Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Reading Writer

(If you haven't already signed up for the Screwing Up Time mailing list, please do. I will be giving away an e-ARC--advanced reader copy--of Screwing Up Alexandria to one person on my mailing list. The sign up is on the right side of the blog.)

Writing has changed the way I read. I don’t know if it’s true for all writers, but I read differently now. And I don’t mean that it makes me a more critical reader. In some ways, it does. In other ways, it makes me a more compassionate reader.

But the big difference is that I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed before. Currently, I’m reading a NYT bestselling thriller. As the author spins her story, little details about the characters stand out. And I know that those details aren’t random filler—they are subtly preparing the reader for a twist at the end. In other words, the details lead me to suspect that the “guilty” party really isn’t guilty. He’s the victim.

And I wonder if it’s less “fun” for me as a reader. If I weren’t seeing these hints for what they are—preparations for the reversal at the end, would the novel be more exciting? Does seeing the hand of the author behind the scenes spoil its effect? After all, one of the things writers try to do is disappear. We work to leave no trace of ourselves in the text. So, does being a writer and knowing the “tricks of the trade” spoil the experience? Perhaps.

But there is another facet to the experience. As a writer, I appreciate the text more. I see the nuances and skill. I suspect it’s a “forest and trees” issue. I can’t have the same kind of “forest” experience anymore, because I see so many individual trees. But those trees can sure be gorgeous—the texture of the bark, the shade of leaves, the strength of the branches. Maybe it’s just exchanging one experience of beauty for another.

On the other hand, if I’m completely wrong about the thriller, it would be very cool. And you’ll hear me squeal because I’ll have seen the forest and the trees.

What are your thoughts? If you’re a writer, does it change your experience of reading? And if you don’t write, would you as a reader want to notice the machinations of the writer in the text?


  1. LOL. Writing has changed the way I see any story. We'll be watching a movie or TV show and I tell my husband how it's going to end long before we reach the end. It's rather disappointing for me, but my goodness does it make that rare and unexpected twist that much more amazing.

    1. :) I hear you, Crystal. In my house, I am forbidden to comment on any movie or say "Oh, I figured it out."

  2. Absolutely has my writing changed my reading. Now, when I read a good book, I *know* why it's good. I just read Orson Scott Card's "Enchantment", and it's a sheer delight - there's not one unnecessary detail, every word is there for a purpose. On the other hand, I've also lost my awe of the "great writers". I used to think that if it's printed in a book, it must be perfect, but now I find myself thinking "Hmm, that word could be different" or "that's a bit awkward in the phrasing". Noticing the machinations in the text requires knowing how they're done; if they're skillfully done, only another craftsman (or someone who's studied the craft, like a critic) will notice them. I think non-writing readers, as a rule, don't. The same goes for painting - once I learned to paint, I could see the brush strokes, but it only enhanced the enjoyment of the work.

  3. It's changed for me a little too. But not a ton--but it's more about the editor in me coming through.

    I've found that when I've beta reading, I easily catch those things that are 'wrong', but when I'm reading for fun, I don't really pick up on them. Maybe because I'm reading so much faster. I'm glad my brain doesn't do that though because a lot of people can't turn off that inner editor.

  4. This is such an interesting post, because I was thinking about this as well recently. I think it helps clarify when writing is brilliant and when it's over-hyped. Appreciation for seeing all the details come together can heighten a reading experience when the author has done a great job of it. On the other hand, some books don't shine as brightly as perhaps they would have before.