Friday, January 18, 2013

The Curse of the Professional

Any time you become a professional at something, your perception of that something is forever and unutterably altered. The something you once enjoyed as an amateur is now your job - you've staked your financial solvency on mastering your particular something. Therefore, in the pursuit of your ten thousand hours, if you buy author Malcolm Gladwell's assertion that any task requires that much practice to produce mastery, you analyze. You analyze others. You analyze yourself. And the pasttime that once gave you so much enjoyment and relaxation is now work. Hard work.

Thus it is with reading fiction for me. Movies, TV shows, and plays are the same. This is because I'm a slow learner, you see. I went to acting school, thereby destroying my ability to get lost in a show of any kind, ever again. Except Cirque du Soleil. No hope I could do what those performers do. So I'm free to sit back and be carried away by the show.

For the longest time, I wrote stories without sacrificing my ability to get lost in someone else's prose. In fact, thinking back, it wasn't until I was writing to deadlines that I realized I HAD to stop reading fiction while I was drafting. If I didn't, I ended up sounding like whoever I was reading. Not good. It was also about that time that I realized that *while* I was in the middle of reading a novel, everything was fine. But after I closed the back cover? All hell would break loose in my head. Analyzing. Re-analyzing. Comparing how the author I'd just read handled x issue to how I dealt with a similiar issue in my work. Depending on where I was in the process of getting a WIP on paper, someone else's novel (particularly really good ones) could paralyze me for days and days, because just look at how fabulous the story is! I could never do that well! Why can't I write like that? Waa, waa, waa.

So I stopped. No more fiction while I'm drafting. I'm too neurotic and fragile while getting down the bones of a story. Don't like it, but there it is. I'm trying to deal with what is. And, frankly, I can't afford a few days of second-guessing paralysis. So I reserve all of the tasty novels I want to devour for rewriting, editing, and copy-editing times. While I'm drafting, I read science. It's not news to anyone here that I have a potentially unhealthy addiction to science-y nonfiction. Hard science, psychology, sociology - it's all interesting to me. It's all interesting because it's all potential story fodder. Which is, yes, an admission that I've changed how I read those books, too, I guess. I take notes. I underline. I dog-ear pages. Put down the pitchfork. I only do that to books I own. And now that we're talking about Kindle editions, I'm satisfied with bookmarks and digital underlines. Anything so I can find the tidbits that piqued my storybrain's interest.

Thing is, even though I'm underlining and bookmarking, I'm at my ease reading these books. I get sucked in and pulled along until a bit of information or an idea arrests me - but even that's vastly enjoyable. I'm relaxed. I'm happy. And I feel like I might be learning something worth knowing. Sure. Occassionally, I hit upon a 'science' book that is unintentionally comedic because of the sensationalist tone or the plainly bad science. The book upon which "The Day After Tomorrow" was based leaps to mind...

When I'm done with my rough draft, out come the novels. I fill up on other people's words and characters and plots. For some reason, once I'm rewriting, I'm far less prone to second-guessing. I might still lament that I'll never write as beautifully as some of my favorite authors, but at least I'm not paralyzed with self-doubt. Usually.

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