When Writing Makes Reading Hard
by Susannah Ailene Martin
I’ve been writing seriously since I was 15. In other words, I’ve had 5 years of training in the craft of writing. That’s how writing works; the more you do it, the better you get at it. I’ve learned a lot about how story structure works and how to create interesting characters.
Now the good news about this is that my writing has become exponentially better. I mean, seriously, reading stuff I wrote when I was 15 makes my eyes bleed. The bad news is that’s it’s making reading less fun.
It’s a strange phenomenon that the more you understand how something works, the more the mystery behind that thing vanishes. Reading used to be something that I could sit down and do for hours without once thinking about how the book came to be. It used to be something that impacted me, but I didn’t know why.
Now I understand, and yeah, it kinda sucks.
Because I know so much more about writing, I see every trick and trope (well, maybe not every trick; I’m only human) that an author uses. No longer can I really enjoy reading a scene in a book without thinking, “Ah, that’s a neat little thing you did there.” I constantly, and subconsciously, analyze and look for ways to improve my own writing as I read along.
It’s also become much more easy for me to be able to tell when a book is objectively just bad. Have you ever watched a TV show with a younger kid and thought, “You know what, if I was ten years younger, I would have loved this”? That’s kind of what it’s like for me reading books that years ago might have entertained me, but now that I know a bit about writing, I can’t help but see every mistake the author made.
I know that being able to analyze a book like this is a good thing for my writing. It shows that I’m getting it, that I’m learning. But I do miss just being able to mindlessly consume words on a page.
The worst part is that I don’t just write for my novels and short stories, but I have also been studying screenwriting for the past two years. That means that not only have books been (kinda-sorta) ruined for me, but also movies and television shows. *sobs*
If you think books are hideously formulaic, then you don’t want to study screenwriting. The formula for most movies is so similar that I can sit down and, without seeing the movie, tell you exactly what general thing is going to happen when and be absolutely correct.
For instance, did you know that there’s a scene in every movie about 20 minutes before the end and right before the climax where all seems lost and it looks like the heroes have failed? It’s in EVERY SINGLE BLOODY MOVIE. Seriously, just go watch any movie, and tell me I’m wrong.
And by the way, I’m sorry, because now you’ll be looking for it.
But that’s what I do now. I look for things that I know are going to be in everything. And it’s really annoying. I want to be able to just sit back and enjoy something without thinking, “Oh hey, there’s the inciting incident.”
So I’m sure you’re starting to think, “Sheesh, you make it sound like writing ruins all forms of entertainment. Why would I ever want to write?”
The last thing I want to do is to discourage someone from writing. But you should know that this is how it’s going to be. When you write, you are going to find it harder to be entertained by every mediocre book you read. BUT, that just means you have to find better books.
It’s rarer now, but there are still books that suck me in so completely that I forget to analyze. I still occasionally finish books and feel that old familiar sense of wonder. And my mind is richer for it.
Plus, you’ll never learn it all. If you feel like your reading is getting stale lately, go out and try a new genre. I read and write mostly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but my mom recently got me into reading this historical romance series. Because I don’t know the tropes for romance, it’s hard for me to predict where the story is going, which makes it more fun.
But whatever you do, don’t stop reading. The moment you do, your writing will suffer.
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Susannah Ailene Martin is an author from Norfolk, Va. She is currently a junior at Liberty University studying transmedia writing (which is just a fancy way of saying ‘various forms of screenwriting’). She blogs at Susannah Contra Mundum about her life, thoughts, and experiences. You can purchase her novelette, The Lifeguard: A Short Story, at Amazon for $0.99.
Thank you, Susannah, for writing such a great article! I know many writers who struggle with finding time to read and write, as well as feel that pure joy for both over and over again, so I’m sure many can relate. By sharing these struggles, we can help one another find those great reads and wonderful writing programs to keep us inspired and our work fresh.
Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep on being you.
Have a great week everyone!
50 thoughts on “When Writing Makes Reading Hard”
Same with dining. If one is a food critic, I wonder if that person had forgotten at times, the mindless joy of just savoring great food without being too particular about the physical aspects of their morsel.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of areas where you could compare this issue. Like movie critics. Great comment! Thanks for reading.
Gosh, I can’t even imagine not being able to enjoy food mindlessly.
I guess we all have to stop overthinking things and just go with the flow.
