Reading as a writer changes us, both as writers and readers. When I first started writing (but a decade before I was published), I would read and re-read my favorite author to try to get a feel for her rhythm in pacing, sentence length, paragraph length, and chapter length, but the reading and re-reading wasn't active enough, so I started typing out the first 3 chapters of her book to try to get a sense of her pacing at the opening of a novel. Since I'm a fast typist, I started to get an intuitive feel for her natural patterns. She was an historical writer, and at the time I thought that's where my interest lay, and it helped me in big ways and small. I still have a natural feel for chapter length, scene length, and how to start a book.
What I was doing wasn't mimicry, but more like a painter who learns the brush strokes and techniques of a master painter before s/he is ready to paint her/his own masterpiece.
When I went into my MFA program, we had to read and write a critical response on THREE books each month (for two years). At the time, I was so exhausted, I didn't see what I was learning until it was over, but it taught me to read critically and in such a way that it's hard to turn off. I honestly don't want to read every text critically. Sometimes, I want to shut off the writer-mode and enjoy a good book in the same way I enjoy Rom-Com and Action Adventure movies. I just want to enjoy them for what they are. They're not critically acclaimed think pieces, but they give me some much needed laughter and relief from life stresses.
Years after I started the writing process, I finally acknowledged that I wasn't an historical writer. I wanted to be, and I still enjoy reading them, but I don't have the right voice and tone for historical, and it took years of trial and error to find my true genre home. I still read widely, as I did when I worked for the library, in nearly every genre (except horror...because I would never sleep if I did). When I've gone through several disappointing "new" books, I often turn to my favorite authors and re-read novels that I enjoyed, but when I'm reading them for the second time, that little writer voice in my head comes out and starts intruding on my reading time. I catch myself mentally editing, or noticing that particular writer's tic. And it dampens my reading pleasure.
I've learned my writing craft--honed my writer's toolkit--by reading and re-reading books and passages, but when it comes time to simply read, I often have to find a new book so I can read purely for enjoyment. Eventually, I'll get around to thinking about the book as a writer, but sometimes, a writer simply needs to turn off the criticism and enjoy the book for what it is.
In what ways has reading as a writer changed you as a writer? As a reader? And is that a good thing, or bad?
Late post today as--after a full day of yucky chores getting the kids ready for back to school (what happened to starting after Labor Day?)--I headed to the gym. Not out of strong desire, but rather my son is on a M/W/F schedule, and I don't want to be "that mom" who drops and goes. So I go in. And if I go in, then I should probably, you know, work out.
Most of my life, I've had a love/hate relationship with running. I like it--after I've done it, but getting started is like pulling the cord on a lawnmower that's been sitting in the garage for 8 months. I know this about myself, so I always give myself a bailout. I start running, and after 15 minutes, if I really don't want to continue, I can bail. Typically, that 15 minutes is enough for some feel good hormones to kick in and I can finish the workout. I can't think of a single time when I started that 15 minutes and bailed, but that little white lie, "you can quit" gets me started every single time. I have to lie to myself for my own good.
Writing is often like that.
There are writing days when we really, really, really don't want to write. <fill in your favorite "reason" that today is a bad day to write>
Life puts demands on our time. Kids, family, day job, spouse, pets, and all we really want is a dose of Netflix and a glass of wine. When those days happen, I give myself the same bailout opportunity. IF I start writing, and after 15 minutes I still want to binge watch Dexter, fine. But I have to write for the full 15 minutes first. And like running, once I start writing, the endorphins kick in and I keep going. I just need to lie to myself to get started.
So when you have one of those days, <fill in your favorite "reason" that today is a bad day to write>, you only have to do one thing.
You guessed it. Lie. Tell yourself that you only have to write for 15 minutes today. I'm guessing that once you start, you won't want to quit after 15 minutes. :)
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.