Readers and Writers

After the recent resurgence of a topic that’s nearly two years old – but never out of date because Candy’s entry on that topic of writers vs. reviewers is damntasticly and fabulous – I had a similar question: if you’re a writer of fiction, does it lessen your enjoyment of fiction when you read it? Can writers read and lose themselves in a book or do technical details distract from the enjoyment?

Reading with the intention to review has certainly altered the way I read, from the mechanical element wherein I mark pages or write notes to myself in the margin, to the thought process wherein I am constantly evaluating what is working and what isn’t. Suddenly I’m disappointed by a decision the character made – before reviewing, I’d probably think little of it, but now that I put myself to the task of explaining why I’m disappointed, I pay more attention to the narrative, and the skills used to develop it. But overall, I still dig romance and have a good old time reading it. Thank goodness!

But what happens when you cross the line from reading into crafting the read? Does writing decrease reading enjoyment? I suspect this is true for some and not true for others, obviously, but I have to ask those writers reading the page: has becoming a writer, crossing that line from entertainment recipient to entertainment provider, lessened your enjoyment, or changed the way you read?

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    KellyMaher says:

    I’m one of those weird people who can compartmentalize *some* things fairly well.  Reading and writing is one of those things.  I’ve been writing for about 10 years now, and I’ve never had a problem putting what I know about writing aside to enjoy a good book.  A bad book is just a bad book, and you’re going to know that if you’re a writer or not.  In the last year, however, I’ve gotten appointed to a major award committee and *that* has impacted my enjoyment as a reader.  I’m no longer reading just to read.  I’m reading with an eye towards: is this the best example of this type of book for the year?  As much as I like the award committee, I’m looking forward to when I come off it so I can shake that nasty little side effect.

  2. 2

    Since I started writing I’ve become less accepting of bad writing.  On the other hand, I feel like I have a much greater appreciation for quality writing and I savor and value it.

  3. 3
    Lauren Dane says:

    You have to turn it off or your internal editor will ruin everything. When I pick up a book, I try very hard not to be a writer but to be a reader. It means I purposely don’t look at passive language or that kind of stuff unless it’s so prevalent it ruins the read.

    Sadly, it happens now more than it did before. Something I would have joyfully ignored in the past is so glaring I can’t do it. Usually it’s about author voice more than technical stuff though. Heavy handed POV for instance – drives me nuts.

  4. 4
    AnimeJune says:

    I don’t mind with published works – if I’m handed something to look over, review, or proofread, I’m looking for what’s bad, so of course I notice more things. But I’ve never had a problem reading regular, published books – unless of course, they’re terrible.

    My biggest problem with reading books for review is the fear that I’ll feel nothing from the book and thus have, er, nothing to write about. It’s happened once or twice. When I’m not reviewing, I don’t mind if a book is “m’eh” – a timewaster and no more.

  5. 5
    Sonja says:

    When I was a newbie writer, I noticed that phenomenon more than I do now. I think the trick was realizing rules aren’t really rules, they’re just suggestions, and good authors can break ALL the rules and still make you want to sigh, “damn that was good,” and light a cigarette at the end.

  6. 6
    Heather says:

    Nowadays I have a hard time reading fiction without a) comparing it to my writing or b) feeling paranoid that I’m going to unconsciously pull a Viswanathan. It’s almost impossible for me to read other people’s work without analyzing it. I’ve been working on turning off the internal editor, because it’s seriously harshing my reading buzz. :(

    I was just discussing this topic with friends, actually; perfect post for me to come out of lurkdom.

  7. 7
    Jackie says:

    Gah. I find that I internally edit EVERYTHING I read. Just this morning, I was reading an urban fantasy novel, and I caught myself thinking, “He didn’t need the dialogue tag there.”

    UGH. Hate that.

    And yeah, it does get in the way of enjoying the book.

    On the other hand, sometimes I’ll trudge through a book that doesn’t work for me as entertainment just to appreciate the craft the author used in the book.

  8. 8
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I don’t think I’ve changed the way I read. A good book is still a good book, and a bad one still sucks. But then I’ve probably always been harder to please than the average bear.

  9. 9
    Aubrey says:

    I had to come out of lurkdom for this post considering it’s a topic my writer friends and I discuss constantly.

    As a part of the graduate program I’m in I have to read novels in my genre critically and write reviews on those novels. Because of that I have a really hard time not noticing things that don’t work for me. Headhopping is the one that always stands out like a sore thumb, along with everyone’s favorite TSTL heroine.