It is interesting that I read this post just a couple of hours after reading this one…
I tried that challenge and realized that I considered that writing abysmal. The fact it is a bestseller from a gazzilion-book author is frustrating. I *know* I write better than that. But they are cashing the huge checks.
That is a fascinating article! Thank you for sharing. It’s definitely a great topic to have a discussion over.
Interesting. It certainly didn’t captivate me. I wonder how this book did compared with the author’s other books. I also wonder if her other books were better before, and she’s just dropping the ball now that she has the name recognition. Who knows, maybe the rest of the book is fantastic…
Have you read recently any book that surprised you, that you actually enjoyed reading?
Great question! I am just the host, but Susannah should be on later today to answer questions relating to her piece. That being said, I personally find every book surprising. I did, however, go through a phase where I felt like Susannah does now, which I think was mainly caused by college and studying writing more than having time to simply enjoy it again. (Not speaking for Susannah, of course. Just what happened to me.) Now I feel as if every book offers something new, whether that be in their voice or their story. My latest favorite YA book that I felt was super fresh was The Reader by Traci Chee. It had so many different timelines coming together in a way I never saw coming, and her way of delivering it was exciting. Her language was magnificent, too.
I really enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. It had just the right amount of worldbuilding and detail for me.
Before I started writing I could read anything. Nothing bothered me, whether it was POV or the tense chosen, past or present. I’ve noticed; however, that in the last couple of years, my tastes have become pickier.
Uncommon POV or tenses have always kinda annoyed me, but it’s gotten harder and harder to put up with that kind of thing now. It’s got to be an absolutely amazing story for me to read past a few pages.
There is one series that I haven’t been able to read even though I would love to. It’s written in first person, present tense, and the author has about 10 “I say” on every page. I’ve tried five times to get into the series, but as soon as I start, about 3 pages in I have to give up.
Somehow, the fact that it’s in first person makes it sound worse.
Lol. I don’t mind first person. It’s actually what I write in, but it was the present tense that got me. “I don’t know,” I say. “But we can’t,” I say. I say. I say. I say. It drove me nuts. Lol.
I prefer first person, myself. But first person and a weird tense… Hard to do well.
Yes. It is. 🙂
Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
Here is a great post from Shannon Thompson’s blog on the effect that writing has on your ability to enjoy reading.
Glad to liked it!
*you. I swear touch screens are the bane of my existence.
So true, Susannah! I drive my husband nuts when we go to the movies. He’s saying “That was great!” and I’m saying, “The plot had holes.” But I do find it useful, when listening to political speeches, when I can say, “Ah, there’s X rhetorical device.”
Had the same problem with speeches after I took public speaking in college. Lost most of it now so I suppose I’m susceptible to the rhetoric again.
Exactly! Your screenwriting observation is one of the reasons I like indie films, they are less structured and quirky. If I start a book, my critical mind starts looking for the “tricks.” If the writing is natural, entertaining, I find I finish the book much quicker. If I find the writer might be trying too hard, well, that I a book that might be but in the free book bin near my house without me even finishing it. I think some writers feel more comfortable around words and what they can do, rather than the other way around. With that I leave you with:
“There is something in this universe so powerful it makes a man cry, makes him laugh, kills him and saves his life. Yet this powerful thing only has five letters. This power is called……… words.”
Ooh, I like that quote.
It was missing a sentence:
“There is something in this universe so powerful it makes a man cry, makes him laugh, kills him and saves his life, makes him fall in love and makes others fall in love with him. Yet this powerful thing only has five letters. This power is called……… words.”
This came to me in a dream about 7 years ago. Sometimes when I’m driving around searching for writing inspiration, the quote comes creeping into my thoughts. I have tried to find out where it came from, so far with no success, so maybe it’s my own. Who knows who the muse is and where she comes from.
I really enjoyed this post! I agree, writing (and reading really good books) makes reading mediocre stuff so much more difficult.
I read all of the Anne Rice Vampire and Mayfair Witch books years ago and really enjoyed them. The other day, I picked up an audiobook of “The Witching Hour” and after listening for a couple of hours, I realized I was bored with the lack of dialogue and data-dump scene details. I guess I much prefer character-driven plots and heavy dialogue, rather than descriptions. Show, don’t tell, eh?
I’m trying not to reread old things, because I’m afraid it’ll be worse than the first time and could ruin the memory.
