Software engineers have a term for this phenomenon: Garbage in, garbage out. You can't expect good results from bad inputs.
When I was young, I read everything—cereal boxes, all the magazines my parents got, all sorts of books, good, bad, and indifferent from the library. I also watched plenty of after-school and Saturday morning TV and saw the "Winston takes good like a cigarette should" advertisement often.
Every time I see a published book that uses "like" as a conjunction instead of "as," I wonder whether it's the fault of that Winston commercial. How could a copyeditor overlook such an error unless she has heard incorrect language so often that her brain no longer notes it as wrong?
Similarly, Every Day Fiction recently ran a short story in which the writer broke every rule of good writing, to laugh-out-loud effect. (See "The Most Epicly Awesomest Story! Ever!!" by Randy Henderson.) It was epically, awesomely awful....yet the comments suggest that a few readers didn't notice it was horribly written. Again, I wondered whether the amount of bad writing people are exposed to constantly on television, in ads, in books rushed too quickly to print, and in books put out by publishers who no longer use copyeditors has dulled people's ability to tell good writing from bad.
Since I've been a writer, I'm much more careful about what I expose my brain to. Garbage in, garbage out: I don't want to subconsciously adopt grammar errors, word use errors, logic errors, structure errors, or any other writing error and then reproduce them in my own stories and books. I don't read things that are badly written or badly argued or badly structured unless I want to analyze how they went wrong. If the description of a self-published book is poorly organized or contains two or more grammar or spelling mistakes, I don't buy it, assuming the text will be just as grating to read. I watch few TV shows or movies and generally limit myself to high-quality ones.
The result, I hope, will be that my writing will be in the mode of the best writing being done, unpolluted by bad habits picked up from bad writing.
What's your take? Am I overcautious, or am I on the right track? How do you avoid being influenced by bad writers?
Thanks for coming by. I'll be blogging again at NovelSpaces on June 5.