Alan Moore: "read terrible books"

Originally published at: Alan Moore: "read terrible books" | Boing Boing


This is my #1 advice to all of my mentees, expertise is pattern recognition of good and bad, and to paraphrase Tolstoy, good decisions are all alike, bad decisions are bad in their own way, so you learn more from studying bad decisions.

Two corollaries:

  • An expert is someone who knows why something is going to go wrong before everyone else.

  • Expertise helps you do the right thing by stopping you from doing the wrong thing. When an expert says, “I don’t think that’s right” they’re really saying “I don’t know what’s right but this is wrong.”




I love advice like this. 99% of the advice out there, on any topic, is the same old slop, rarely anything against the grain that makes sense.


So that’s why I can write books, I don’t read terrible books, if only I had known…


If you could read some of mine, then by Alan Moore’s advice you’d become a Nobel laureate in literature.

Joking aside though, I can see the logic in his advice. Rereading some of the cringe-worthy things I wrote when I was younger has probably improved my writing. It never occurred to me to seek out other people’s bad writing.


I commend you on the courage it takes to write, I have the courage but zero talent for it.


A good source of terrible books is Amazon Kindle Unlimited.


Even if you don’t subscribe to Unlimited, many authors (especially the new ones) will offer a Kindle book or two for free when they’re just starting out. While I’ve found some unexpected gems that way, I’ve also found a few books so incredibly horrendous that I could practically feel my neurons dying off as I read them. I know “everyone starts somewhere,” “everyone’s got a book inside them,” and I hesitate to be so unkind, but… yeah, there’s some truly awful stuff out there for Kindle.

(And no, I won’t name titles. I won’t subject fellow Happy Mutants to that kind of abject misery; those works do not deserve the eyeballs; and I point-blank refuse to give said writers even the illusion of encouragement.)


Very true. I’ve read plenty of books on Kindle “It’s like a free library but you pay $120 a year for it” Unlimited that were good, and even more awful ones. At least with the awful ones I just stop reading - I don’t have that sunk costs fallacy where I feel like I need to finish it because I paid good money for it.

Sometimes a book is so bad I’m stunned at both the awfulness of it, and more so by the 5 star reviews extolling the virtues of, all too often, a sloppy Marty Stu, with no consistency, pacing, character development, description of place or people, world building, anything of value.

And a hat tip to authors who are both, in the same book. Like the medievel fantasy I was readin, “This is pretty good. Why haven’t I heard of this author before?” And then the space traveling vampires and werewolves entered the picture…

(I could be mixing up books, the author I’m thinking of mixes genres within her books like a Sunday Brunch buffet made up of a weeks worth of restaurant leftovers, and then some.)


I’ve been reading foreign language books on it-- the usual “Serbian Magical Realism stories for the B1 learner”). (And of course, bedtime reading, which probably supplies a lot of content)


Starred not because I can relate, but out of admiration. I should take another run at reading books in Spanish, I started Don Qixote and never finished.

Regrettably I’m simply not at that level, I’m trying graded readers first. Writing an adult themed story using grade school vocabulary is hard. Currently just finishing up

which is kind of good for technical vocabulary, but it’s not fun to read. Kindle unlimited helps me constantly swap out books that I’ve finished on a reader’s high, books that simply aren’t interesting, and books that are still above my level.


Recently I have been trying to get my French to a useful level off and on. I still haven’t found good material at the right level. I am not quite ready for regular media, but it should be more challenging than Canadian junkyard pineapples.


It didn’t stop Ayn Rand and it needn’t stop you!


But it really should have!

Also, this apparently is finally the only reason in existence for anyone to read Collin Wilson’s Spiderworld novels, which are possibly the worst trash I’ve ever forced myself through. And he’s the guy who wrote “The Star Vampires”, a book so bad that the movie based on it was somehow an improvement despite the only redeeming part being Patrick Stewart doing a “Four Lights” scene before he was in Star Trek. (They could only afford him because they saved money by not giving Mathilda May a wardrobe for the movie.) It was bad. And somehow better than the book, which was incoherent, and tied itself up into so many impossible to resolve plot-holes that the end of it was literally “Space Cops show up out of nowhere and arrest the bad guys”. And that is still better than Spiderworld.


Came here for this. I guess someone has to provide the anti-patterns…not everyone can be The Bard.


Oh, I adore that movie for all its glorious 80s campiness. Does Colin Wilson have any good fiction? I’ve only read The Occult and I’m partway through Mysteries now. I’ve never looked into his fiction…

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Hey, if Papasan can write a terrible book that causes teenage boys and grown men with the minds of teenage boys to rabidly adopt and promote progressive values I am all for it. His sex scenes would have to be better than Ayn’s too! And they would be consensual!


I like to think that some part of talent is innate, but there is a part that is learned. If you really want to do it, keep at it. Alternatively, if you have ideas you really want to get out there, find a writing partner. What you think you lack could be made up for by someone else. Until you think you can claim the pen for yourself.