Sunday, January 13, 2013
How Reading as a Writer Is Different
Posted by Jeffe Kennedy
I feel this way about books - can't wait to get them and then I chew them up.
With a book I love, I savor every bite, swallowing it down and carrying that warm, full feeling. Other books, I just chew and chew, masticating over why I don't like them - why some aspect is failing to work for me.
It's a curse, I tell you.
This week's topic (suggested by one of my bordello mates, though a trigger one for me) is Reading Books as Writers: Do you read differently & close-reading techniques. See, I've always been a close reader. I'm blessed with an ability to concentrate that lets me shut out the rest of the world to focus on only what I'm doing and nothing else. This is a trait that annoyed my mother no end when I was a kid. But, over the course of my life, it's turned out to be a useful quality. My superpower, if you will. Hey, I can't rescue schoolchildren from perilously perched buses, but I test well.
So, I'm one of those readers who pays a lot of attention. My early academic training has me following themes and symbolism, enjoying the layers the author weaves in. I love a puzzle of a story, assembling the various clues and inconsistencies. Unreliable narrators rock my little reader world. Nothing better than a writer who leaves a trail of bread crumbs and delivers a loaf of bread at the end.
However, this means I notice inconsistencies, too. When I was twelve, I made a list of mistakes and slips in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. I had this whole plan to send her a helpful letter, pointing them out. Now I'm glad I never did. Back then I didn't know they'd only annoy her, as writers have no way to fix published books.
I think this also makes me a good critique partner - or a really annoying one.
But, to answer the question of whether I read differently as a writer?
Yes. Yes, I do. And let me tell you - it's kind of a bummer.
So much of my mind now is geared to process the craft of writing, from point-of-view changes to scene structure to word choice to character arc, that I can't seem to entirely turn it off. Gone are the days when I could just enjoy a book for what it was. I'm always making mental notes, the critique part of my mind making little pencil-on-paper noises even after I've told it to shut up. I can kind of turn-it down, but if I start to wonder why something isn't working for me, that part of my brain promptly provides a list.
On the flip side, if I find a book that really does work for me, I am over the moon.
Still, there's one more aspect of being a writer that I believe may have forever diminished my joy in reading. It's a dirty little secret of fiction-writing that no author I've seen confesses to.
(Or, it's entirely possible that it's just me and now everyone will point and laugh.)
See, now that I'm writing my own stories - the ones like the kind I best loved to read - it's really super fun. Way more fun than I ever suspected it would be. It wasn't like this when I wrote nonfiction. But when I write a fiction piece, I get all wrapped up in the world and characters in the exact same way I used to as a reader. It's all the same transportive wonder and thrill - ONLY BETTER.
Yeah, that's right.
It's like I've found the über-drug and now nothing else gets me quite as high. Oh, I'll dabble in the others, especially for the social aspect. But when I need to mainline, I know where to find it.
Just leave me in my corner and walk away quietly.
Nothing to see here, folks.