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Reading (1 Viewer)

KatPC

Senior Member
For those not familiar to the UK shores, this is not in reference to the place where there occasional loud music festivals but of the habit of going through the lines on the pages, of a book, a story, online, hardback, paperback, kindle, anything. I do not read enough and, recently, I have been balancing the acts of writing and reading, to improve my editing phases.

In picking up an old book of short stories, lately, I found myself analysing the writers' work, a complete change from yesteryears when I could sit and (not really skim read) but run through pages because I was so caught up in the story. Lately, in my 'learning,' I have found that when reading a piece, I am more analytical, looking at how the author has structured this line, or reading through a paragraph, only to stop and go back, to see what they have done. This is happening a lot with the pieces I have read here too, and I find it hard to justify this to be fair on an author.

Has anyone else gone through this or is this an oddity of my own mind? To go back to the short stories I read, I was more caught up in the words used, how the author wrote this 'part' of the story, thinking would I have done it differently? Yet reasoning the author has a totally different voice to my own. This actually makes reading very enjoyable, if not a lot slower, but I am not sure if this is fair? Does this makes any sense? Before I could have said 'I read with an open mind,' whereas now I'm inclined to say 'I'm reading as a critic, on the look out for clues, errors ...'

Does it change back? Or have I entered into the dark side, never return? Is this just, as mentioned before, the mind going a little crazy?

Thank you for reading.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I am so glad you asked this question because I have the very same experience. In the past, I read for plot and characters alone. And generally, I read popular authors, so no real issues with the writing itself. Then, when I started writing my novel, my main focus was on, guess what? Plot and characters. Now I am beginning to edit my WIP, so my focus has changed. When reading other's work, because I've become more knowledgeable about the dos and don'ts of fiction writing, I am becoming more analytical about the words themselves. And, as you say, it is still enjoyable. But it feels like a different form of pleasure. Like enjoying a delicious meal, or just tasting to figure out what the spices are.

Will it go back? I don't know at this point. My husband is a former English professor and he says you cannot read for content and edit simultaneously. So perhaps that is in the same ilk as what you mention. I just asked him your question. He said he can turn off the analyzer, as long as the writing is of reasonably good quality.

Curious to see other responses to your post.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
Is this just, as mentioned before, the mind going a little crazy?
From my experience, it is, in a way, a little crazy. Because you have to be of two minds.

Being of two minds -- the Reader, letting the text "do its thing" upon you, and the Writer, seeing how the text is/isn't/could be doing its thing upon you, and identifying what, precisely, the thing is, and judging its effect and appropriateness, both for plot and context.

Not to mention being an Editor, too. So we won't. Mention. Threeways are confusing.

So yeah, it's a little crazy-making at first. Eventually you will get to the point where you can "freeze-frame" the Reader and let the Writer lightly analyse without spoiling the Reader's experience.

For me, I always do the first read of a new text in fully Reader "mode." Always. Because one can't read it again with complete innocence. Once read, it is simply not possible to unread. And if you aren't innocent of the text, how can you relate to the author what their "prototypical" Reader will experience? The job can't be done other than as "just" Reader.

Then, after a wait -- duration of which depends upon the piece and how impressed I've been -- I will read again leaning heavily in Writer "mode" and see the author at work. See their choices affecting things. See them doing the "trick" of the text. Whether that be pacing, attention control, jazz-hand distraction, whatever. Reading as Writer is where one sees what the Reader only felt.

Two readings: As Reader then as Writer.

Works for me.

But then I was an avid reader for half a century before getting serious about writing. I think that habit helps.

I started re-reading Chandler's The Long Goodbye Friday evening. For pleasure, so this was completely Reader "mode." (According to my Journal I'd read it back in June 2018, so there was some distance, and gazillions of words and other stories in between.)

And as I read, I could "feel" the Writer sneaking in, now and then, He mentioned that a couple chapters back. That's why we felt connection and He left out the part with the keys. That's why this part feels "tilted," incomplete and moving forward and Have you ever seen a beautiful woman described that way? Just quiet whispers like that. Like a compulsive and beloved friend sitting next to me at a movie theater, whispering to himself.

A little crazy. I think it comes with the job; the job well-done.

