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Reading for Pleasure or Thought?

Do you read for pleasure or to think about your writing? Many famous authors and writer's that

write about writing, suggest you must read, read, and read some more, to help inform your own writing. I wholeheartedly agree.

But I do not agree that you must be a voracious reader to be able to write.

I love to read, but time is so often influential in allowing me the space and quiet to relax and do it. I've known people that make reading a routine in their life. Like reading first thing in the morning, or right after dinner. My first choice is to read to lull myself to sleep at night. That being said, I also love to read in the morning.

But in retrospect, reading before bed is not the best time to read, for me at least. I find I'm unable to grasp the content as well as when I read in the morning. Sometimes I can get through a chapter, sometimes only a sentence, before my eyes close and I drop the book, jerking myself awake.

Morning reading with a warm cup of coffee offers clarity, deeper engagement in the content, and greater relaxation and enjoyment. This is the time I can reflect on the writing I'm reading. I have a clear brain to process the style, structure, and grammar examples I need as lessons to inform my own writing, both in negative or positive way.

I have a problem with writing. Well, truthfully, I don't have a problem with writing, I just have a problem with editing. Getting the stories on paper or stored in binary is easy. I once read my husband a first draft of a piece I was working on, just so he can hear the gist of the story. When I ask him what he thought of it - by the way, this takes a great deal of bravery on his part - he simply said "It's a story." Meaning, the story is there, but the craft is missing. But this is my process. The story gets on the page first, then I work the craft portion of my writing.

During this time, I do read, and it’s for a purpose; a) to get my mind off my writing, and b) to think about craft and style in the editing process. Now, this may seem confusing to you. But remember we can walk and chew gum. You may think, as I once did, this would cause me to derail my own voice for a mimicked voice of what I'm reading. Honestly, I've worried about that too. I think reading while working on your own writing has the potential to do that, especially if you haven't found your writing voice.

Often the result I get is not mimicry, but rather, satisfaction and validation of my own voice. I compare rather than mimic, and I find this a helpful way to look at my own craft and voice, to accept the honesty and authenticity of it.

The more I get into writing and the craft of writing, the less I am able to read for pleasure. But that's still a very less. Because I'm generally looking for flow, pace, and style or what I'm reading and very little about other details. I'm sure the movie critics or food critics experience the same thing. It must be awful to never be able to watch a movie or eat a meal without the critique element of it happening. I wonder if the sheer enjoyment or pleasure of the experience leave those people working in those types of jobs.

Maybe it does, however, I do think there is hope for the movie or food critic to just enjoy the moment, as there is for the writer and reader. Here's what allows that to happen.

When a writer reads work that has the ability to transport the reader, body and soul, to the moment, place, and time, of what they are reading, the critical eye becomes the pleasure reading eye. I can still read work that does that even when I'm in my editing process.

For example, reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Wally Lamb's I know this Much is True just to name a few, have this effect on me. Each of these are very different writing styles and voice, but all are strongly character driven and the writing is a breeze to read. It flows, and with few exceptions of a bit of wordiness, or over-written sections, they are quite consistent in pace. Plus, the story-lines are strong and engaging.

I also draw from these examples of how my own writing compares. Sometimes, as I read, I make profound mental or physical notes. I absolutely and without questions, made multiple physical notes when I read The Liars' Club by Mary Karr. In fact, many of the pages are still tabbed. Other times, I'm so engaged in the reading I don't remember I'm reading at all. That's the real difference.

I read Stephen King's On Writing, with the intention of learning from a master. But I often failed to remember I was using King's book as a teacher. King's melodious voice and enjoying story seemed to make it difficult for me to remember I was taking a lesson. But suddenly, a great line or sentence would jumped out that reminded me. Sticky notes and a notebook were not enough space to write down all the juicy tidbits of this book. I've decided a second read at a later date is most definitely in order.

King, is often deprecating, but he was a master supreme in this writing. He used a unique method of non-fiction writing (in my opinion), of lulling you into very enjoyable read, but then, ensuring the main points aren't missed as the "lesson" jumped out of the page, grabbed you by the shoulders, and shook you out of your pleasure reading trance, to take note of the lesson.

So yes, reading, all reading, helps to improve your craft. Whether it be in the form of internal reflection, helping you to locate your your writing voice, laughing out loud at the jocular manipulation of words into literary jokes, or finding deep emotion in others experiences. It is practice and comparison, point learned and style noted. Pleasure or practice? Either way, you, the reader wins!

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