Thursday, January 13, 2011

reading with abandon

i used to read books to escape, to be entertained, to be enlightened. i used to read books with abandon.
and i still do... all except for that "with abandon" part.

ever since i got serious about writing a few years ago and dove into all the online forums and well-meaning blogs loaded with advice for writers, i've developed something of a reader's block. i can barely read a book now without putting on my critical writer's hat.
- this story starts with the MC waking up from a dream? and now she's looking in a mirror to describe what she looks like?? how did this get past the editor?!
- an entire chapter of info-dumping with no dialog? in a YA book?? how did this even get an agent?!
- why does the character "whimper" instead of just "say?" who approved all these fancy dialog tags?? and this sold for six figures?!
- stereotyped high school characters! telling instead of showing! GAH, i can't even remember what this book is about, i'm so busy critiquing it!!

i went through all of those exact thoughts with a book i just finished, in fact. i kept putting it down after a chapter or so, too irritated with the writing to notice the story.
then something happened.
Arizona suffered a tragedy last weekend - a tragedy that, as a journalist, i have to live and breathe every hour i'm at work (and they are long hours this week) - a tragedy that hit me emotionally, so i cannot turn it off when i get home. sad angry thoughts stayed with me while doing chores, while surfing the web, while running errands. i needed to escape these thoughts.

so i picked up that book with all the so-called mistakes and allegedly bad writing... and i got lost.

i let myself get completely swept away in the pure fantasy of the story. i stopped seeing the words and starting seeing only the images in my head. i forgot to analyze the book and remembered how to enjoy it.

i finished the read in a few hours and am thinking of starting the next book in the series... because now i'm a fan - and because now i know how to take off my writer's hat and just escape into a story.
i'm grateful for the lesson.

sometimes we get so caught up in the "rules" that we forget the most important rule of all: just tell a damn good story.


F.I.C said...

Oh I know what you mean. There are times where passages in books just jar me straight out of the story and I have to go away for a bit before I can get back into it.
Though mainly my problem is the opposite, I can't read critically, I get too caught up in the story to pay much attention to the writing and so I loose out on learnign the lessons I could be learning because I'm to eager to find out what happens next that pay attention to how dialouge is formed or how settings are described.

E.J. Wesley said...


Rachel Searles said...

Excellent post. I hate it when I catch myself counting the adverbs in an otherwise great book. I bet this is how actors and directors feel when they try to just watch a movie.

LM Preston said...

OH, you are so right! I do the same thing. But the thing is, a lot of best sellers out there don't feed into the hype or the rules. So many have started off with a dream, getting out of bed, looking at themselves in the mirror that it just boils down to a good story.

Amber Cuadra said...

Yes! Yes yes. I agree completely. Mechanics matter, but they make no difference unless you can get lost in a good story. :)

erinjade said...

FIC - i'll bet you are unconsciously learning all kinds of things about writing as you read, so go ahead and let those stories sweep you away!
Rachel - i hadn't thought of that. it probably IS similar. ugh, i would hate it if i couldn't just get lost in a movie.
LM - exactly!

Sajidah said...

When I'm in the throes of writing, I, too, seriously can't read. I need to actually sign out of my writing self and give myself permission to just be a happy reader for long bouts (I looove those bouts). Otherwise, I find my inner demon editor coming out to nit-pick.