[2021-09-17 1957]
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
The question I have for readers is what do you read and what do you like to write? Have you enjoyed reading other genres that you don't regularly read? How do you incorporate what you read into what you write? For example, do you keep a log to keep track of the ideas, characters, plot? Seems like Robert does that. What do you track that is of interest in the work that might make it into your work? I might look for literary works for instance that cover issues that are sensitive and that have won awards such as the Pulitzer and use a metaphor. So I guess for me it is the subject matter that is important. The theme might play a part. In science fiction, the theme usually is a big part of the world-building. It helps me to pick themes that are well executed and to see good reviews to read the whole work. Good reviews and the theme I write in. For instance if I am a strong believer in environmentalism or mental illness I would choose my next reading on this. If anyone feels like answering please do so.
 
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KeganThompson

Senior Member
What is wrong or unfair about analyzing and criticizing a published author's work? You put your work out there not only to be enjoyed but to be judged. It's part of the territory. I need to do more of it tbh. I am better at criticizing TV shows/movies more than books because I've consumed that type of content much more than I have books. Not to mention my writing in comparison is lacking so it can be hard to criticize works when I feel like I don't know what im doing
I've been slowing down and taking mental notes but I could still take more time analyzing prose and whatnot.
There was this one book I still think about...its got good reviews but I didn't finish it. To me, the story was kind of trash LOL and from time to time I think about how much I didn't like it. 😆
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
In reply to keganthompson: for that, I previously tried to stick to the classics in my genre. Locus Magazine has selections to read on science fiction that supposedly stand the test of time. That is if you do a google search it will appear. I think lord of the rings, hobbit, and the wizard of Earthsea was in the top ten for fantasy last time I checked (but that was a long time ago). I also found good reads for science fiction this way. They give awards in various genres in locus. I don't think crime is one of them just speculative fiction. Libraries have free nebula picks in the library. I don't know how anyone else picks their reads.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I'd say it's not uncommon, Kat. I've seen it mentioned in comments here before, and I'm one of the people who has mentioned it. For a while it popped me out of stories I wouldn't previously have popped out of if I hadn't developed "writer's eye". I'm finally getting to the point where I can turn it back off, sometimes. There are some author's I don't have to turn it off for ... they're simply too good to write the types of mistakes that pop me out.

Overall, it's a good thing to develop, because it means that not only do I notice these things in published work, I notice them for myself as I write a first draft, and as I edit. It makes my first drafts MUCH cleaner than they were a few years ago.
 
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TheMightyAz

Mentor
It's perfectly normal and exactly what you should be doing if you want to improve your craft. I'm not sure you can go back though. It just becomes another way of appreciating stories.

This is just beautiful on its own:

The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Wick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter.

Clive Barker didn't just write that, he crafted that. He sat down at his keyboard and considered every word, thought carefully about how he was going to frame the statement, invented the metaphor and honed it until it worked perfectly. To some people that's just part of the story, to others it's much much more. This is my love of writing.
 
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Terry D

Retired Supervisor
To be a good writer you MUST read, and read a lot. It doesn't matter a whit if you read analytically, or for pure pleasure. Myself, I read for pleasure, but that doesn't stop me from noticing a particular passage, or character, or bit of dialogue and appreciating how the author accomplished it. I just don't read looking for those things. I tend to be more analytical of the things I read which I don't like. Why didn't that work? Why did, Dumbass McHack create this character?

Reading is how we build our vocabulary. It's how we train our brains to recognize good pacing, good word choice, and powerful imagery. Can you imagine any artist who eschewed enjoying other works in his/her/their field? You enjoy the work of others -- subliminally assimilating its characteristics -- and then you study it, learning what to apply to your own work, and what to reject.

When I was in the ninth grade, my English Composition teacher complimented me on my writing, and asked me how I had developed my vocabulary. She was rather put-off by my answer. I told her I read a lot of comic books, and all the Doc Savage adventure novels I could get my hands on. The point was, I was being exposed to skilled writing regardless of its source. The content of the comics and pulp fiction might not have been intellectually elite, but their presentation, the writing, was at a professional level. I absorbed the way the stories were told and how sentences and paragraphs were constructed. These days I may not be able to diagram a sentence to Mrs. Sharrick's satisfaction, but I can sure as hell write one!
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
To be a good writer you MUST read, and read a lot. It doesn't matter a whit if you read analytically, or for pure pleasure. Myself, I read for pleasure, but that doesn't stop me from noticing a particular passage, or character, or bit of dialogue and appreciating how the author accomplished it. I just don't read looking for those things. I tend to be more analytical of the things I read which I don't like. Why didn't that work? Why did, Dumbass McHack create this character?

