I Write, Therefore I Read

I’ve been writing in earnest since February of last year. In that short time, I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics of writing romance stories. There are numerous blunders to avoid: too much backstory, the saggy middle, the big misunderstanding, the unsympathetic character, clichés, and so on. And there are numerous techniques that will strengthen your manuscript: an inciting incident in the opening pages; tension within scenes; and pinch points and plot points that up the stakes for your characters over the course of the story. And let’s not forget that aspect of writing that flows only from you: Voice (yes, that’s a capital v).

Did I know any of this before I started writing? Frankly, no. Sure, I knew when a book bored me, or when I was having trouble relating to a character, or when the main character’s actions made no sense. I also knew when I couldn’t put a book down because I liked the way the author “delivered” the story, or because the author ended a chapter in a way that forced me to keep reading. But I didn’t know how to identify the writing techniques that contributed to my reading enjoyment (or lack thereof).

Well, now I know. And that’s good news. But it’s bad news, too.

It’s good news because that inability to turn off the writer’s switch means I’m learning my craft: the craft of writing a compelling story. It’s bad news because my reading habits have changed. Gone are the days when I could read a book for pleasure, without regard to the devices the author used to give me that experience. Even when I think a book is well written, I read and reread paragraphs trying to identify the reasons why the book captivated me. And when a book doesn’t capture my attention, I dissect it, trying to identify why it’s not grabbing me in the way that it should.

Some might argue that if I’m distracted by the mechanics of writing as I read, the author didn’t do his or her job properly. I disagree. I still immerse myself in the stories I read, but I can’t help to raise my head now and then to reread a beautiful sentence or to note a particularly compelling hook. And now that I think about it, the evolution in the way I read might be the reason why so many experienced writers advise newer writers to read books both in and outside their genre. Reading in pursuit of your craft is not just about knowing what’s out there, what’s trendy, and what’s been done already. Reading is a necessary activity for any person who wants to be a writer, because any book can teach you how to tell a better story. So maybe this isn’t bad news after all. Maybe this is what happens when a reader who writes becomes a writer who reads.

Okay. Where’s the chocolate? My head hurts.

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