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?