Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Oh, I don't read."

A few days ago, I was chatting with a young woman who expressed an interest in being an author. We had talked about all the typical stuff: you have to write in order to be a writer; make sure you finish your project; have a lot of patience and a thick skin. She’d seemed to be solid and on track, until I asked her what the best book was that she’d read in the last year was. As an answer, she shrugged, waved her hand, and said “Oh, I don’t read.”


For a moment, all I could do was blink at her. Speechless. Completely speechless. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she would want to be a writer if she didn’t even like to read.
See, any of us who love to write, loved to read first. Every author I know fell in love with the words, and the stories, and the story tellers. We each have the author(s) who captured our fancy and made us think I want to do this (Andrew Greeley and Nora Roberts, in case you’re wondering). We love to read as much – and sometimes more – than we love to write.
Is writing a cool profession? Oh, yeah. Not even going to try to lie. The other day, I was sitting outside, enjoying some late-season sun, reading a book, when a neighbor stopped by. With a smile, she called over “I thought you were working today!” I laughed along with her and decided to let it go, but truth of the matter is I was working. Reading other authors’ works is indeed part of my job. My first editor sent me several of Lucy Monroe’s books in order for me to notice how she developed her characters and resolved conflicts. My first agent had me reading category romances, to get a feel for how concise a story must be to be told in 50,000 words.
In spite of that, writing is hard work. It’s a skill, something that can be learned and honed. Starting with natural talent is hugely helpful, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. Instead, we work on how to develop characters, write fight scenes, build tension. We spend hours agonizing over our critique partners’ notes. We read dialogue out loud and study reactions in front of mirrors to literally see what we’re trying to describe. We pace, we bitch, we grind our teeth, and figuratively beat our heads against our desks trying to come up with the perfect turn of phrase. Our friends, significant others, and colleagues have learned “five more minutes…” actually means “go ahead without me, because we’re looking at hours before I can walk away from this scene.” When we’re writing, we stress over the words. When we aren’t writing, we stress over the lack of words. In between those two extremes are a plethora of other reasons to stress. Most of the authors I know have to squeeze writing time in and around a scheduled day job. It can be a heart-wrenching and all-consuming profession, and that’s before we put the finished product out there for Monday morning quarterbacking from total strangers. Why anyone would choose it when they don’t love the end result is beyond me. Except…
On this day in particular, I happened to be sitting on a deck overlooking the truly magnificent Priest Lake, in Coolin, Idaho. I have written all over the state of Alaska, from Kenai to Prudhoe Bay. I started a book in Mexico and finished it in Connecticut. Once people find out I’m a writer, they answer questions and tell me stories that they wouldn’t otherwise dream of telling a stranger. And let’s be honest; you cannot beat the writer’s commute.
Now, I still don’t understand why someone would choose to be a writer if they don’t love to read. I figure that would be akin to becoming an elementary school teacher when you don’t like kids. The idea of being an author is very different from the reality of being an author. But I will admit, I have been reminded of the allure, and that was good for me. There is nothing easy about this job. At the same time, if you love it – love reading the words, love writing the words, love it all – writing can indeed be worth it. Worth all of it.

--Pauline Trent


DeNise said...

Thank You! I have someone in my life that says, "Why do you read? I think you should just write, don't clutter your mind with what someone else writes."
I'm paraphrasing there-but not read? Really? Easier to not breath.
Grreat post.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

I can't even imagine not reading! I have a brother who thinks reading is a waste of time, and if he reads it's only self help books. Which is a good thing for him since he needs all the help he can get. Not reading and wanting to write is like wanting to play football and never seeing a game. Crazy.

Tam Linsey said...
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Tam Linsey said...

Wow. Just, wow. Why would someone want to create something they don't appreciate? It would be like someone who doesn't like chocolate (heaven forbid - but I have met a few!) wanting to open a chocolate shop. How would they even know what to stock? They'd probably fill their shelves with carob. *shudder*
Thanks for the inspiring post! Think I'll go cuddle up with a good book. :)

Anonymous said...

Pauline - great blog!
I hope you set this girl straight on the 'glamorous' life of a writer (this great blog would help - too bad she'll never read it! :o)
---Jae Awkins

Pauline Trent said...

DeNise ~ I have heard that as well. Interestingly enough, always from non-writers. ;)

Tiffinie ~ Sadly, I have members of my extended family who don't read either. I Do Not get it. *sigh*

Tam ~ That was part of it for me, in this instance. Not just the not reading, which is horrific enough, but to want to create something you don't like...? It makes no sense, not really. Although the lake is really beautiful today. LOL

LizbethSelvig said...
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Tielle St. Clare said...

Amazing. Yes, as an author, I find it difficult to believe another author doesn't read. And as a person, I find it impossible to believe someone doesn't read. Really? What do you do?

Morgan O'Reilly said...

I have a cousin-in-law who is quite proud of the fact she doesn't read. And she's a preschool teacher. Yeah. A bit scary, but all three of her boys are purely sports oriented. All action, little thought or imagination. There must be a balance.

I continue to be amazed at how many people don't read. And yet, I ran into a friend this morning who mentioned she carries her Kindle with her when she travels for her job. I promptly handed her a couple bookmarks with my latest release on it!!

Great post!

LizbethSelvig said...

Hi Pauline,
Great post. I actually have a friend who does actively write but doesn't read much at all and even claims that as fact if she's okay with it-- that it's just the way it is. It blows me away every time. Worse, it shows in her writing. So--it was good for us all to be reminded that it isn't wasting time when we pick up a book and it shouldn't be the first activity in our day to get left off the to do list. (That honor definitely goes to my two bathrooms.) :-) Thanks for a fun post!

Boone Brux said...

Great post! Reading is a must. Even if we don't get the chance as much as we like, reading is an essential building block to becoming a good writer, even if it's to say, " I could do that better."

I also really dig my writer's wardrobe. Almost completely made of elastic.

Pauline Trent said...

Tielle ~ "As person, I find it impossible..." Yes! THIS! What *do* nonreaders do?

Morgan ~ A teacher who doesn't read...that sent shivers up my spine. You're right; the key is balance.

Lizbeth ~ I can't imagine it *not* showing in someone's writing! And I'm right there with you with the bathrooms. LOL

Boone ~ Funny you should mention reading as a way of knowing we can do better. I'm in the middle of that myself right now with my current read. As for the writer's wardrobe...oh yeah. It's as great as the commute!

Jennifer Bernard said...

Love this post! Not reading would be like not breathing to me. I don't even want to try to imagine it! And I agree that it's a must for a writer. I like to think of all my years (decades!) of reading romance as the equivalent of a PhD.

C.J. Ellisson said...

Great post! I've often felt like a fraud as a writer because I haven't been at it long and have considered myself more of a reader with a dream to write a novel.

Even when the dream became a reality I never stopped reading. I don't know how anyone could even contemplate writing if they weren't readers first! Sounds like the woman you metioned is immature and self absorbed. "oh... I can do that. Here, let me try."

*snort* sure.... Go ahead honey, give it a shot.

Pauline Trent said...

Jennifer ~ I like the PhD analogy!

CJ ~ I still feel a bit fraudulent, as if I'm managing to have chocolate every single day while people think I'm eating celery. :) And yes, exactly, the arrogance in her statement floored me. Because creating lives and worlds that other people want to read is oh so easy...