I Smell a Learning Opportunity

This is the most bullshit you'll probably ever see in one place. Impressive, no?

This week’s question was tough to tackle. My first response was kind of a bullshit answer. I’m going to share it with you anyway.

Bad writers teach me so much about what not to do. I’ve learned about awful dialogue, poor story arcs, ugly sentence structure, and shoddy character development. On the other hand, good writing disappears, and I’m so invested in the story that I don’t even notice the writing itself.

But like I said, that’s the bullshit answer. I’ve learned plenty from some of my favorite authors.

From Maggie Stiefvater, I learned that I will never be able to write prose that’s so beautiful the sentences dance across the page like a…well, like a beautiful dancing something that I don’t have the ability to write.

From Laurell K. Hamilton, I learned that sometimes a series can go on too long. I love the Anita Blake books. I truly do. Urban fantasy wasn’t really its own genre until those books started coming out. I waited impatiently for each new book to come out. Over the years, I was less impatient. And then I missed one. Next thing I knew, I was behind by three or four books. Why?

I don’t think the quality of the books went downhill. I think it has more to do with the never-ending story arc. When a series becomes more like a television show that’s renewed a few too many seasons, I find myself not as concerned about the fate of the characters. Know when to call it quits.

Theodore Geisel taught me that words can be fun and colorful and amusing, but beneath all the rhymes and humor, they can still contain strong emotions, hidden meanings, intricate patterns, and life lessons. I think, in many ways, Dr. Seuss taught me more than any other writer. Most of what I write is ridiculous and silly on the surface, with an attempt at telling a more emotional story underneath it all.

From Robert Heinlein, I learned that there are rules. Rules like “you can’t go back in time and kill your own father before you were conceived.” And more importantly, he taught me that if you’re good, I mean really good, you can flip the bird at the rules and write whatever you damn well please. First, though, you have to think it all through. You can’t break rules until you understand the rules.

Maybe these are all bullshit answers that dodge the original question. So, here’s the short answer, bullshit free:

Pay attention to what you’re reading. Everything, whether it’s from a beginner or a master, someone you admire or someone who leaves you cold has the potential to teach something.

In life, we are shaped by our experiences, both good and bad.

In writing, our work should grow from what we’ve learned from other writers.

Both good and bad.

Rachel is the author of the urban fantasy Monster Haven series from Carina Press. She believes in magic, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks, and putting things off until stress gets them done faster at the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas.


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