One of the things no one tells you about becoming a writer is this: Writing changes your reading. It changes the way you read, how much you read, and your enjoyment of what you read. For someone like me, who has always loved to read, some of the changes have been shocking. And a little dismaying.
Oh, I still love to read, but I have to be much more careful now to separate my reader self from my author self. Otherwise, the two get hopelessly tangled and reading becomes an extension of work. And once that happens, the fun is gone. It’s like being back in school again and watching my love of reading get squashed under books I hated and book reports.
To avoid this, I’ve recognized a few of the changes and worked to avoid/deal with them. Here are some of my new “issues” with reading as a writer.
Your reading restricts itself to one genre.
While there’s nothing wrong with reading a ton in a specific genre, it can become problematic if you’re not used to it. Here’s what happened to me: I used to read a little of everything. I can’t even say I had a strong preference for one genre over another. But once I signed on as a YA author, I started reading more and more YA, and leaving everything else behind. There simply isn’t enough time to read all that you “need to,” so your “want to” books take a backseat.
Whatever genre you write, the need to stay abreast of developments in your field starts to dictate your reading choices. You want to know who’s writing what, what the trends are in your genre, and whether there’s an area you can slot into. While this isn’t terrible, it can be a bit surprising to find yourself passing up other books in order to read more in your chosen genre. And the old saying, “Too much of a good thing” is true. It’s entirely possible to get so sick of your genre that you neither want to read nor write it anymore.
I have to consciously force myself to step away from the YA at times and read other things I enjoy. There are lessons to be learned from those books, as well, so neglecting them is not only bad for my reading health, but also my writing health. Variety is the spice of life!
It’s harder to just enjoy a story.
When you’re reading, it’s too easy to obsess over plot holes, Mary Sue’s, and deus et machinas. Any typos, grammar issues, or discrepancies make you nuts. If you’re not obsessing over mistakes, you’re dissecting how the author made such great characters, or drew all the plot lines together at the end. As a result, it’s harder to just sit back and go along for the ride. Some of the enjoyment gets lost.
There are times when I want to learn from a book, however. In those cases, I try to shelve all of my author issues until I’ve finished the first read. Then, if there are things I want to pick apart, I read the book again with my author hat on. If I’m successful (which I’m not always), I get the fun of reading the book the first time and the educational value on the second pass.
Sometimes you just don’t wanna.
As a writer, you spend whole days with words. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is read more of them. No matter how good the story, there are days when you just want to play a video game, watch TV, put together a Lego model, or engage in anything other than reading yet more words.
It’s kind of sad when your formerly first choice leisure activity slides down the scale to second or third. There’s no real cure for this. You just have to wait for the reading slump to pass.
We see the tricks.
In most mysteries and thrillers these days, I know whodunnit long before the end. I can see the foreshadowing of certain plot events. The twist ending isn’t a twist because I saw it coming. Very few things are surprising anymore. And that’s a bummer.
When you read as a reader, you still believe in the magic. You don’t see the puppet master behind the scenes controlling the action. But as an author, you see it all. As a result, some of the enjoyment of reading is lost. It’s hard to enjoy a story when you see the ending coming, or the spoilers appear on page five, if you know how to look for them.
Reading can damage your self esteem.
Reading as a reader is fun. Sure, you may not like everything you read, but you quickly put it aside and move on. But once you’re a writer, hoo boy. Reading can be a direct assault on your self esteem.
Either you’re jealous that an author wrote such an amazing book, or you’re wondering how the crappiest of crap got published by a major house while your stuff gets ignored. Either emotion isn’t good for you and both suck the joy out of reading.
It’s hard to read as an author and not feel like you suck in ten different directions, but you just have to try to shelve the bitterness and jealousy and think about the positives. “Hey, if that crap got published, surely I’m in with a chance!”
Writing and reading can work very well together, but there are also times when they do not mix. At all. And that’s one of the things no one warns you about when you make the decision to move from reader to writer. Now you’ve been warned. Prepare yourself!
(Photo courtesy of ThoughtCatalog)