Wednesday 11 February 2009

DISCUSSION: Can you read and write?

Well, obviously you can. You wouldn’t be reading my blog otherwise! What I should rather ask is: can you read fiction while you’re writing your own novel?

Young writer Justus M Bowman wrote on his blog “reading is more work than play for me these days" and I had to agree with him. I used to be a voracious reader; I could finish an average size book in a day or I’d read into the wee hours of the night to finish a longer book.

Since I become a writer, though, I seem to have lost the joy I had in reading fiction. When I read, I’m working. I’m constantly checking the text to assess it. What did the author do right to make this passage move me? What is wrong with this paragraph that my attention is lost? On and on the questions go!

I’m not alone either. In an interview romance author Laura Kinsale had this to say:

“When I became a writer, I lost the ability to read fiction. I can see all the buttons being pushed. I find it very difficult to become immersed in a story now - for me, it's like watching a movie and knowing exactly what the set looks like: the lights are overhead, the director is sitting off to the side, a make-up artist is standing there ready to buff up the actors' faces. It was a great loss to me. I've been able to read a bit more in the past few years, but I still read very little fiction of any kind. I read lots and lots of non-fiction”

I find the moment my mind starts wandering off into the realm of a new full length novel, I stop reading. It’s as if my brain can’t cope with being a reader and a writer at the same time. So how about you? Can you read and write at the same time?


Anita said...

I have to keep reading, because it's my job...when I first began writing my novel, I ran into the problem you're discussing, and it was a bummer...but I find if you keep reading, the problem goes away...this is especially true when the book is top-notch and has no "problem" passages to give me pause...when the writing is exceptionally good, I do a writerly evaluation of it once I'm done reading (a "what can I do to write this well" kind of thing).

P.S. It was good to see your Bookends comment today...hadn't seen your photo around for awhile!

Justus M. Bowman said...

Glad I'm not alone in this struggle.

The interesting part is I know I could "let go" and enjoy a book, but I'm afraid it would damage my writing ability.

It's like a Drop 42.

septembermom said...

Since I'm in the early stages of finding "my voice" as a writer of novels, I still can enjoy reading a great book. But as a poet, I have trouble reading other contemporary poets without a critical eye. I can read poetry from other eras with no problem.

Nancy J. Parra said...

I've blogged about this problem, too. I have stacks of books in my TBR shelf-but find I am no longer able to read six or eight books a week. I "see" too much and can't lose myself in a story like I used to. Which is why I go to so many movies and plays.

Great blog.

Ann Victor said...

ANITA - with all the reviews you do for your job I suppose youjust *had* to carry on reading.(I've been quiet in the blogosphere lately - things are hectic here; my sister emigrated to the UK, my favourite aunt is terminally ill & it's a 2 1/2 hour round trip to see her, I'm in the throes of organising visas for Switzerland & is flying past,phew!) :)

JUSTUS - I'm so nervous of plagiarism that if I read when I'm writing I stifle my own voice because I'm so scared of reflecting *anything* from another author that I watch everything I write! my ignorance - is a Drop 42 a term from American football?

SEPTEMBERMOM - yes, I can read novels from other eras, even the great ones, and somehow that doesn't bother me. Actually, you've reminded me. I should dig our some of my golden oldies and have a re-read!

NANCY - oh I missed that on your blog! Was it a recent post? I watch a lot of DVD's (hate going to movie houses with all the popcorn crunchy just at the moment of crucial dialogue!!) :)

Anita said...

Ann...sounds like you've got a lot going on...I'll only recommend the best of the best books to you...I'll keep you in mind.

Ann Victor said...

Thanks Anita! :)

Kat O'Keeffe said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog! (I've decided to join Critique Circle after all, maybe you should look into it too!)

I am terrified of not being able to enjoy reading books anymore. At the moment I can't find the motivation to read- it feels like work right now. But I am telling myself that it's only because I am waist deep in a manuscript right now, and I don't have the proper focus.

I love the analogy about it being a movie and you can see everything on set. I feel like the magic is ruined- I know how the bunny got in the magician's hat, and that makes me sad. It's like I lost my reader innocence.

Ann Victor said...

Kat - "losing your reader innocence" is an excellent way of describing it. Good luck with your membership of Critique Circle, I'm sure you'll get some great advice! :)

Lady Glamis said...

Sorry, I found a lot of typos in my comment and to repost it. *blushes*

This is a GREAT post. Thank you! I have this problem big time. :)

I have a stack of books 5 miles high that I want to read, but I can't right now because I'm working on two novels. I keep saying to myself, "when I'm finished I'll read them . . ."

But will I EVER be finished? I'm pretty frustrated, wondering if I'll ever to get to read anything from the bookshelf again!

I am fine reading things once I'm not working on a WIP, though. I do analyze the text a lot, but if it's written well enough, I can get lost in the story just fine.

Ann Victor said...

Hi Lady Glamis. I wish Blogger allowed us to edit our posts; it's so easy to have typos (especially early in the morning when I can't find my spectacles and haven't had my morning tea yet!!!)

My TBR pile is also just growing and growing. Soon there won't be room for me... :)