The problem with reading once you start writing.
Although I’ve been writing little stories and snippets for several years now, it is only for the last seven months or so that I’ve really been serious about improving my skills. During these past months I’ve learned a lot, both from my own writing and from reading snips of works in progress of other authors on writing forums. Most importantly, I’ve been learning how to recognize bad or mediocre writing, and especially how to tell why it is bad or mediocre writing and therefore how to fix it. I’m no expert of course, but I’m steadily improving, and that’s a good thing.
Unfortunately, there is a down side to this improvement in my editing and critical reading skills. Simply put, books which I always knew were mediocre writing-wise, but still greatly enjoyed reading for one reason or another, are no longer as enjoyable. These are published authors, whose works I have been reading and re-reading for many years, always as sort of “filler” books, when I wanted to read something but had nothing in particular I wanted to read. Despite that “filler” status, they had something that always pulled me in, and kept me going back again and again to the same story. I am now finding it almost impossible to turn off my “inner editor” while reading them. I find that the ongoing internal critique is quite distracting to my enjoyment of the story, and it distresses me somewhat. Rather than reveling in a snappy page of dialogue, my mind is consumed with the unnecessary passages breaking up its flow. Instead of enjoying the poignant moment between two characters, I am identifying the elements of “tell” scattered throughout the passage.
While this is certainly annoying, and in some ways distressing (remember, some of these books are favorites from childhood!) it isn’t all bad. For one thing, there’s a bit of an ego-boost. Not because I think I can do better (I think I can, eventually) but because I am recognizing the problems and understanding what is wrong with them. That is a skill I desperately hope to hone to a fine, surgical point, not only for my own creative works but also as a possible career-path. Also, this particular phenomenon only affects the “middle-of-the-road” books, not those by outstanding writers. Bujold, Pratchett, Peters and many others, all retain their power to grab me and make me keep reading until the end of the book, regardless of other commitments. I try to pay attention, and figure out how they do it, but their skill is such that as soon as I try to pay attention, something else pulls me back into the story for another five chapters, oblivious to everything, including the writing. And I think I’m ok with that.