Reading Like a Writer

Writing isn’t just about characterization, worldbuilding, goals-motivation-conflict. It’s also about perfecting (well, improving) storytelling skills, learning new techniques, finding out what processes work for you. And reading and critiquing other people’s writing, and having them read yours. I’ve met some amazing writers in this process of exchanging critiques, learned a lot, made some new friends.

In the process, though, I realize I’ve lost my innocence as a reader, and I miss that because I was a reader long before I was a writer.

It takes me longer to get “lost” in a book now. I’m always noticing sentence structure, mentally evaluating as I read. Wouldn’t that opening line have been stronger as X,Y,Z? How come (big published author) can get away with such info dumps? Wish I could express emotional angst with such beauty and clarity. Ad nauseum.

Which all makes me cringe, of course, because there will be other writers like me (I hope) who might be reading my books and doing the same thing–except maybe they won’t find anything to like.

Of course I’ve also become more forgiving as I realize manuscripts are never really finished. I have yet to read through one of my own manuscrpts — both fiction and nonfiction — without the compulsion to tighten, change words, tinker incessantly. But deadlines come, tunnel-vision sets in, and we send our babies out, hoping a reader will get lost in our characters and stories–and not notice the things we’d have changed if we had Just. One. More. Pass.

What I’m lost in now: JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. I still haven’t read the two most recent, so I’ve started the series over to read them all straight through. I like some in the series more than others, but she does an amazing job of seamlessly carrying a multiple-POV story. Oops. There I go again.

Whose books have you gotten lost in lately?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

12 thoughts on “Reading Like a Writer

  1. I’m constantly analysing books as I read. It makes it so much harder to just get lost in the story.

    The book I’m currently actually lost in – and I’m only on chapter two – Snow by Ronald Malfi.

  2. Learning how to write has really spoiled reading for me–at least initially.

    When I first started getting hammered by a plethora of heretofore unknown ‘rules’, I cringed as I read every book from then on. Now I’m starting to relax–partly because I realize there are just so many writing styles, and as long as a good story is told I don’t care if there are too many adverbs–and mostly because I used to be an avid reader, and I miss that.

    So I’ve been making myself read just for enjoyment. If something is awesome in the writing, I take note. If something is wrong or annoying–unless it ruins the story–I ignore it. So I have to compartmentalize a bit when I’m reading or writing.

  3. That’s it exactly, Bella! Before I knew the “rules,” I doubt I noticed all the broken ones, or in a few cases I knew I didn’t like the way a book was written but might not have realized why. Compartmentalizing is good advice. I have so little time to read now, I’d really like to enjoy what I’m reading!

  4. Reading isn’t as much fun as before I got serious about my writing. I’m constantly editing and thinking how I would phrased this sentence. But I’ll never stop reading.

    Btw, there’s an award for you on my blog!

  5. I always escape into Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changling series and Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series.

    I also like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series.

    I find with my favorite authors I can still escape and spend the first time or two I read enjoying the book.

    If it’s a new author and I spend the first chapter noticing all the things they did wrong…well those I’m more likely now to just abandon.

  6. I definitely have that problem. On top of the reactions you mentioned, I’m a proofreader in my day job. Typos and mechanical errors leap out at me. I’ve had that tendency all my adult life, but it gets “worse” every year. Now I don’t just notice them; I scream, “Where was the copy editor?” at anyone who happens to be nearby. It’s such a rare pleasure to find a polished writer whose prose I can relax and enjoy. Susan Conant, Barbara Hambly, Sharyn McCrumb, and Diana Gabaldon are a few of those.

    Also, random POV shifts drive me crazy. The only author from whom I can endure them is J. D. Robb, because I love the Eve Dallas series so much otherwise.

  7. Nicole, I still love reading but I find I’m a lot pickier and less likely to go beyond my “fifty-page test”–that’s how long I give a book to hook me in. Thanks for the award! I’ll put my sunflower up tomorrow!

  8. Beth–I’ll have to check out Nalini Singh–I keep hearing her name and good things about her work. *sigh* So many books, so little time 🙂

  9. LOL, Margaret, I hear you! I’m an editor on my “daylighting” job, so I screech at typos and misspellings. Shifting POV head-hopping would make me put the book down. Fortunately, I rarely see that. Now, watch the next book I pick up be full of head-hoppers.

  10. I’ve started doing this and it makes me angry. The ‘rules’ have ruined reading for pleasure for me. I’m critiquing published books! By authors who’s books I’ve read multiple times. I have to learn how to turn the critiquer in me off. It’s like losing your virginity. After it’s gone, you want it back.

  11. LOL. Know what you mean, Shawn. Well, except I never really wanted it back the way I’d like my “virgin reader” sensibilities back 🙂