Reader Friday: Writers as Readers

Reader Friday: Writers as Readers

Last week’s answers got me thinking. Most everyone said they saw no reason to finish a book they weren’t enjoying, for a variety of reasons. Someone told me that once you’re a writer, you can never read the same way again.

As a writer, do you think you’re more critical than before you took up the craft? Did you finish more “unfinishable” books when you were “only” a reader? Has your definition of a “unfinishable” book changed?

44 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Writers as Readers

  1. Good morning, Terry. I don’t finish more books, but I don’t stop reading fewer books once I’ve started, either. I do notice narrative flaws like head-hopping more often but if I’m otherwise enjoying the book (or not) it doesn’t affect my ultimate decision of whether to finish.

    Have a great weekend, Terry!

  2. Nope. I read for pleasure, never critically (exception below).

    That said, the writer either grounds me in the story or she doesn’t. If she does, I keep reading. If she doesn’t, I donate the book and move on to something else. The only difference is now I recognize why she didn’t draw me in.

    The only time I read critically is after I’ve read something for pleasure and one or more passages blew me away. I mark and re-read those later to try to figure out how the writer affected me like that. Happens a lot with Stephen King.

    • I envy your ability to turn off the internal editor, Harvey. While I don’t automatically quit reading for all the issues I work hard to avoid in my own writing, they pull me out of the story and the read is less enjoyable.

  3. I’m no more critical, but now I re-read a good book to see how the author made it all work. The foreshadowings, the theme statements, the plot points. Ecomical character or relationship settings really crank my scooter.

    • Yes, there’s value in examining what works, as well as what doesn’t. Things to avoid as well as emulate, and once we start writing, we become more aware of them.

  4. I always start a novel hoping I will be caught up in the story. But of course I notice things. I always notice dialogue attributions and adverbs. That won’t stop me from reading on, but it is a speed bump.

    It’s when characters act implausibly that I usually set the book aside.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Jim. I agree that character issues are the main reason I’ll put a book away. Sometimes I’m grateful I didn’t start this writing gig until I was a card-carrying AARP member. I blithely devoured books, not noticing all the things I do now. The Hubster and I often read the same books, and things that drive me crazy, he never notices.

  5. Good morning, Terry. I think I am more critical now, and less likely to finish a book. But some of that may be age. I’m at the point where I realize I’ll never be able to read all the books I want to. So, if a book is not enjoyable, why am I wasting my time? Time has become more valuable; a few dollars “wasted” has become less important.

    I will, sometimes, continue reading to study the writer’s techniques and see what I can learn from them.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Same to you, Steve. Last Friday’s formula for how far to read makes sense as we age. Take 100, subtract your age, and that’s as many pages you owe an author.

  6. Happy Friday, Terry! Great follow-up to last Friday’s reader question.
    I did become more critical once I became a writer, but have been able to develop a dual mindset when reading fiction. My writer brain notices craft elements–dialogue rhythm, story beats, twists, etc., and gets hits of satisfaction when the author carries those off well, while my reader brain enjoys the emotional ride, just like before.

    If a book isn’t working for me–usually because it’s too slow, not emotionally engaging enough, or I find the characters uninteresting, or the narrative tedious, that’s when I struggle, and, as mentioned in my answer last week, I usually continue to slog through the story. I probably abandon books more often than before, but I almost never put down a book when I was “just” a reader, at least, not once I’d began reading it in earnest.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks, Dale –
      I have an iPad mini, bought for size and weight, and use it almost exclusively as an e-reader. These are my “fall asleep books.” I bump the font to max, shift the background to black, and brightness as low as possible so as not to disturb the Hubster. I’ll switch to whatever I’m reading on this device as I’m ready to fall asleep, and again when I wake up through the night (chronic insomniac). I may be reading only a couple of pages at a sitting, and rarely abandon these books because I don’t notice much. If I were reading them as my regular daytime reads, I’d probably have quit on a bunch of them.

  7. Definitely don’t read books the same any more since taking up writing. I just can’t turn off my internal analyzer EXCEPT for those rare occasions that you find a book that is so awesome it shuts down your inner analyzer. But for me personally, I don’t come across many books like that. Most books are a decent read, but few are “rock my world.” But since I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I did when I was a kid, it’s probably better that way. 😎 😎 😎

  8. Definitely. I’ve turned into a book snob, but I can’t help it. I see the craft beneath the story. My writer brain doesn’t have an off switch.

