Reading Writer – everything as a writer?

The Amateur Reader asked a question the other day that got me thinking. His question was: Doesn’t a writer read everything from a writer’s perspective?

I suppose the quick answer is, “yes, of course”. But it’s a bit trickier than that.

Reading is the method I’ve chosen to study fiction, how it works, what it says, how it functions as a piece of art, as a product, or an object. In that sense then, yes, I read everything from a writer’s perspective. My eyes start moving over the words and my inner-writer kicks in and starts cataloging narrative point of view, metaphor, the flow of the sentences, shifts in voice, structural qualities and abnormalities and on and on until I’ve dissected the book and found something in it to emulate or avoid.

But I was a reader long before I decided to see whether I could write, and there is still that developing bookworm in me. That part of me who changes and will continue to change over time. My reading tastes have definitely evolved and shifted, something which, of course informs my writing, but I still think there is a part of me that likes to just sit back and let a book take me on a journey.

I ended up reading about 400 pages of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead the night before last. I was completely engaged, so much so I couldn’t turn off and get to sleep. Yet, this is not a book I have any desire to start slicing and analyzing with the writer half of my brain. Thematically, it is a fascinating piece of literature and I already know I can’t wait to discuss it once I’ve finished. Sure, there are writerly things to get into – her shifts in perspective, the way she handles dialogue, even the structure. But I don’t think I really want to get into that level of things with this particular book. The story and Rand’s philosophical project are more than enough to focus on.

One of the things I’ve tried to be strict about since I started writing my own fiction is to make sure I have enough books on the nightstand that inform craft. These aren’t necessarily always contemporary fiction, but I’d say 90% fall in that category. It’s so important to read at the level I want to be writing, to see what other writers are doing with story and technique. Those books are the ones I read once, then twice, often three times and more, just to see how the words are fitting together, how the pieces of the story move against and complement one another.

I hope the reader and the writer in me continue to work together, but side by side. I really wouldn’t want one focus to take over completely. Which I guess reveals how much I think the two actions relate to one another but should not necessarily be merged.

I’m wondering if anyone else feels this way – Any thoughts?

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Michelle

Reader, writer, translator, nature-lover, happy expat and concerned world citizen.

8 thoughts on “Reading Writer – everything as a writer?”

  1. Your blogs are like school – in a fun way. Since, I’m not a writer (as in career, experience, whatever), I’m not sure how I approach my varied approach to being a reader. Interesting question… Not sure how I would answer it!

  2. What an intriguing question … I read as a reader, never as a writer. It isn’t a choice, it simply happens.But when I read something that amazes or inspires or moves or intrigues me I will turn down the corner of the page (I know, horrible, but it’s quick) or put a bookmark in that page and then later, probably not until I’ve finished the book, I will go back and analyse HOW the writer did it.Perhaps I just can’t do two things at once … but I think what it really is is that I always want to enjoy reading – I never want it to become ‘work’. I do the work later.I also know that the things I absorb by osmosis are as important to me as a writer as the things that strike me and that I go back and analyse later.

  3. Care – thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. I’m very glad you’re enjoying my blogs – even if they make you think of school :-)Angela – I know exactly what you mean about not wanting it to become ‘work’. I want to make sure I am always enjoying the time I spend reading. Luckily, I think, for the most part, I do…whether I’m reading for writerly stuff or whether I’m just letting the story work its magic.

  4. “I have never met a good writer who wasn’t also a penetrating reader; and every good writer, with varying degrees of consciousness and subtlety, is also, in an indirect way, a plagiarist.” – Joseph Epstein in the essay “The Pleasures of Reading”. Basically what I meant, I think.

  5. I think what you are describing in reading Ayn Rand is the way a good book pulls us into visualizing what is happening and not so much seeing the words but instead the images and ideas described. I find that it is very difficult in that dream-like state of mind to then pull myself out of the hypnotic trance, which is what it is, and start analyzing and admiring the craft of the writing, the puppeteer manipulating the puppets. I feel like that requires a different mental function, more cognitive, less emotional, more verbal and less visual. So the books I love have to be read twice, either paragraph by paragraph or twice through. I can’t do both things at once.

  6. Amateur Reader – the quote is perfect. I’m going to have to write that one down and refer to it. Gloria – exactly, that is what I want from my reading. I definitely want what John Gardner calls the uninterrupted dream. And rereading is where the analysis comes in, absolutely.

  7. interesting post. “reading” can be a chore, if approached as a writer of fictions — one can consciously ruin a narrative in search of craft. my wife suffers from this in extremis; i try to turn it off as much as possible, for i can’t force myself to read something for its nutritional value only.

  8. Bookfraud – yes, it can be difficult not to get so caught up in looking at craft that I forget to enjoy a novel. Its good to try to read with both brains, I suppose, when possible!

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