Bad Writing

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if someone discovered a sequel to a great American classic like Huckleberry Finn, that that would be big news? Turns out there is one. In fact there are two, Tom Sawyer Detective and Tom Sawyer in Europe.

I have them both, but I bought the only copies that I have ever seen in 30 years of collecting. They’re both out of print and ever so likely to remain so, because they’re just plain bad books. I should dig them up and go through them and cite some passages to document this point, but, honestly, there’s a limit.

Mark Twain, unarguably one of America’s greatest writers, and certainly her greatest lecturer, thought everybody was as fascinated with Tom Sawyer as he was. That’s why he put that long stupid part in Huck Finn where Jim has to write letters in blood before Tom and Huck can help him escape.

Twain (Samuel Clemens, that is) thought that stuff was a riot, but no one else that I know of ever has. The bit about getting other guys to paint the fence, that was funny, but that was about as far as it went.

Innocents Abroad and Roughing It, written about his own experience, were instant laugh-out-loud masterpieces, which I recommend without qualification as wonderful hilarious reads. But his fiction took some time to develop. In fact his first work of fiction, The Gilded Age, was a collaboration with William Dean Howells which doesn’t have much to recommend it, outside of its historical value.

My point is, great writers write terrible stuff sometimes, and that should be an inspiration for us all. A lot of people write some bad stuff and start to think they are bad writers, so instead of writing better stuff, they give up.

I say go ahead and write all the bad stuff and then you’ll start seeing some really good stuff, or at least something that you like, and if you like it, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.