Does being a writer affect your enjoyment of reading?

Reading book

It’s often said that it’s important for writers to keep reading stuff that other people write. This helps us to keep improving our own craft, and may also serve to keep us in touch with what’s current in the genres and markets that we ourselves write in. This should not be especially onerous for most writers, given that we’re generally a pretty bookish bunch anyway.

I agree totally with the above. However I’ve realised I have two problems that have affected how much I read, and my enjoyment of it. The first it the most obvious: time. What with writing swallowing up the hours, plus the day job and everything else, reading can easily become a causality of the highly inconvenient fact that there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

The second is perhaps less obvious, and something I’ve become more aware of recently. It’s basically this: as someone who’s been writing seriously for a few years, I’ve inevitably begun to read books as – well, a writer. That means I’m now much more keenly aware of how stories are structured, how plots develop, the words that are used, the point of view, and so on. All the stuff that we learn and think about and discuss as writers.

Of course to a great extent, that’s the point. When we read outstanding books, with brilliantly-drawn characters, involving storylines, cracking dialogue, economic and cliché-free prose … we learn valuable lessons. We hope this will rub off on us, that our own writing will progress as a result.

The problem is, we will probably also start to notice the not-so-great things elsewhere. Clichéd prose, over-use of adverbs, typos, unconvincing plot developments, padding – that will all also start to jump out at us.

The last novel I was reading, I had to stop because I decided the standard wasn’t high enough. I hope I don’t sound arrogant when I say I concluded that the author wasn’t any better than me, and in a couple of respects maybe not quite as good. It was actually a pretty reasonable book in many ways, professionally published, and was well-reviewed on Amazon. But there were some aspects of it, some deficiencies, that were starting to grate on me. And I concluded that, with time so precious, I need to focus on higher quality.

Last year I read another – again, conventionally published – that I did actually complete but wasn’t greatly impressed with. There were a couple of errors that shouldn’t have appeared in a professionally-edited book, and the author had one unhappy habit (i.e., over-using a variety of speech verbs) that I found increasingly off-putting. And this was a well-established and reasonably successful writer.

Of course, I can’t expect to love every single book I read, or to enjoy everything that others do. It’s a much too subjective business for that. But I’m now asking myself – has being a writer in some way reduced my ability to simply enjoy books? Do I over-analyse everything I read? Do I now see faults when previously I would have overlooked them?

The answer is – I’m not completely sure. I think it might be true up to a point. My standards may be higher than before – but they probably need to be. My reading diet needs to be good.

But, having said that, in the past I’ve given up on books too – but probably didn’t realise why a particular story wasn’t engaging me. Now I’m more likely to see why, the exact reasons I don’t like it, when before I’d have just said it’s boring or something like that.

And if a book is really good, especially well written, then I will still enjoy it. Then I know I’ve struck gold, and that as well as enjoying the experience it might also help to nudge forward my own writing. Such books are truly inspiring and one of the great pleasures of life.

What do you read? Do you look at books differently as your own writing has progressed? Do you sometimes give up on books, or do you always plough on to the end?

9 thoughts on “Does being a writer affect your enjoyment of reading?

  1. I used to feeling guilty about it, but now that I have less time to read I’m pretty willing to put down a book if I don’t find it engaging or if the writing style is distracting. I developed a rule that if I’m more than a third of the way through, I should finish, otherwise I can put it down. 🙂

    I tend to be more willing to overlook plot problems than writing, for some reason. If the issue is the plot, it’s fun to analyze it; but if it’s the writing style, then I can’t seem to get past it. It’s a bit like listening to someone sing off pitch. 🙂

    • Yes, with so much out there to read, and other things to do, you have to be discerning. I think I agree with you on plot vs. writing style – the latter tends to be a bigger issue because it will affect the whole book, whereas a plot problem probably won’t, depending I guess how fundamental it is.

  2. I have been unable to find very much that’s made worthwhile reading, for more than five years (since before I began writing my first novel). The things I learned while writing my own book made me appreciate what makes my favorite books (most of which were written at least 50 years ago) so very good, as well as exposing the deficiencies in the writing produced by the last two generations.

    • Writing certainly can make you appreciate good books even more. Interesting comment about the quality of books in the last few decades … do you really think they’ve gone downhill? If so, why do you think that might be? I think that, with more people writing then ever before and the boom is self-publishing, it’s probably true that the average quality of new books is lower (which isn’t to say there isn’t some very good stuff coming out too). But it might also be something to do with the fact that only the best literature from the past tends to pass the test to time. I love 1980s music, but I have to admit there was plenty of dross too, most of which long slunk away into well-deserved obscurity.

      • Writing quality has deteriorated badly, and the reason can be found in “education reform,” starting when desks were unbolted from classroom floors. Children who had done poorly on their homework, memorization and recitation grew up to reinvent themselves as “educationalists,” who convinced government officials to keep dumbing down the Three Rs.

        This produced a couple of generations of “professional” agents and editors who knew so little about what makes good writing that they were easily bamboozled by 20th-century “avant-garde” scribblers, whose grasp of punctuation and parts of speech was shaky, but by virtue of their incoherence, passed off their prose as “profound,” and became enshrined as epitomes of writing excellence.

        So, now that publishing has been blown wide open, we have agents and editors who won’t touch writing that employs adjectives, adverbs and semicolons, with a barge pole; and writers to whom “descriptive writing” means monosyllabic grunts liberally larded with obscenities, “character development” means characters who have passed pubertal development, and “plot” means seeing how many times they can make their characters “say it” and “do it.”

        Anybody who doubts this should take a long, hard look at the “McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers: Primer through the Sixth.” These books constituted much of the reading and writing instruction back when desks were still bolted down: middle-class adults had graduated from “grammar” school, the upper middle-class had graduated from “high” school, and the upper class were university graduates. I have a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration, and when I was in graduate school, I had to do group projects with students who would have had a hard time reading and understanding the McGuffey Readers, and their writing skills ranged from atrocious to nonexistent.

        Thanks for the loan of the soapbox. You can have it back, now. 🙂

  3. I get asked this all the time “how do you enjoy reading anymore if you’re always thinking about it as a reviewer?” If I wasn’t reviewing I would still read the same way it’s ingrained, it’s who we are.

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