Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Reading as a Writer Is Different

This is our younger cat, Jackson, chewing on my wind chimes. You'll note the lengths he went to, to get to them.

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.

No, really.

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.

It's something.

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 ├╝ber-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. 

17 comments:

  1. OMG, sometimes I swear you're reading my mind, only you say it all so much better! Enjoyed the post as always...

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    1. It's that little camera I link to on your computer, Veronica. ;-)

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  2. This. Absolutely.

    I devour books I fall in love with, and stop reading more books than I've ever done in my lifetime. All because I'm a writer.

    It's definitely a curse. Gone are the days when I'm easily pleased... well, maybe *she says distracted by shiny things* ;)

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    1. lol - totally agree on the stop reading. I DNF more than I don't.

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  3. Jackson told Meankitty he wants to be in the gallery, btw. And I have done this same thing with most movies and TV shows as well as the books, crankily analyze the themes, plots, narratives, characterization, and so on, no matter how hard I try to relax and enjoy. Well, the "cranky" part is all me :).

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    1. I can turn it off more with movies - though I'll sometimes get fixated on character arc and complain, which no one else cares about.

      Jackson can be in the gallery!

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  4. I read a lot outside of the genre I write in and that stifles my inner-critic to some extent. And YES to the writer high!

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    1. Reading outside the genre does help, doesn't it? I might have to just do that more often.

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  5. Jeffe, you totally nailed this. I feel *EXACTLY* the same way. I can't tell you how many books I've started reading and never finished due to incessant mental editing. I read a whopping THREE books in 2012 (which is an improvement from the TWO I finished in 2011). I no longer enjoy books because I see everything that's wrong with them. It really is a curse, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who suffers from this terrible disease.

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    1. it IS a curse - I miss just having a fun read!

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  6. Yep. I can't turn off the internal editor. But my biggest fear is this: I'm afraid I'll subconsciously or even consciously copy another author's style. I've already started personifying body parts like Kendall Grey. (She does it better.) Musicians call it influence. Do that work for writers too?

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    1. Hey - if the musicians can do it, we can, too!

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  7. I have just written my first book and am working on revisions, not even sure it will ever see the light of day. So I am in no way where you are, but I feel the same way. It is so nice to know that it's not just me! I have had such a difficult time reading for fun since I started my project, I never would have guessed this would happen. A sad thing, but on the other hand I am having so much fun and becoming to engrossed with my project that I don't mind (too much).

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    1. It's a trade-off, Lexi - the fun of writing is totally worth it!

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  8. As a reader, I never thought about these things. I am not one that gets too deep (understand symbolism, etc). I take the words for what they are. I think that is why I never joined book clubs. I don't want to talk about that stuff - I just want to say things like, "Can you believe X slept with someone else? They were not on break like he thought!" However, in the past six months or so I have been asked several times to be a beta reader. I like that since they want me to read their book as a reader and let them know if something doesn't make sense. I tend to find the little things that most copy editors find or little things that bug me. For example, when a hero starts doing something to a heroine that can only be done while naked, yet the author never mentioned they took off an article of clothing. I know some things can be understood, but that is part of the scene that I felt would be missing. I can understand a little how it would be difficult for you guys to read without having that eye for critique. I love hearing about what you guys all go through. Makes me as a reader more appreciative for what you guys do.

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    1. Either that or we just whine a lot! ;-) And yes - that's what I totally miss, being able to take a book for what it is. There's a special joy in that.

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