Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reading As A Writer - When Did that Happen?

I suppose it was inevitable. You spend so much time learning a craft, refining, expanding, that at some point you must look for new and stronger teachers.

In my case, I've gone from my fledgling words, to on-line forums, to an in-life writing class (or two or three), to tentative chapter swaps, to full novel critiques, to beta reads from strangers and students. Years of this, in case you're wondering.

Then my book sold and I started working with my lovely editor. I hit the first round of revision with only a trowel. It was the wrong tool. I needed a full fledged shovel. I'm still in it. Digging, patching, replanting, but I'm finally getting to the place where the yard is less of a riddled dirtfest and more of a hint of a future show piece (or at least something the neighbors won't phone with complaints about.)

And the oddest thing has happened. I've lost the ability to simply read. Every book I pick up, I  now, consciously or subconsciously, dissect. In the case of a recent crime thriller, much lauded with splashy blurbs from media outlets tucked into a glossy frontispiece, I noted the kudos to the tricky plot. I figured out who dunnit the second time I met the killer. Is it because I'm "oh so smart?" No. I just recognized the tiny hints an author might put so when you get to the end you're not left saying "no way, there was nothing."

I've purposefully read looking for transition words. My characters tend to look and smile and glance and raise eyebrows and shrug and nod. As I've spent so many hours now between my pages, they're all looking funny to me. (see, I just used looking, how many times have I used looking, what should I use in its place, should I say appearing, or seeming, or GAH.....anyway, you get it.) It helps at times to see every author has their characters moving and talking and gesturing.

You might be thinking, "wow, bummer for you, no relaxing beach reads or getting lost in other worlds." Believe me, I've had the same thought. But my hope is, like taking a great class when you need it, this reader dissector I've become is only here temporarily soaking up what she needs from this teacher. While I need her. While I'm learning. Because once I'm back to a first, I got that. Bring on the gestures.

Do you ever find yourself reading as a writer?


  1. So true. I was talking to my CPs about this just the other day. I've been struggling to read because there's no more simple enjoyment of it. No more getting lost in the story...unless it is REALLY good. I hope it isn't permanent and I find a way to turn it off.

  2. Oh, God, yes. But I think you're right that it comes and goes. And some authors are so, so good at what they do that you can still melt into a story without any trouble at all. Maybe it's just that we can revert back to reading like "just another reader" fairly easily because we started out as readers long before we were writers.

  3. Oh, god, YES. It's awful to get into that hyper-focus mode sometimes, but I think you're right that it will come and go. And fortunately some authors are so good, you can just melt right into the story without tripping over all the tricks of the trade. And hopefully when we're not putting our own prose under a microscope we can revert back to being in "just another reader" mode fairly easily because we were readers first long before we were writers.

  4. Totally know what you mean by dissecting books. Until I'm really pulled into the story, I always do that. But it's worse with movies. I think my husband is growing weary of watching movies with me because I'm always saying things like "But he has o motivation to do that" or "That's a plot hole because of A and B that happened earlier."

    Good times.

  5. All the time. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes not. I definitely have a problem shutting it off. I even find myself doing it with television show plots! I find it hard to turn off, like learning a secret language or discovering a secret world and then trying to forget it. I think that's sometimes why I watch TV instead of read to unwind when I'm in the middle of a project - because I can shut that part of my mind down for awhile and just notice all the pretty people :D

  6. Totally happens way too often! I have a few stand-by books that I enjoy when it gets too bad, where I know the story will sweep me away. It's hard to turn off that internal editor! Lately, I find myself scouring text for "was" and other passive words. Ugh!

    Happy to hear things are getting patched up and pulled together with your revisions!

  7. I have read so many amazing young adult novels that now my patience for mediocre young adult novels is wearing thin. I don't always get down to the nitty gritty details, but I do jump all over tropes and cliches and characters who are too attractive or who fall in love too quickly.

    Like you, I'm hoping this will help me AVOID these mistakes at all costs. ;)

  8. Oh! Here I was, thinking I was the only one and I don't even have an agent yet.
    Just from revising my own ms and doing a rewrite that's taking me about a whole year now, I'm finding it hard to enjoy a book.
    I notice things that make me feel like I'm reading a manuscript and not a polished published book.
    I wonder though if there is a way to get over this stage.

  9. A lot! Just occupational hazard, I think. It hasn't spoiled reading, by any means. But it has changed it.


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