  9. Yes, speaking as a writer—and an older person with little time for pointless activity including uncaptivating books—I am more diescerning!

  10. Yes, yes, and yes…

    I started reading a story early in about 2018, when I was more of a newbie than I am now (actually in the chrysalis stage at that point) and seriously couldn’t get past the first two pages because of grammar. And this was a published book…I think my grade school grandchildren at the time could have wielded a red pen.

    I’m much more critical. But, I have settled down a bit-I’m not nearly as hard on writers, especially the big names, when I find a mistake. I used to crow inwardly and think, I wouldn’t have made that mistake. I’ve learned that as soon as I think that, I make a real blooper, worse than the one by the other guy. 🙂

  11. I don’t blame authors for all the mistakes; their editors play a role as well. One of my first editors didn’t catch three characters named Hank. But poor editing or poor writing–it’s still going to pull me out of the story, and there needs to be some “good stuff going on” to get me back in.
    I quit one book club when a group leader said that all the books we were reading were published, which meant they were edited, so we shouldn’t be discussing the quality of the writing.

  12. Writing has made me more aware, if not more critical, of issues with the author’s technique, but they wouldn’t necessarily make me put the book down.

    For example, I’m currently reading a mystery novel by a famous author that was written in the early 90’s. She does a lot of head-hopping in the book. That’s something I wouldn’t have noticed before, but I see it now because of what I’ve learned about writing. However, it doesn’t bother me because I like the story.

    Now that I understand the effort that goes into publishing a novel, I’ve come to look on all authors as fellow travelers on the journey.

    • Thanks, Kay. I know I don’t read the ‘same’ as I did before I started writing and learning the craft. It’s good to see that I’m not alone.

  13. Am I more critical? Yes, if the book isn’t well written. A well-written book is meant as an escape, and it is, meaning my critical thinking turns off as I lose myself in the story. I recently read a book by one of my favorite authors, and there were some grammatical oopsies that got by her Big Publisher editing staff. While the errors irritated me, I didn’t dwell on them in favor of a well-crafted story.

  14. As Kay said, I respect the hard work of a fellow author. But, as others noted, life is too short to finish a book I don’t enjoy when hundreds of others sit on my TBR stack.

    My editor switch does have off/on settings but if a book I’m reading for pleasure (rather than for work) jerks me out of the story too often, I put it down.

    Also, I’m less tolerant than I used to be about unlikable main characters, even if they’re eventually redeemed. Unless the writing quality really draws me in, I’d rather not spend hours with someone I can’t stand. Too many of those in real life!

  15. At a writing forum I hang out at, a newbie asked if writers put foreshadowing in while we are writing or when we are editing. The answer is both, of course, but I have found as I start editing my books that I had added foreshadowing of things I wasn’t even aware that I was going to do until I did them. My subconscious knew that an important thematic and plot element was the darker self, and there were images and metaphors of mirrors, shadows, moonlight, and twins sprinkled from the first page.

    All this to say weren’t we all writers long before we knew we were, and the writer in our brain was busy taking notes? Yeah, now I’ve stopped everyone here who decided to write late in life to consider that question.

    From the first bedtime stories my dad invented on the spot, I always wanted to be a writer, and stories were flowing through my mind, but putting them on paper as a book was some day, not right now, while I’m working on my college degrees in literary analysis and teaching.

    When I finally started putting it on paper, I gradually realized that many of those long papers I wrote were as much about me figuring out how to create the stories I wanted to write as figuring out the metaphoric structure of a novel by James Fennimore Cooper to teach it later.

    So, always a writer and a reader, plus a writing teacher. Tossing away bad books that weren’t usable as a teaching moment blog entry was something I allowed myself after years of finishing books I wasn’t interested in, but it was my inner teacher, not my inner writer, that allowed me to do that.

    • I think my writer notes got tossed out somewhere before I realized writing was a fun gig. Not enough room in an aging brain. Thanks for bringing the teacher aspect to the table, Marilynn.

