07/30/2010 02:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: Inspired by Bad Writing

A student asked me the other day if I ever come across writing that is so good it makes me want to put down my pen. I laughed, because this happens to me on a regular basis. It happens to every single writer I know on a regular basis, as well. Very good writing is just one of those things that can shake you to your core -- but, of course, it's also one of those things that inspires you to want to write in the first place because something about being moved by a story feels akin to magic, or maybe it's grace.

After I laughed, I made a joke. I said, "What I do when that happens is try to go out right away and find a writer who is way worse than I am." Everyone cracked up -- but the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that it actually works.

Lots of people want to be writers. Not so many of them want to do the hard work of actually writing. Theirs is the kind of work I would deem to be worse than mine. It's not that these people have an inherent lack of talent, but they haven't taken the time to figure out the craft. When probed, it turns out that they don't really like to read, haven't read a piece of fiction since college, don't care to interact with other writers, don't really want to be bothered to understand what, exactly, "show, don't tell" means on the page. They just want to snap their fingers and have a best-selller.

When I come across work like this, I'm inspired to pick up my pen and put some more distance between us.