I’m a writer, but I don’t read enough. There, I admitted it.
Most writing gurus insist that budding writers read, read, read. Read what you’d like to write. Read everything you can get your hands on. Friends in my writing groups read a book or two a week. At best I’ll read a book every two weeks. Often less, although I supplement book length reading with short stories in journals, book reviews and articles in magazines. But compared to most writers I probably read less.
When I’m reading, especially fiction, I almost always start thinking about writing. When I think about writing I think about revisions to stories or chapters I am working on, and that makes me wonder why I am spending time reading when I could be writing. And many times I close whatever book I’m reading and head for the computer, before the new ideas are lost.
The issue, I believe, is that I no longer read for entertainment. My MFA, my role as book review editor for Los Angeles Review, and the constant revision of my stories has programmed me to read as an editor, analyzing structure, word choice, characterization and other aspects of craft, looking for stylistic nuggets that might improve my writing, asking why an author made certain choices or what s/he might have done differently. To be honest, it’s rare that a piece of writing pulls me out of editor mode and carries me into the realm of the imagination, where I’m thinking only about the story. This practice has become so imbued I can’t even watch movies anymore, since I immediately begin critiquing the screenplay (and most times finding enormous flaws, to my wife’s chagrin).
This morning I finished a short story by Alice Munro, who is one of my favorite writers. Even this usually wonderful author couldn’t make me stop editing. I mentally marked passages as wordy, clunky, could be revised. When I finished I closed the magazine and said, “Not her best.”
I wonder if other writers have this issue, or are still able to read and enjoy, and become immersed in the world of the story. Is reading a more subconscious process for them? Have I allowed the act of reading to become too much a conscious process for me?