Reading is how we build our vocabulary. It's how we train our brains to recognize good pacing, good word choice, and powerful imagery. Can you imagine any artist who eschewed enjoying other works in his/her/their field? You enjoy the work of others -- subliminally assimilating its characteristics -- and then you study it, learning what to apply to your own work, and what to reject.

When I was in the ninth grade, my English Composition teacher complimented me on my writing, and asked me how I had developed my vocabulary. She was rather put-off by my answer. I told her I read a lot of comic books, and all the Doc Savage adventure novels I could get my hands on. The point was, I was being exposed to skilled writing regardless of its source. The content of the comics and pulp fiction might not have been intellectually elite, but their presentation, the writing, was at a professional level. I absorbed the way the stories were told and how sentences and paragraphs were constructed. These days I may not be able to diagram a sentence to Mrs. Sharrick's satisfaction, but I can sure as hell write one!
Arm up for a high five with another fan of Doc. :)

You're absolutely right. The more you read, the more you soak up styles. Then when we write, we have to be able to "write in the style", not "try to imitate the style", if you know what I mean. I think all of us who were early readers have had the same vocabulary experience. And I know there's advice to "not use big words when you can use simple words" ... I'm damned glad the writers I grew up reading didn't think that way. They're directly responsible for my vocabulary because they didn't shy away from using language I had to learn as I read. Look at your paragraph above: eschew, subliminal, assimilate. There are critics who would tell you to dumb that down in fiction. The hell with them.

To mention what you started out with, I DO notice excellent technique in what I read ... also, techniques that I've read about, but don't use myself. That gives me a chance to decide if I even like that technique, or think I should employ it. I sampled a book just last night (as I'm poking around romances getting an education for the one PiP and I are writing), and the writing is excellent. I paid close attention to the way she brings her story across. I'd never heard of the author (Sheila Roberts), but when I looked her up, she has dozens of books in print, and I guarantee she's doing quite well financially from book royalties. She deserves it. Seriously good writer.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I've always read a lot, but before starting writing in earnest I didn't pay much attention to the prose. Back then, I knew when something felt off or didn't work, but either muscled through it for the sake of the story or set the book aside. These days, it's hard to turn my internal editor off. My eye catches awkward wording, over complexity, overused words, and pleonasms (he shrugged his shoulders ... what the heck else is he gonna shrug but his shoulders?).

I read for at least 2 hours every night, and as others have said, it has helped my writing.
 

KatPC

Senior Member
Interesting.

Thank you @Taylor! The mind can rest easier knowing this isn't just something my mind developed, as strange as this may sound, having someone 'seeing' this is all the more reassuring, and part of this journey. The many wizards below have seemingly backed this thinking so it is okay that the mind isn't going crazy, just yet. :)

@robertn51 That was a wonderful insight. Naive as I may sound, I hold no embarrassment to this, it is something I may have to adopt and steal. Thank you.

@TheMightyAz That is a wonderful quote, I can see what you meant by him 'crafting it' rather than just jumbling up a few words together. It scares me to think that the struggle to write something I feel decent, is the art of pulling words from a tree, but I'm not tall enough so I write simply and plain, knowing books can help, but I will still be that small person jumping on top of a few stacked books when others have ladders or a bear to shake those leaves down!

@Theglasshouse I actually think that whatever you read is always beneficial, but what its how you read it that has been developing in my mind.

@KeganThompson For me Kegan, to jump in with the frame of mind to find errors in a work is unfair to an author. Everyone who has written a story, knows the difficulties in writing a good piece. With news articles or publications other than story based, I find, they are easier to write and I am more critical of the writer's views and opinions than their skill in writing. However I am inclined to be less critical to articles that provide information in comparison to short or an obituary, as 'press' writing follows a very similar template, whereas stories can be anything. I'd rather not be critical, and be fair ... but the wizards have given plenty of insight.

@vranger I think this is where I can take heart in that, if this 'change' is happening, then I can incorporate it into my own work, and then domino effect will ease the burdens on a poor first draft (as is the case with all of my work).

@Terry D & @indianroads I have a lead up question following your replies. Reading improves vocabulary, I can only agree. It is one of my fears, you start late, have high ambitions, seeing how tall this mountain is, looking at the hours in the day I can devote to 'writing' whether this is writing, editing, reading, researching, there is a lot of catching up to do, and then there is that stark realisation that this may not be good enough, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. I live by a motto of doing your absolute best and if you don't achieve what you had hoped (I'm not sure about everyone else, but when I started my novel I thought: This is it, this will sell millions because the story is amazing, and a few years down the line, the crushing reality is that this isn't just a simplistic view, it is unrealistic and that the alignment of ambition is veering towards doing the best I can), but I will die trying.

