I keep reading.
You read that right. If I don’t like a book, I keep reading. Partially out of the hope that it will get better, and partially out of the writing sessions I can learn from it.
Most people will tell you to take a book you like and dissect it. Find out what works and why. This is great advice, but honestly, I don’t want to ruin a book I actually enjoy by ripping it to shreds. I’m way too picky a reader anyway, and if I find something I fall in love with, I don’t want to kill it. (Some people might disagree with me on this point, but that’s what the comment section is for!)
I’d rather do this with books I don’t like. Learn from the mistakes that [I think] the author made. I just read two books back to back that I wasn’t crazy about. This article puts the problem with the first book nicely: “sweet heroine, dull plot” (http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-search-for-wondla/). The characters were cute and all, but the plot was just boring, to be honest. There were so many unnecessary events that seemed to be in the book just to make it longer.
How does this apply to my writing, you ask?
Well, the first full-length MG book I wrote had pages requested by two different agents after a pitch session at the FWA Conference. I was thrilled, but the book wasn’t ready. I sent them anyway, because I was naive and way too giddy, hoping they wouldn’t notice the rambling of my narrator or the fact that my story was a little too…fluffy.
If you guessed that my pages were rejected, you guessed right.
Of course I was devastated. I couldn’t understand why my book, my baby, wasn’t good enough for them. And then I read these WONDERFUL books by Larry Brooks called Story Engineering and Story Physics that basically changed the entire way I write. I quickly realized my book didn’t have a clear sense of direction. The characters were charming, the fantasy world believable, but the plot was…meh. It needed work. It needed to be tightened up, molded, revised, and reshaped in a way that would make the reader longing for more, not longing for it to be over.
Then I read two published books with moderately dull plots that made me so thankful for the “no thank you” I received from my two potential agents. Reading a book with the same problem my book was having helped me in a way no well-written book could.
So when you’re reading a book you just can’t wait to put down, push through. Think of what is wrong with it, and how you can use it to sharpen your work in progress. And then, maybe it won’t feel like a waste of time.