On Reading Texts that Annoy You

When I first started taking writing classes, I was shocked that my professors allowed us to express our appreciation for or hatred of a text. In my high school English Literature classes, I could never say that I didn’t like Moby Dick, even though I was thinking it. Then, liking or not liking a text was besides the point.

I had a feeling that my students would hate the excerpt from The Anthropology of Turquoise that I assigned for Tuesday’s class, and I was right – I’ve already received some reading responses that made it clear.

When I first started taking writing classes in college, I was shocked that my professors actually encouraged us to express our appreciation for or hatred of a text. In my high school English Literature classes, I could never say that I didn’t like Moby Dick, even though I was definitely thinking it. In high school, liking or not liking a text was besides the point.

In a good writing class, the teacher will stress that your aversion to a text can actually be instructive. The fact that you don’t like something can teach you about your own writing style. But it’s important to ask yourself WHY you don’t like something.

After reading The Anthropology of Turquoise excerpt, most students didn’t like it because they found it wordy, self-involved, and plotless. The voice is tedious.

In some ways, Ellen Meloy, the writer, handles description well – she avoids cliche by describing color in unique ways: she uses all her senses to describe something we can only see. In other way, Meloy fails; her writing depends so much on description that it can be hard to follow.

Many beginning writers get so caught up with the new-found thing called description or sensory imagery that they lose themselves in it, sacrificing an actual narrative for the sake of vivid language.

I was definitely guilty of that when I first started writing. I was so impressed with my ability to write a simile or metaphor that I neglected the fact that my story or poem had absolutely no point. My mom would always say, “Laryssa, your writing is beautiful, but it’s really hard to read.” Eventually, I realized that she was right.

I hope that, by reading something that annoys them, my students will realize how much they might be annoying their readers when they spend too much time describing something. In real life, aren’t we most annoyed by people who are somehow like us? Perhaps the fact that you hate something says more about yourself and what you need to change.

So, hate something you read. Read it again. Ask yourself why you hate it. Don’t repeat that writer’s mistakes. Realize that your preferences inform your writing style and reflect more on you than they do on the text.

(Photo by purplbutrfly)

2 thoughts on “On Reading Texts that Annoy You”

  1. I know that this is a main reason why I hate reading something. Description is over played by a lot of published authors. I prefer a minimalist set up in regards to settings and appearances, in favor of depth of character and somewhat more detailed descriptions of mood. They way things look, I think is one of the first things people create in their mind when they read a book. If there are pages upon pages dedicated to how a castle looks, you take that away from a reader, and they get distracted from your story, if there is one. At least I myself feel that way.

    I have taken note over the years of writing that I don’t like, and I have to conclude this is one of the biggest reasons. I am a minimalist when writing about settings and appearances in my fiction.

  2. You can learn a lot, I think, from a bad piece of writing. My comp classes are assigned *My Freshman Year* this semester, a book I didn’t much care for. But I’m really looking forward to teaching it!

    In my creative writing classes, we look at an old student-written story that scraped by with a c-. Most current students like it, until I point out the bad paragraphing, the weird dialogue tags, over-description, etc….Then we can work on trying to make it better….

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