I'd like to ask: What constitutes to reading? It is a silly question but I was basing this on the quality of work rather than anything specific. @Terry D story about his teacher was intriguing, but I could be reading news on my phone for 10 minutes and in my spare time read replies here or more articles around the web, and technically it could easily add up to 2+ hours of reading a day. Does this seem like a cheat? Or is any reading, good?
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Interesting.

[...]

@Terry D & @indianroads I have a lead up question following your replies. Reading improves vocabulary, I can only agree. It is one of my fears, you start late, have high ambitions, seeing how tall this mountain is, looking at the hours in the day I can devote to 'writing' whether this is writing, editing, reading, researching, there is a lot of catching up to do, and then there is that stark realisation that this may not be good enough, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. I live by a motto of doing your absolute best and if you don't achieve what you had hoped (I'm not sure about everyone else, but when I started my novel I thought: This is it, this will sell millions because the story is amazing, and a few years down the line, the crushing reality is that this isn't just a simplistic view, it is unrealistic and that the alignment of ambition is veering towards doing the best I can), but I will die trying.

I'd like to ask: What constitutes to reading? It is a silly question but I was basing this on the quality of work rather than anything specific. @Terry D story about his teacher was intriguing, but I could be reading news on my phone for 10 minutes and in my spare time read replies here or more articles around the web, and technically it could easily add up to 2+ hours of reading a day. Does this seem like a cheat? Or is any reading, good?
Regarding the mountain - I'm unsure whether that's a good analogy because this mountain has no top. The day we think we've reached that level of enlightenment, is the day we begin our descent. As it is with all artistic endeavors, it's a constant state of improvement - reaching for what lies forever beyond our grasp.

I've been a martial artist for over 60 years, and I often tell new black-belts that their rank only indicates that their basic techniques are sort-of ok. From that way forward their quest is to achieve perfection - which as we all know is impossible.

As far as what constitutes reading - I believe we should read the sorts of things we want to write. Stories, novels, poetry... whatever that is. Reading teaches us more than vocabulary and grammar, rhythm and story arcs and character development are also very important.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
@KeganThompson For me Kegan, to jump in with the frame of mind to find errors in a work is unfair to an author. Everyone who has written a story, knows the difficulties in writing a good piece. With news articles or publications other than story based, I find, they are easier to write and I am more critical of the writer's views and opinions than their skill in writing. However I am inclined to be less critical to articles that provide information in comparison to short or an obituary, as 'press' writing follows a very similar template, whereas stories can be anything. I'd rather not be critical, and be fair ... but the wizards have given plenty of insight.
I wasn't trying to suggest you should do it with the frame of mind to pick apart an author's work. My point is, there is nothing wrong with thinking something could be done better. It's a good thing, being able to criticize others' work will help with your own writing. :)
Criticism is good, it just depends on how the person does it being rude just because is unfair but constructive is being fair. 🤷‍♀️
It's difficult to write a good story, you're right but how can I write a better story if I don't get constructive feedback?
 

Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
I remember that after I watched a metric ton of creative writing lectures on youtube, and saw some of the more advanced, mechanical tricks authors use, I spent months afterwards reading books, watching tv and movies, going "Oh, the writer did this for that purpose, and he/she added that character trait for that purpose... god it all seems so cynical now."

I likened it to my friend as peering behind the magician's curtain, seeing all the cheap tricks and gadgets he uses to fool people into going "ooooh" on stage. :)
Once you peek behind that curtain, it's harder to turn that analytical brain off when you're back on the other side, trying to enjoy it.
 

KatPC

Senior Member
Regarding the mountain - I'm unsure whether that's a good analogy because this mountain has no top. The day we think we've reached that level of enlightenment, is the day we begin our descent. As it is with all artistic endeavors, it's a constant state of improvement - reaching for what lies forever beyond our grasp.

I've been a martial artist for over 60 years, and I often tell new black-belts that their rank only indicates that their basic techniques are sort-of ok. From that way forward their quest is to achieve perfection - which as we all know is impossible.

As far as what constitutes reading - I believe we should read the sorts of things we want to write. Stories, novels, poetry... whatever that is. Reading teaches us more than vocabulary and grammar, rhythm and story arcs and character development are also very important.
I actually love the mountain story - it is the unrealistic, unattainable goal. Mountains never have one peak, thus reaching the top of one, you look to the side and there is another monster for you to climb. The mountain analogy I place on personal development, there is a limit we can reach, it is only by pushing yourself to your limits can you see how far you can climb.

