inspires you and cause you to imitate them, there's probably something quite valuable you can learn there. As a new writer, you first have to copy - how else are you gonna learn? Copy for a while, sooner or later your own style comes back, with a little of the old style you imitated left and it colours your writing in a good way. Mix enough styles in there and there you have it, something new altogether! :D Steal what you can/want, and then deviate, that's my motto :p
     
  6. C.B Harrington
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    C.B Harrington Member

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    Finding your voice is not the same as finding your writing style. I believe your voice is intrinsic to you and doesn't change without internal development. Your style is something you pick up along the way to best express your voice. You can try on a jacket from Atlas Shrugged, or a hat from Lord of the Flies; the only thing it changes is the perception of your voice but it doesn't change the voice itself. Now, if Atlas Shrugged or Lord of the Flies affects you in some way, whether that's the plot, theme, characters, that causes you to redefine who you are and how you view things - and your voice changes because of that; well that's not a bad thing, that's the goal of literature and life. I'd say it's a pretty good thing.

    If something has the potential to sidetrack your writing, but pushes you to develop as a human being then I would suggest not avoiding it. All of those books have that potential.
     
  7. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    I think the writer's point was that too many people already imitate Lord of the Rings, The Catcher in the Rye, Atlas Shrugged, etc. If those books profoundly influence and change you, well fine... but then do we really need writing from you? There are a million authors that copy Tolkien. I'm a musician, writing is just a hobby for me. Specifically, I'm a guitar player. There are a million guitarists that imitate Hendrix, Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc. That doesn't mean I think an aspiring guitarist should AVOID listening to those players, just like I don't think an aspiring writer should avoid the books in the OP. I just think you should approach with caution, and broaden your horizons.

    Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde.

    edit: and of course: "A genius is the one most like himself." -Thelonious Monk.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem is that these novels break the usual guidelines of writing. New writers take this as a reason to chuck the rules to the wind, and therefore are sailing among jutting rocks with no rudder.

    Yes, the guidelines can be broken - IF you know what you are doing. The trouble is, every new writer is sure he or she can do anything, and if Kerouac did it, that means it's a great idea and innovative.

    The guidelines aren't there to tell you absolute no-nos. They exist to keep new writers to the trails they can handle, until they have the experience and wisdom to know when to break the rules, and exactly what the trade off is.

    I myself have frequently run up against "The Kerouac Defense" for poor writing habits. It's frustrating when you are trying to help new writers succeed.
     
  9. ITalkToTheWind
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    ITalkToTheWind New Member

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    This article tries to fix writing mistakes before they happen. Let the mistakes happen so they can be learned from.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A wise man learns from his mistakes.

    A wiser man learns from the mistakes of others.
     
  11. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    That is a great quote. Is it an original?
     
  12. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    I'm a big McCarthy fan, and actually have had conversations about how he can utterly destroy a young writer's style. The two McCarthy books I've read - No Country and Blood Meridian (which are, stylistically, about as polar opposite as can be) both changed my writing a lot, in both positive and negative ways. I think any young writer, after coming upon an established author they really like, will go through a period of trying to write exactly like him - I've consciously imitated Jose Saramago (bad idea; only Jose Saramago can pull off the weird grammar thing and not make a fool of himself), Roberto Bolano (he's probably my biggest influence, and I think I've learned quite a lot from him), Norman Mailer (dear God am I glad I got over that phase), David Foster Wallace (this is still kind of going on; it's problematic if you lack DFW's vocabulary, which most people do), and, as previously mentioned, Cormac McCarthy. I think the key for the young writer is to be able to go through these imitative phases, figure out what's to be gained from a particular style and what's not working, and figure out how to integrate the good parts into the greater stylistic whole while excising the bad.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's interesting to read the early work of some of the writers mentioned. James Joyce didn't start off his career by writing Ulysses; he wrote Dubliners first, which is a far less experimental book. You could make the argument that he could write Ulysses BECAUSE he could write Dubliners.

    A young writer should prove his mastery of basic techniques before he tries to bend rules and invent new techniques. That mastery of the basics will keep him from making an ass of himself when he ventures into lesser-known territory.
     
  14. The Magnan
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    The Magnan Active Member

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    Wise words indeed. Cog.

    You can only do better by realising your own mistakes and that of others and working to avoid them in the future, the first novel I worked on 'Circle of Life' was admittedly a massive mistake, it was awful to read, and horribly written by me. Bare in mind though I was around 12, maybe 13 so maybe I'm a bit harsh, but even though it may have been a mistake in some respects that test novel certainly lay the foundation for all my future projects, and characters. If you think these books will damage your hopes of being a writer, then truthfully that's a bit harsh, experimenting is a good thing, when done right, and executed correctly.


    (edit: Apologies, my quick typing means I'm prone to missing out words.)
     
  15. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    Personally, I only think a book is bad for someone if it influences them to have dumb opinions. If someone is an inexperienced writer, they're going to have flaws no matter what they read. The only way they can overcome these flaws is to write more, without exception. And besides, they're probably going to have to read Lord of the Flies in school anyway.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's incorrect to think of a book as being harmful to a developing writer. However, it is harmful if a writer chooses to model his or her writing off samples of writing way off the mainstream.

    The reason certain approaches are far off the mainstream is not because no one thought of them before. It's because the majority of the time, these approaches don't work.

    So perhaps we should instead encourage the study of such "renegade" novels in the context of their "outlaw" approach, as an illustration that unconventional writing can work, but never minimizing the drawbacks and risk of such techniques.
     
  17. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Not entirely true because:

    Lessons from your mistakes, you never forget.

    Lessons from others mistakes, you tend to forget.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Only if you aren't sufficiently wiser. :D
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The writer of the original article seems to have an agenda. He complains about several of the novels (Rand, Hemingway, Dos Passos) on political grounds. Why is he bothering to mention a writer's politics? Some of the others (Segal, McCarthy, Golding) he simply doesn't like because of their subject matter, I guess. All of that is simply a matter of opinion, and it may be opinion held only by him.
     
  20. C.B Harrington
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    C.B Harrington Member

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    It's like saying you shouldn't read Chaucer or Homer because you might start writing in long form poetry. You should still read them, and if you do have a long poem phase, hopefully it will be something you can talk about in an interview one day.
     
  21. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    That rings true somehow :( ..... nay :)
     
  22. ITalkToTheWind
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    Bleh! This "get wise" business..
     
  23. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I really don't think you should avoid any books as a developing writer. I would think you should devour as many as you can. I understand the thought behind it - that new writers will see something they like and emulate it - and that might be the case for some. But I would think that a good writer (even a developing one) can navigate their own path through these books and learn from the good and bad in them.
     
  24. mVd
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    mVd Member

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    I think The Lord of the Rings for example should not be on that list, as it is a great series of books for aspiring new writers. It can give ideas and help imagination grow to write something completely original. It does not necessarily mean new writers would copy it's styles or writing.
     
  25. Slappydappy
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    Atlas Shrugged should probably not be on there. Most people can't even finish it, and the ones that do probably regret it. There's also nothing different about it, in terms of structure or writing style, unless you count Ayn Rand's speeches during the book, and the ridiculous life POV it suggests. But a lot of novels do this. Atlas Shrugged didn't feel any different, but a tad more ridiculous.
     

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