What Reading Looks Like to An Author

An post at Book Riot: WHAT READING LOOKS LIKE WHEN YOU’RE A FULL-TIME AUTHOR

As always, this will vary (A LOT) by person.

I mean, I know an author — not sure if she’s full-time, but it doesn’t matter, this stuff applies to all authors — she told me she has become far less tolerant of sentence-level problems and can no longer stand to read most books. I remember this conversation because, thinking about this at the time, I realized the same is not true for me. I’m happy to say that I still can and do enjoy a broad range of books, including some that aren’t that great at the sentence level, depending on what else is done well in that book.

Anyway, let’s take a look: Ways reading changes when you become an author:

1) READING CAN BE A CHORE

Okay, that is occasionally true. Only very occasionally. If I’ve been asked to blurb a book and I’m not in the mood to read it, but I have to read it, then reading that book can be a chore (very unfair to the book in question, so I try not to agree to read a book unless I genuinely expect to like it).

If I’ve agreed to copyedit a manuscript for someone, that’s a chore. I’ve done that a few times. It’s nice when I love the book, less nice when that isn’t the case. In both cases, it’s something that needs to get done, and something that takes time that could go to my own writing or to reading a book off my TBR piles.

Or! When I’ve agreed to be on a panel at a convention and in order to prepare, I feel like I have to read several books. That’s definitely a chore! I definitely approach the book with a dour “Go ahead, impress me” attitude that is otherwise not really how I feel when I pick up a book. This is also not fair to a book, but there it is.

But these sorts of things don’t come up all that often.

The author of the linked post does have this kind of thing in mind, but she also says — “Stepping away from your own books to read more books can feel like such a chore. Especially when you’re reading books in genres that you write.”

Now, that’s a place where she might have typed I instead of you. That’s just her. I never feel like reading something I want to read is a chore. If I felt like that, I wouldn’t read it. I would read something else, something that did not feel like any kind of chore. Reading slump? Total lack of enthusiasm for everything on my TBR pile? I’d re-read something I love OR I’d break out a new Ilona Andrews or something like that, something by an author who can always get me out of a slump.

2) READING STOPS BEING A REPRIEVE

Wait. Does she mean reprieve? Or does she mean refuge? From the way she’s using this word in this section, I think she means refuge.

Without pausing here for a diatribe, I will just say that the author using possibly related but wrong words is one of the sentence-level problems that will cause me to instantly DNF a book — much more so than various other deficiencies.

3) READING IS PART OF THE JOB

Isn’t that basically the same as “a chore?” Well, maybe not. Maybe this means “approaching reading with a businesslike attitude, but also with pleasure.” That would be the way to approach tasks required by a job one likes, as opposed to chores, which by definition are something you have to do whether you like them or not. Still, those categories — chore, job — look very similar to me. She mentions here reading books for research and reading books because you’re on that panel. That’s fine. Let’s say reading a book you turn out to dislike because for whatever reason you’re obligated to read it — chore. Reading a book you like, but that you’re reading because you’re obligated to read it — a job.

I’m somewhat stunned that this post doesn’t ever say:

4) NOT NEARLY AS MUCH TIME FOR READING

The problem with being an author is that you ALWAYS have something you should be / something you ought to be working on yourself. All the time. (Should I be saying “you” here? I must say, I feel this is an absolutely universal state for authors. But no doubt some lucky authors are immune to the guilty feeling, every time they sit down with someone else’s book, that they OUGHT to be working on their own book.

Anyway, for me, the big changes in reading I’ve discovered over the past twenty-odd years are:

–Not nearly as much time for reading, and

–A greatly enhanced awareness of sentence-level craft when reading other people’s work, and

–Also an enhanced awareness of scene- and story-level craft, but not as much as at the level of sentences.

These days, I frequently pause to re-read a particularly nice sentence or paragraph or scene. I mean, all the time. I greatly enjoy the greater awareness of excellent sentence-level writing. That’s something I consider a definite positive change.

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8 thoughts on “What Reading Looks Like to An Author”

  1. I think you used refuse when you meant refuge? I would not mention it except the typo is in a particularly awkward place.

  2. I remember Terry Pratchett saying he was no longer able to read fiction. “It felt like watching a car being put together on the assembly line; I could see where all the pieces fit together.”

    I hope I don’t get to that point. I love reading fiction as well as non-fiction. I also remember — this was at a book signing– someone asked Pratchett what he was reading and he said it was a book on the history of pigmentation. To me that sounds as exciting as watching paint dry* but apparently he said it was fascinating.

    *Yes, I had to go there. No, I have no shame :)

  3. The last point you added reminded me of how when I worked as a lifeguard I hardly swam at all, because I’d already spent all day at the pool.

  4. Well, you more or less can not shut off the inner editor, but it tends to be the worse books that become unreadable.

    And part of that may be growing experience. Many a reader who does not write finds books lose enjoyability over the years.

  5. Personally, yeah, there’s so much less time to read when I’m writing, even though I don’t yet have deadlines to work under as I’m still getting started.
    Some books are just going to be a chore to read no matter what. But reading’s still one of my favorite activities. And every so often, I find that one book that I’ll stay up all night for, because I *have* to find out what happens next.
    But – to answer the OP – why would I stop reading in a genre because I write in it? I write it because I love it, and yeah I may get influenced, but isn’t that kind of the point? Obviously I want to avoid plagiarism, but isn’t part of being an author reacting to others’ works? It’s like joining in a conversation that’s as old as the written word.

  6. Well, Jeanine, that’s almost funny, given the context! I must admit, my fingers sometimes do odd things when my brain isn’t paying attention — so, thanks for catching that.

  7. Mary, that’s a good point. I think a lot of book bloggers get jaded and start to say things like, “Nothing new here” when the book is perfectly fine and would work well for a less-experienced reader.

    EC, well put, it IS like joining in a conversation, and I do think comments I’ve seen here and there indicate that some readers don’t really get that.

    I’m remembering that Tim Powers said something like the same thing Stephen King did — he read fantasy at one point, but then quit and read other things. Perhaps nonfiction, I don’t remember. The right style can make almost any topic interesting. I really liked Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down, by Gordon. And The Dog in Motion by McDowell Lyon is also written in a style that is a lot more approachable than it might be.

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