Why Writing and Reading don’t Mix

 I don’t read the way I used to. Prior to becoming a writer, I devoured books one after the other. I liked most books I picked up, and I read for pure enjoyment. But when I started writing, my “reading habits” changed. I have become overly analytical, hypercritical, and distracted by my own imagination. Books that the old me would have whipped through in a few days now take me weeks to read. Here’s why:
Problem #1 – Analysis:
Sometimes I read with a pen in hand, because I want to make notes in the margins about theme, structure and character arc. Does the protagonist follow a classic “hero’s journey?” Are the characters round or flat or static? As if I were back in high school English class, I feel like I need to recognize these elements. And that slows me down. A lot.
Problem #2 – Criticism:
I feel bad about this one, but writers are taught certain rules: avoid clichés, limit adverbs, show don’t tell. Tension must be present on every page. Sentences should be tight. Don’t ramble, preach, or pontificate. It’s not easy! And most writers work tirelessly (I know, adverb) to follow the rules, tell captivating stories, and create memorable characters and riveting conflicts. So when another writer does it well, I’m thrilled. When a writer does not do it well, I notice. And I complain about it at book club.
Problem #3 – Distraction
My mind wanders when I read. Not all the time and not with all books, but when it happens I must go back page by page to find where I stopped reading and started daydreaming. And it has nothing to do with how much I like (or dislike) the book. A great story can stir my imagination even when it’s supposed to be at rest. Then I start telling myself a story instead of concentrating on the one in my hands.
It’s not just writers who are cursed this way. My friend who is a painter looks at art with a far more discerning eye than I do. She cannot go to a museum or gallery and just look at the pictures for enjoyment. I’m sure that musicians listen to music and judge the composition; movie -makers watch movies and analyze the scripts; chefs eat in restaurants and criticize their dinners. And although I don’t know any fashion designers, my guess is that if I met one she’d take one look at me and ask: “Where DO you shop?”
I will keep reading, of course. It’s one of my favorite activities. And I am in a very fun book club. We meet about every six weeks. Sometimes the book we read is excellent, sometimes it’s not so good. But one thing I can always count on – a delicious dessert! Thank goodness I’m not a pastry chef.

3 thoughts on “Why Writing and Reading don’t Mix

  1. My film instructor, Jeff Hoppenstand, says he never discusses a movie until he’s seen it three times. I can see how this would be helpful, to watch a movie once as an ordinary viewer, then again as a writer (to follow the structure), and again as a critic/director/editor.


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