    There are a handful of authors that are so enjoyable that the internal editor turns off, but those are few and far between. :-)

  10. 10
    Nora Roberts says:

    If I’m reading and I fall into the book, that’s all there is. If I’m reading and I’m squirming, and thinking, and rewriting it in my head, it hasn’t sucked me in. And I’m probably going to put it down anyway.

    I still fall in a lot, and am always happy to.

  11. 11
    Heather says:

    and I caught myself thinking, “He didn’t need the dialogue tag there.”

    Yes! It’s so annoying. I wasn’t nearly so picky in the past. I’m currently fighting it by reading so much fiction that the inner editor can’t keep up and has to stfu. I think it’s starting to work. :D

  12. 12
    KellyMaher says:

    Reading through the others’ comments made me think.  I wonder if this phenomenon is more of an issue for those with a strong, or at least, coherent, internal editor.  I freely admit my internal editor is craptastic (< - why crit partners are soooo good!).

  13. 13
    iffygenia says:

    If I’m critiquing instead of enjoying, I try to figure out why: is it the book, or is it my state of mind?  If it’s the book, I put it down.  If it’s because I’m distracted or grouchy, I take a walk, get a drink, try to clear my head before I start reading again.

  14. 14
    iffygenia says:

    That should have been: distracted, grouchy, or haven’t switched from work mode to pleasure mode—probably the most frequent attitude adjustment I have to make.  I can change it though, once I’m conscious of it.

  15. 15
    Susan W. says:

    I’m less patient with clunky prose and certain storytelling cliches than I used to be, but I don’t know if that’s because I started writing or because I’m a more experienced reader.  And there are cliches I *love*, only I call *those* “archetypes” or “universal themes.”

    I’m definitely more aware of the “man behind the curtain” than I was before I started writing.  It doesn’t keep me from getting sucked in, but part of my mind is busy analyzing storytelling choices and considering what I would’ve done differently.  Oddly enough, the more I enjoy a book, the more I question it—maybe because my subconscious is saying, “This is REALLY good.  You need to pick it apart and figure out why it works.”

  16. 16
    Charlene says:

    I’m coming at this from a different point of view because I write non-fiction professionally. I’m far more likely to notice when writers get facts wrong. Most of the time I can’t get past it, especially if the mistake is based on what ‘we all learned’ in school or on an urban legend that anyone could look up on Snopes. That to me speaks of unforgivably shoddy research and mental laziness.

    I’m not saying I don’t read alternative histories or different takes on history. I can accept, for instance, a writer making Richard III out to be less of a villain than Shakespeare did, or creating about a future where Germany won the Second World War. But I can’t forgive a writer who has Henry VIII call himself a divorcé (he annulled the marriages) or that portrays Hitler as a raving monster (part of what made him so very evil was that he appeared normal on the surface).

  17. 17
    Charlene says:

    “…creating a future…”

    Which is why I usually proofread what I write.

  18. 18
    Jepad says:

    This is an interesting topic because one of the comments you often see following “negative” reviews is “writing is really hard and I’d like to see you do better!”  I actually found that after joining a writing group I became LESS not more tolerant of poor writing and characterization.  Now I notice all sorts of stuff that I’d been happily oblivious of before, like those damn dialogue tags.

  19. 19
    Bron says:

    I can definitely still lose myself in a book. If it has likeable characters, a decent plot, and a competent use of language and story structure, my imagination settles down to enjoy the story, its big butt on the inner critic, suffocating it.

    When the book ends, though, the inner critic scrambles out and starts inflicting its thoughts – which are usually about character and character development, since it’s been a bit too squashed during the reading to notice the details of language :-)

    If a book has clunky language, TSTL characters or other glaring major faults, then I rarely even bother going past the 1st chapter.

  20. 20
    zaza says:

    Can writers read and lose themselves in a book or do technical details distract from the enjoyment?

    I think that’s a yes for writers who don’t sweat the technical details until nearing their final drafts, and no for those who are all about the technical details.  I’m one of the former, thank God, since I wouldn’t ever want to have that natural reader reaction turned off.

    When I review, I read normally, maybe think to jot down a note or two.  I let it percolate for a while, until some of the bigger picture things start to take shape, i.e., the technical details.  Finally, I do my review.  ‘Cause, really, a writer can do everything technically right and still write a clunker.  It’s all about story, IMO.

