Musings, useful reposts, geeky things, and random scribblings from the mind of J. Mark Miller. (With an extra helping of all things Tolkien.)
Way back in my college days, during the semesters leading up to my wedding day, I worked as a telemarketer. I was one of those annoying people who called your home in the middle of dinner or your favorite prime time TV show and tried to persuade you to switch long distance services. (I know, we live in the modern smart phone era, and most people under 30 just asked, “Long distance service?”)
Later on, when we were married and out on our own, we would get those same annoying telemarketing calls. Before working the job, my gut reaction was probably the same as yours, to simply hang up. After working the job, I came to realize how hard a job it is, and that many of those folks are just trying to make ends meet like the rest of us. Maybe the telemarketer is saving up for their wedding day or honeymoon like I was. Maybe they’re paying their way through college. Perhaps it’s a single mom calling from her second job just so she can put some food on the table.
I began to feel a sense of obligation to listen to the telemarketer’s spiel, even if I knew my answer would be no. Then, I eventually realized I wasn’t doing them any favors. If I knew I would say no, then I was keeping them from moving on to another potential customer, so the polite thing to do would be to interrupt them as soon as they took a breath and say, “No thanks, I’m not interested.”
Over time, this sense of obligation faded, and now I’m back to the tried and true method of simply hanging up on them. Aren’t they still just doing their job? Sure, but I don’t feel like I’m obligated to give them the time of day. It’s nothing personal, it’s business.
Now, since I’ve striven to be more intentional about my writing, I’ve felt a different sense of obligation creeping in. What obligation is that? Giving an author whose writing isn’t working for me a chance.
A couple of years ago, I was reading through a highly acclaimed fantasy series written by one of the most respected authors in the genre. Each successive volume in the series was worse than the one before, and it was all I could do to keep slogging forward. Finally, after making it about halfway through the latest installment, I gave up. I couldn’t take it anymore, and no feeling of obligation to honor a highly decorated author could keep me from nearly flinging the book across the room. To be honest, I likely would have thrown it had I not been reading it on my Kindle at the time.
Fast forward to last week. I found myself reading the first volume of a highly touted, award-winning science fiction series, and I wasn’t enjoying myself. At first I thought maybe it was simply a tougher read than I was used to, but I soon realized that wasn’t the problem. The problem was it was one of the most poorly written things I’d read in a long while. Over 100 pages in and I kept asking myself, “How did this get published?” A buried plot, difficult sentence structure, factual errors, and a detestable main character all contributed to that “throw this across the room” feeling. (I was on my iPad by the way, so no books were harmed in the forming of this fit of exasperation.)
What was different this time around was my feeling of freedom. I no longer felt an obligation to give the author the benefit of the doubt and fight through all nine published volumes of the series. I calmly closed the file and deleted it from iBooks.
So why the long post about all this? Well, I guess the main reason was a bit of catharsis. Writing this out helps confirm my sense of freedom from the chains of obligation. In one sense, I admire this author for his success. He’s done something right to get published and remained published, not to mention getting listed on several fan-based “best of” lists. None of these are things I’ve done, yet I aspire to them.
It doesn’t mean I’m obligated to keep reading.