I used to play badminton to a very high level. I was privately coached by the then England ranked #10, Welsh #1 but for many reasons I didn't have the mental strength to power through. If you look through all the elite players in the world, regardless of sport, it is the mental toughness of that individual that drives the person to greater heights. I could never break through the 'next level' not because the basics or my game wasn't 'there,' it was low self esteem, and that drive you need to succeed.

We all have our reasons to write. The passion that burns within to go spend a huge amount of time to perfect something that is okay ... but from how I have been brought up, do you best, or die trying, push to the absolute limits, and if ability/talent is lacking, it isn't without trying. The mountain analogy is that there is a top, a top where you are good enough for a publisher to accept your work, that the rises and fall, have hardened you enough, prepared you enough to keep climbing. Once you have a yes, then there is another mountain waiting to be climbed. The process of book 2 is the same, this time though, you are better prepared.
 

KatPC

Senior Member
I would like to apologise to @indianroads and others I have bypassed for my sharp viewpoint. Upon reflection I find this rude and am sorry to everyone for that.

For me it is a genuine pleasure to be able to 'listen' into passing comments, pick up work practices and 'see' how writers write, edit, share and transmit. It is foolish of me to feel I should be able to share a table in your company, words said cannot be unread but it is always correct to amend a mistake.

A friend told me that every morning I should always be grateful. Grateful that I have health, a job, a family, when others are much less fortunate. Health is a big word, but his statement stands true, I should always be grateful.

To get advice, replies, assistance is my fortune, and a wannabe should not be so disrespectful towards others when I only hold superficial knowledge of what I do and know. Writing to me is likened to a blind man walking along the cliff's edge, yet my dependence on it is drug like.

Sorry @indianroads, and thank you for reading.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
To be a good writer you MUST read, and read a lot. It doesn't matter a whit if you read analytically, or for pure pleasure. Myself, I read for pleasure, but that doesn't stop me from noticing a particular passage, or character, or bit of dialogue and appreciating how the author accomplished it. I just don't read looking for those things. I tend to be more analytical of the things I read which I don't like. Why didn't that work? Why did, Dumbass McHack create this character?

Reading is how we build our vocabulary. It's how we train our brains to recognize good pacing, good word choice, and powerful imagery. Can you imagine any artist who eschewed enjoying other works in his/her/their field? You enjoy the work of others -- subliminally assimilating its characteristics -- and then you study it, learning what to apply to your own work, and what to reject.

When I was in the ninth grade, my English Composition teacher complimented me on my writing, and asked me how I had developed my vocabulary. She was rather put-off by my answer. I told her I read a lot of comic books, and all the Doc Savage adventure novels I could get my hands on. The point was, I was being exposed to skilled writing regardless of its source. The content of the comics and pulp fiction might not have been intellectually elite, but their presentation, the writing, was at a professional level. I absorbed the way the stories were told and how sentences and paragraphs were constructed. These days I may not be able to diagram a sentence to Mrs. Sharrick's satisfaction, but I can sure as hell write one!
I have a bug up my ass about the whole reading thing.

To be a good writer, you must write. Reading is helpful, but you have to write to be a good writer. You can study all of the films available on Michael Jordan, memorize his crossovers, his jumpers and all of the tricks he employs. But, until you actually get on the court yourself and shoot and ball, you'll never be a good basketball player. The same goes for writing. You can read all you want, it won't make you a good writer. Actually writing is when you are practicing the craft, not reading.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
A line went
To be a good writer you MUST read
Another line went
To be a good writer, you must write.
in a tone of opposition.

Luckily, a good reader would notice the original line was "to be a good writer" -- a writer being someone who writes, is writing, is running the court, is shooting the baskets -- " you MUST read" -- that is, look at the basket, the court, the clock, the other players, their vectors as they change, the possibilities for movement, the player who's in the best position to score.

You MUST be a reader to be a good basketball player, too.

The bottom line: You need to pay attention to what you are doing within the context of what you are trying to achieve.

Want to be published? Pay attention to your writing and understand the writing that's being published. Read.

Want to communicate via writing? Pay attention to what you are saying and the expectations of your audience. Read.

Read.

Read before, after, within, about, and during your writing.

Now, about that inconvenient arthropod...
 
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