    Uhm, just a note…if you chose to preview, like I did to see if the blockquote took, you then have to back up to the original page to post ‘cause it thinks you didn’t type in your word verification.  Thanks.

  21. 21

    I can still read for enjoyment.  But the book must be well done.

    I do catch myself editing, and this is usually a sure sign the book is not engaging me.  when I’m engaged, I’m lost in the story and can’t be roused.

    It’s a bad sign when I’m going, “Another adjective.” or “Hmm, the story doesn’t actually seem to be going anywhere…ooops!  Exposition, exposition, plot revelation climax, end!  Dude, you made me go through 300 pages for a 3 page payoff?”

  22. 22
    Jules Jones says:

    I had to learn to strangle my inner litcrit after doing English lit at university entrance exam level—it took a *long* time before I could get that inner voice to shut up about “ooh, foreshadowing! Shiny!” and the like. So it didn’t become any more of an issue when I started writing myself than it already was.

    For a good book, it can increase my pleasure, because I have a better appreciation of how a skilled writer has made something work.

    Security word length92—no, can’t think of any commonly used unit of length where that would be a good thing…

  23. 23
    R. says:

    “Can writers read and lose themselves in a book or do technical details distract from the enjoyment?”

    Yes, when it it’s well written and has engaging, sympathetic characters; and yes, when the writer assumes the reader is less clever or worldly than the writer, and is too stupid to spot on the screw-ups.

    I can’t stand it when a character is plainly no more than a plot device – the guy’s on stage ever so briefly, and only to provoke another character’s stupidity or emotional outburst.  To me, this is just as irritating as the TSTL characters.

    verification word: said55
    What *is* that, a word-speed limit?

  24. 24

    I find myself mentally taking out adverbs sometimes, which I did not do before I started writing.

    But a fabulous book is still a fabulous book.  I started Kelley Armstrong’s NO HUMANS INVOLVED this weekend, not only did I not notice any extraneous adverbs, I didn’t even notice time passing and that I still had a ton of homework left to do!

  25. 25
    Stephanie says:

    I admit, it’s gotten harder to lose myself in novels, though if the prose is working I’m willing to follow it. But I notice I’m pickier than usual when writing a novel myself and I get angry when writers use major life events as emotional shorthand without exploring the event, be it rape, death, elopement, whatever. That said, when I finish a book that’s divine I feel as if I’ve been gifted. A love of reading is what made me a writer.

  26. 26
    Ann Bruce says:

    I’m a reader first and a writer second.

    So a mistake here or there doesn’t really bother me.  If it’s a grammatical error, I’ll notice and move on.  If it’s a plot that makes go, “WTF?!?”, then that author’s off my buy list—or, if the offense is not too great, they get moved to my library list, which allows her a chance to move back to the buy list.

  27. 27
    Kaz Augustin says:

    “If you’re a writer of fiction, does it lessen your enjoyment of fiction when you read it?”

    Yep. That’s one thing I hate about being a writer and why I hardly touch sci-fi romance; I find myself analysing instead of enjoying. So I immerse myself in historicals instead, which I can’t write for toffee. :)

    When I’m writing, I also tend to stay away from any new books written by writers I admire (which are usually the ones someone buys, right?) because I don’t want their style to flavour mine. What this all means ::cue violins:: is that I don’t get that much time to read for pleasure anymore.

  28. 28
    veinglory says:

    I went through the awkward analytical reading phase but I got over it.  Like with many things I think the tendency to overthink goes away with experience.  Once a reader, always a reader.

  29. 29
    Wylie Kinson says:

    It’s for this exact reason that I don’t read much of the genre in which I write(romance/erotic romance). I’m either angry at the author/publisher for writing/publishing such ridiculous drivel or angry at myself for not having the talent to write something so beautiful (hello Ms Roberts).

    If I really want to lose myself, I pick up something mainstream or literary.

  30. 30

    Like a lot of writers, I am such a fanatical reader that I really need to read, and I work hard to find writers who can sweep me into a story.  For me, it’s not about technically perfect, either, but about that little something that snares me.  Voice.  Rhythm. Confidence.  I need stories, so I’m pretty willing to go with a writer who is passionate.

    That said, I must be snared.  Life is too short to read a book I’m not enjoying.  If one doesn’t work, another one will.  It also seems to help if I vary the reading material—I read all over the place, from non-fiction to young adult to litfic and of course, romances.

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