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Does being a Writer spoil your Enjoyment of Reading?

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Paul Whybrow, Feb 10, 2017.

  1. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    I've learned a lot about the techniques of writing, since returning to creating stories four years ago. I've admired many authors, from boyhood, savouring how they transported my imagination. I like how they did it, as much as the story they told.

    As I aged, I decided that life was too short to waste it reading badly written books. Persevering with novels that annoyed me, seeing them through to the end, made me disappointed in myself and contemptuous of the author. I tend to avoid writers who don't engage me in some way. That's not to say that they're second-rate, for there have been bestsellers and literary prize winners that simply leave me cold.

    I'm suspicious of the hoopla that surrounds authors who are household names, and of challenging novels of literature that takes a committee of eminent writers to decide which is best. I'm glad that books are getting recognition, but not so gullible as to believe that reading these much-lauded authors will be a pleasant or character-improving experience.

    It's possible to admire a work of art, but not like it very much. I admire the movie Citizen Kane but don't enjoy watching it. I admire the technique of Paul Auster but don't get any pleasure from his novels.

    I recently started reading a highly-praised crime novel You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott, an author new to me. The opening chapter was bewildering, a confused hotchpotch of one sentenced conversation between party goers, as witnessed by a drunk mother. I didn't know who any of these characters were and had to read paragraphs a couple of times to get an idea of what was going on.

    I immediately recognised what Megan Abbott was trying to do, by introducing an unreliable narrator, but it came across as a poor copying of Paula Hawkins' Girl On A Train and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. I scanned pages further into the story and was similarly confused and unimpressed. Considering how much we're advised by writing gurus to grab the reader's attention with our opening five chapters, this was a dismal failure.

    I gave up on it, turning to one of my favourite authors Dennis Lehane. Reading his World Gone By was like entering a beloved restaurant where I knew I was going to enjoy the meal. Then, I noticed signs of a run-on sentence, which Lehane had rewritten, to make three shorter sentences. It still read clumsily, but...hang on, I've forgotten the story line...what was it he said? So I reread the paragraph, annoyed with myself for dissecting writing technicalities rather than enjoying the whole.

    So, does being a writer spoil your enjoyment of reading?

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  2. Lex Black

    Lex Black Respected Member

    I could copy swathes of your post word for word to reflect my own opinion. :D

    For my part, all of the polishing of technique and style I did led to getting rid of some very bad habits I had, strangely enough, learned from the successful writers that inspired me in the first place. Favoring showing over telling, abandoning "wuzzing" terms--it all led to a vast restructuring of my style that led to a much more mature and refined output (if not a more readable one).

    So now, when I sit down with another Steven King book, and every sentence is "It was____. It was___. He was___." it's rather jarring.

    My attempts to become a passable writer led to become a literary technique snob. I genuinely don't know if that's funny or sad.
     
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  3. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Venerated Member Founding Member

    Nope. I still enjoy it, but I'm a lot pickier now about what I bother to finish. ;)
     
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  4. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

    No. I just find that as I go along, I'm looking out for what works and what not to do.
     
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  5. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

    I've always been extremely sensitive to typos in books, but it wasn't until I really started honing my own writing skills that I became a truly critical reader. Not that I can't enjoy a poorly written book--if it has interesting ideas in it, I'll still carry on, and may even like it--but I'm much more likely to throw a book down in disgust. I've become particularly intolerant of simple matters of research the author chose not to do--moon phases coming in the wrong order, flowers showing up completely out of season, or diurnal animals active at night. I'm also more sensitive to clumsy writing and poor sentence structure, and will stop reading out of frustration with this, too.

    So, yes, writing has diminished my enjoyment of reading many books. But it has also made me much more appreciative of incredible writing when I see it. So when I get lost in Ray Bradbury, I'm not only transported by the story, but also by my recognition of the techniques he uses to tell it. So it's a mixed bag.
     
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  6. AliG

    AliG Active Member

    Wuzzing? Urban dictionary didn't help much - I don't think...
     
  7. Lex Black

    Lex Black Respected Member

    It's referring to use of the most basic existential verbs in writing. I find most writers actually do it, at all levels, and only really noticed it when a Litopian pointed it out to me...wow, a long time ago.

    Anyway, as I got away from it as a habit and made it a practice to avoid using it as much as possible, I found that more engaging verbiage and terms helped make a written scene more lively and engaging.

    Consider the phrase:

    "A car was coming down the road."

    OK, that gives you basic information, but really no more than that. Is it drifting at a pace suggesting it has been left in gear? Speeding out of control and weaving wildly? Simply moving at the legal limit? Anyone of those things tells you more about the situation, and used well can be much more engaging. Try:

    "A car drifted down the street at well under the limit, as if it had been left in gear somehow without a driver to guide it."

    It takes a bit more wording to give us that, obviously, and a bit more work, but that one idea is now much more interesting to the reader. Did some forgetful comic-relief type character leave their car in gear and step out the door? Did a child crawl into the seat and somehow get the vehicle moving? Did the driver get hauled out the window by zombies?

    Just something I picked up back in the day. :)
     
  8. Emurelda

    Emurelda Venerated Member

    At first it did in the sense that I was focusing all on the way the author structured their sentences and I started seeing only how I would arrange it..but now I feel like I'm becoming a better reader as I appreciate and admire the writing from all kinds of authors.
     
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  9. Richard Sutton

    Richard Sutton Flash Club Supremo

    I get the structure thing as Em reports, above, but when I began really learning about polishing the craft, it got to the point where structure bogged my pleasure reading down. Since I also review a bit, that got to be another burden until I just tossed it all out and re-approached it as I did when I was a twelve-year-old reading the back of the cereal box over breakfast. If it holds me, I stick with it. As Paul says, Life's too short. Of course, there are some times, when engaged in research, that I have to read academic writing, (or circular, introspective non-fiction) for the material and information. That remains a workout.
     
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  10. Craig Thompson

    Craig Thompson Fledgling - be nice to me!

    Some books are so good it makes me want to give up writing altogether, and then I realise that I couldn't stop even if I tried. Some books are so poorly written it makes me want to contact the publisher directly and offer my work in its place. I'm not sure either of these stances is new to me or unique to readers.
     
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