Although I get a much stronger charge out of reading great writing, I have to admit that I get a little boost out of reading bad writing too — that is, bad writing that’s made its way into print by a major publisher.
Now, I’m not going to name any names, because again, this is subjective, but just about every writer has had the experience of reading something and at some point along the way (because often you don’t even manage to finish it) you say to yourself, “How did that get published?”
And you think to yourself, “Hey, if someone was willing to publish that, then I can certainly do it too.”
If you’re always comparing yourself to the masters, and you become aware of how big the gulf is between your level of craft and theirs, it’s easy to get discouraged. But when you realize that the bar to getting published — and even getting widely read — is not that high, it can help sustain you during those discouraging moments. It doesn’t even have to be bad. Mediocre is probably a better word.
So don’t throw that bad novel in the garbage. Keep it. And when you’re feeling discouraged, pull it out and remind yourself that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.
The caveat, of course, is to make sure you’re still reaching for greatness.