Is Your Writing Getting in the Way of Your Reading?

Michelle Ule

Blogger: Michelle Ule

Sitting in for Rachel Kent and the rest of the Books & Such agents as they prepare for our biennual writer’s retreat next week.

I’m not reading the same way I used to. How about you?

Has that 10,000 hours you’ve spent learning how to be a good writer gotten in the way of your reading pleasure? Click to Tweet

I remember the first time I started to look at a novel through the eyes of a novelist.

I had begun writing what became my first (awful) novel, furtively typing as fast as I could while my three-year-old was imprisoned downstairs with Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. I had 90 minutes to write each day, choosing to sacrifice my toddler’s brain cells for some much-needed creativity for myself.

In the evening, I read aloud The Little House on the Prairie books to my three boys, ensuring my future daughter-in-laws would one day thank me for exposing the guys to such a wonderful series.

As I read one night, however, I couldn’t help notice how many words were on the page.

Reading: 1933-LittleHouseOnThePrairie.jpgI looked at the boys and wondered if they had any idea how long it took to type so many words? Click to Tweet

I began to pay attention to how Laura Ingalls Wilder (or Rose Wilder Lane if you prefer) used language and individual sentences.

My mind had awakened. I was a writer now; word usage, sentences, paragraphs and how they looked on the page made a difference.

Fast forward to now.

I’ve detailed here and here the lengths I go to examine words and their usages. I examine specific “weak” verbs and pay attention to using words too many times in a paragraph, a page, a book.

I can’t help myself any more—I see what writers are doing now, when I read their books.

And way too often I don’t like it.

I’ve just finished a fast skim of a six-year-old YA novel by an author I remember liking when I spent more time in the YA section (when my boys were teenagers).  I found the novel interesting because I’d just visited a museum exhibit on the subject. I expected this author to have lots of interesting information.

She did not disappoint.

However, her writing distracted me.

I wasn’t but a couple of pages in before I was rearranging sentences, taking out superfluous words and wondering why she kept repeating herself.

(Do you have to do that when writing YA? I don’t think so).

Honestly, I got so distracted by the writing, I started to lose track of the story.

I ask you.

Is that MY problem, or hers?

(Where was the editor?)

Perhaps I’m on heightened alert because I’m still coming off the high of completing my own novel, but this is the danger that comes when you’re highly sensitized to the writing process.

It’s been ruining the read for me for years.

How about you?

What’s the solution?

Will it get any better with all the books currently being published with a minimum amount of editorial oversight, or, worse, no editing at all?

Do you even care, as long as the price is low?

I admit, I have a degree in English Literature so the quality of the writing is important to me. I’ll even forgive a dull story if the writing is impressive. Click to Tweet

I’ll even trudge through a book I’m not interested in if the writing intrigues–always hoping, of course, the plotting will live up to the wordsmithing.

ReadingFor example, I’m not quite sure I understand what Michael Chabon is writing about half the time.

But his word usage! Oh, my! Sample this:

“The overcoat was a trademark of his. It was an impermeable thrift-shop special with a plaid flannel lining and wide lapels, and it looked as though it had been trying for many years to keep the rain off the stooped shoulders of a long series of hard cases, drifters, and ordinary bums. It emitted an odor of bus station so desolate that just standing next to him you could feel your luck changing for the worse.” ~Wonder Boys

That sentence is complicated and full of energy. It’s also alive!

Am I alone in this disappointment with my reading life? How many of you readers have been affected by the time you’ve spent working on the writing craft?

How are you overcoming the disappointment and/or choosing the books you read these days? Click to Tweet

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