So, a short blog post by Tony Noland has me thinking about one of the things that’s sucked about becoming an addicted writer. All three of his points had me nodding, but the second is turning over some gears in my head:
2. Reduced tolerance.
I used to enjoy lots of different kinds of books, including genre works of science fiction, horror, fantasy, etc. Now that I’ve been writing it myself for a while, I get irritated with some of the books that are held up as leading examples of the field. I know how the sausage is made, and it’s made me lose my taste for it.
I wish I could say it’s just the leaders of the fields that I’ve gotten turned off of, but I’m finding it really hard to finish a lot of the books I read these days. It’s not so much that the writing is bad and I’m giving up because the story isn’t good. The problem is, it’s not the story I want to read.
I got started writing precisely because I found so many of the same cliches showing up in all fiction, regardless of genre. I wanted to make something to stand apart from the crowd, and I feel like I’ve accomplished that in many stories. (Though not all of them.) But the problem is, the little things that used to be minor speed bumps are now major problems for me because I keep seeing them over and over. Instead of skimming over the parts that irk me, I drop the books altogether.
This really frustrates me, being so picky about what I read that I rarely get to finish a book anymore. And yet, even when I say, “I’m going to finish this book no matter what,” I will typically hit some passage that sends me to the living room to rant at hubby about how delusional fiction is with these stupid cliches. Once I’ve really worked myself up, he’ll cut me off to ask, “Why are you still reading it?” And then that’s another dropped book.
I don’t mean to be so picky, but I’ve spent years tearing apart my rough drafts, asking questions about why this character did something crazy, or why a scene is extraneous and if there’s a way to make it more relevant to the core story. I’ve had my silent editor picking on my stuff for so long, I can’t get the fucker to shut up when I get into someone else’s work.
Something else I’ve noticed: I now shy away from book discussions. I feel like I’m no longer part of the conversation because if I complain and someone notes that I’m a writer, they’re instantly dismissive of my opinion. They’ll say “You’re not looking at it the way a reader would.” Which is not really true. I’m pretty sure most of my complaints about character motivations and plot consistency were still the same back before I became a writer. But now that I am writing all the time, I’m perhaps more verbose about the reasons why something doesn’t work for me. I spend more time analyzing what I don’t like than I do thinking over what pleases me about a story. And once it comes time to post a review, I really have to struggle to recall what parts I liked.
Then there’s these books I bought from people I know online. I feel immense pressure to complete and like what they produce, because I’m going to be talking to them again real soon. I remember one story I bought from a friend, and within five pages, it became clear that he not only didn’t have a clue how drugs worked, he couldn’t be bothered to do basic research. The drugs were a MacGuffin, and I knew it, and yet, I couldn’t go on because I’d seen this guy make lectures about how writers needed to do basic research, and clearly, he couldn’t practice what he preached. So even when he had a new book out, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it because I didn’t have faith in his skill anymore.
Another example is the book I’m currently slogging through a few pages at a time. This is a sequel, and I LOVED the first book. But here, the story wanders away from the characters I like to follow a bunch of people that I couldn’t care less about. So, what do I do? Skip the second book and attempt to read the third with these huge information gaps? Force myself to read something even though I feel bored with it?
Finally, there’s books that I got told, “You have to read this series!” So I try the first book, and I wonder what drugs my friends are doing that made them think this was a decent story. And let’s be clear: most of the people who pitch books to me are other writers. In theory, they should know quality, and I should have a halfway decent chance of enjoying the same stuff that they do. But that theory rarely holds up in practice.
I don’t want to be this picky, and it isn’t like I don’t have free time to spare on reading. But the more I write, the harder it’s become to push myself to pick up new stuff from other people. I’ve tried making a schedule and saying, “This is the time that I will read,” and when that time rolls around, I always have something else to do.
One last thought on this: I’m becoming more jealous of even trivial successes. This isn’t so much a side effect of writing more. Rather it’s my failure to pick up new readers that’s to blame. So I read something that irritates me, and this nagging voice whines, “Why was this so praiseworthy, and my stuff isn’t?” I don’t want to think like that. But as much as I hate doing it, I can’t seem to stop myself either.
Being a writer is a lonely habit, and even though I want to be a part of the community of readers, I no longer feel connected to other folks by common interests. So, for all these reasons, sometimes I wish I’d never picked up the writing habit. Not because I suck at it, but because I now suck at being an avid reader. That feels like a tragic loss to me, the inability to get lost in new worlds and new ideas without tearing them apart.
So yeah, that’s enough to make me wish I’d never picked up this dirty habit of needing to write to fill the empty spaces in me. Those spaces used to be filled by other people, and even if sometimes I had issues with a story, at least I was able to finish what I started.