    • Speaking of foreshadowing, I finally figured out how I managed to foreshadow so many incidents by accident. What happens is that I’ll throw in an element to add color to a scene. For example, a pair of brass knuckles to round out the contents of a gym bag containing a sawed-off shotgun, which is the important weapon. Later, when I need a minor incident in a fight scene, my mind casts itself back through the story so far, in the lazy hope of using something that’s already there. Invention is hard! So I fired Chekhov’s Knuckleduster by the end of the story without ever forming a firm intention of doing so.

        • Bingo! What Robert thought was “adding color” was actually his Unconscious mind deliberately planting an item it was sure he’d need much later. As Carl Jung said: “…The question arises: ‘Has the Unconscious consciousness of its own?’” ~ETH Lectures, Pg 212ff.

  16. I read for enjoyment, so I try to not edit as i read. I do occasionally notice things and stop and wonder why it was written the way it was. And I give a book two or three tries to get my attention. If I notice that the book hasnt been opened in a oouple of days and doesn;t beg me to get back to it, I move on to the next on my list.
    Happy Friday

    • Thanks, Gerald. I finished a book on my iPad mini last night, and because it’s small (and I don’t wear my glasses to bed), when the app opened in the library, I picked a book at random, since all I could see were the colors on the covers. We’ll see how far I get.

  17. I’ve always been a picky reader (librarian’s daughter), but once I love a book, I love it forever.

    I checked out 5 books yesterday. I returned 2 of them. The other 3 are keepers.

    I usually give it til the 3rd eyeroll.

  18. Unless I’m very familiar with the author, I rarely buy a book before I read the “Look Inside” pages. So unless the book doesn’t live up to those pages, I usually finish a book…
    As for your question, when I read I get totally sucked into the story.

    • Starting with something that has passed your criteria cuts down on unfinished books. The bigger question is what criteria you’re using to decide if the book lives up to them.

      • If the author keeps me engaged. I’ve continued to read books where the writing wasn’t so good, but I wanted to see what happened to the character. It was kind of like biting down on a sore tooth…don’t want to, but something compels me to do it. lol

  19. Do I stop reading more books than before? Yes, but perhaps not solely for the reason that as a writer I have “higher standards”. I also have more sympathy for the writer who wants to get their work out there. Conversely, I have less sympathy for the writer who publishes before she’s ready, who doesn’t spell check, who doesn’t know where to place apostrophe’s (no! not there!), who can’t format or proofread. I’m presently reading am ARC steampunk mystery that would’ve benefited from an editor. As a writer I can more clearly see the errors and know that if she’d’ve had the right editor this would have been a better book. But I’ll finish it anyway because the premise is interesting and the writing is acceptable. But it is awfully easy to put down.

    • When it’s so easy to hit the ‘publish’ button, a lot of books out there come from authors who hit it too soon. And then they wonder why it’s not selling, or it’s getting bad reviews. Their friends all raved about it.

  20. Your answer meshes perfectly with what I was going to say, Shayla! I have far less sympathy for that hasty author.
    Perhaps I’m on the wrong foot with this attitude, but I’m far more…insulted, I suppose?…with a self-pub’d book that was clearly not ready for public consumption.
    Self publishing is both easier and harder than getting one through the well-guarded gates of the Forbidden City. An indie/self pub author must do 150% of the work that a trad pub author once did (altho those halcyon times are a’changin’, I know.) The finished piece “should” be as tight as possible, whether the author is charging .99 cents for e-read, or $15 for print.
    And I suppose that’s the meat of it for me. Having grown up in a world of plentiful bookstores full of brand new paperbacks for around $5 each, it hurts now to try to support an indie author with a $15 purchase of a trade paperback that I later throw at a wall in disgust. (Yes, I did it. It was satisfying.)
    It’s also deeply personal from an author’s pov. I’m bending over backwards to make certain my work is the best it can be, in both developmental and copy editing. And yet I beat my head against those well-guarded gates while unedited trash is churned out hourly. It hurts.

  21. Many good comments!
    An SP author admitted to me she’d never studied the craft, then kvetched about a “terrible review” she got.

    Regrettably, the more I write, the less time I have to read. I do so now mostly to study. I recently read “The Goldfinch” (all of it) and “Confederacy of Dunces” (2 pages and a riffle) as potentially relevant to marketing my (completed) novel.

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