Hi, this is a great article.. though on the other hand I’m just starting out writing so I guess I may have this problem ahead of me! Which isn’t great. But I do want to improve my writing, so I suppose it’s a necessary evil. Are there any particular books or sites which offer good advice on ‘how to write well?’ I’m trying to read and write as much as possible but don’t really feel like I’m improving as fast as I’d like to. Thanks a lot.
https://madgeniusclub.com/navigating-from-writing-to-publication/ This is one of my favorite sites for writing advice. They also have a ton of advice for people who publish indie. As for books, read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a screenwriting book, but it has a lot of useful tips for any kind of writer.
Thanks so much for these tips! I’ve checked out the site briefly but will go back to it when I have a good chunk of time. Take care!
Are there things you’ve read that haven’t followed the conventional ‘formula’ that blew you away? Or is that even possible, seeing that we have been conditioned to digest story in a certain way.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. But one of the more interesting reading experience was reading one series that had extremely predictable plot twists. I always knew they were coming, BUT I never knew WHAT was coming. It didn’t deviate much from the usual formula, but it still captivated me.
Good grief! I thought something was wrong with me. I’ve always been an avid reader (I’m no young chick, you see), and since I’ve started writing I enjoy reading less.j Like you, I don’t like that. I’ll try the change the genre idea. Thanks.
You are not alone! And good luck!
I can relate to the part about reading old stuff and thinking that it is bad. I have been writing for only a couple of years and feel that I am much better than I used to be. If you could be so kind as to check out my blog and tell me what you think it would be much appreciated.
This reminds me of Josephs Campbell’s cycle of a hero…
Also, the quote that ‘every story starts with a stranger coming to town or someone beginning a journey!’
Well written Shannon! I’m a former reading speicalist and can’t agree more with the reading writing connection. https://principalspoints.wordpress.com/blog/
This is written very well! Although I am just getting started here on WordPress, I know exactly what you mean about books being ruined. I have stopped reading for the most part, but I don’t agree that my writing is getting worse. If anything, my writing has gotten much better! I do understand your point of view and it was nice to gain some insight (:
I feel this on a deep level, oh my goodness! I thought I was the only one! I’ve been writing seriously since high school as well and decided to go to university for English Studies, which, unsurprisingly, involved a lot of writing. I was also forced to read a lot of absolutely awful books and spend twenty pages in an essay pretending that I loved them. Overall, it was a terrible experience.
When I left university, I found myself with a big problem; I still wanted to write, but I didn’t want to read anything anymore. I tried everything; reading old favourites (which I enjoyed but didn’t really ignite the spark in me I was looking for), reading new books (I found myself cursing every little detail I felt was cliched or poorly written and chucking the book aside within a few chapters). Nothing helped. It brought me to tears because I so desperately wanted to love reading again. I missed it. I hated that I couldn’t just read a book and enjoy the story without worrying about plot devices and archetypes and the most insignificant of typography errors.
I’m slowly learning how to separate the writer from the reader and switch the writer off when I read something. It’s hard. I consistently have to tell my inner writer to be quiet and go back to sleep whenever it pops into my head while reading, but it does work. I’ve also rediscovered my love of reading through starting a bookstagram and a blog. You obviously already have the blog part down, but you may want to try bookstagram if you’re still struggling. I find just all the pretty pictures of books and general enthusiasm of bookstagramers helps stoke my desire to read.
You are not alone! Haha. I know what you’re talking about with the English classes. Part of the reason I picked the major I did and not English was because I didn’t want to be forced to read stuff I didn’t want to and analyze the turd out of it. Turning off that inner writer is hard enough as is, eh?
I was just wondering the same thing and I came across your post. I really do not read as much as I used to read before. This is a great post.
Reblogged this on WILDsound Writing and Film Festival Review.
Sometimes I feel this way but more often than not, I’m excited to see how the author used the familiar writing devices in a unique way. Similar to how I don’t get annoyed because the author uses the same words that every other author uses – what matters is how they use them. And while there are some books I’ll never be able to enjoy now, there are hundreds of others that would never have been accessible to me before for me to explore.
Just like any evolution, you get better at choosing really good books. Classics always stand up, like Dracula or the Count of Monte Cristo, but the Hunger Games and Harry Potter are amazing, too. Some people go their whole lives eating fast food and being amazed that every single Disney princess plot hinges around, “It’s all my fault!” Don’t give up reading or movies; just make better choices.