Saturday, May 16, 2009

Too much reading

(not enough writing)

I went away for five days. I didn't get a lick of writing done.
While out of town I finished a book that I was halfway through and started another. Both of these books were stellar reads, not just good stories, but good writing that I learned a lot from. (I'm sure not a single sentence in either of them ended with a preposition.)

One book had very spare, clean writing, a story that took a while to build up, held me on a precipice and then took me higher with every chapter til the final HEA. The other book had very full, meaty writing, a story that took off with a bang and then dipped and ebbed and soared so I was clinging to the ride right up until the end.

I planned to write while I was gone. I always plan to write. But one of the reasons for being gone is to do other things. So rarely do my plans and my activities come together.

When I got back I had 200 odd posts in my google reader. That was Monday. I still have 200 odd posts. There was a time when I would have sat down and gone through every one of them. Now I pretty much keep the same pace as I did before I left. Why I ever felt the internal pressure to keep up to date on other blogs is beyond me. I'll catch up eventually, or I won't. I'll probably comment about the same amount too, but no one will see because I'll be a good week behind. Heh.

What really disturbed me is that when I came back, I didn't pick up my pen immediately. I realized that all of this reading had been getting to me, and not in a good way. Instead of learning from the books I was reading, I found myself comparing my writing to theirs... with me getting the short end of the stick. I don't yet have a critique partner, an agent or an editor. Of COURSE my words are not as polished as theirs.

Regardless, I still want the words that flow from my pen on the very first pass to be as brilliant as those that have been through several professional eyes, countless re-reads, and a dozen editing passes. In other words, I'm not being fair to myself.

Then, I hop on the web and read the blogs of reviewers whose job it is to poke holes in everything that doesn't work about a book--giving me anxiety before I've even finished writing my book.
, who tend to only post about that which they love or that which they hate--making me double-check my work to include the things that are universally loved and excise or justify the things that are universally hated.
, who are still struggling with their work even years after being published--remindng me that it never gets easier. Or promoting their books--reminding me I'm not yet invited to breathe such rarefied air.
who just want a good book and beg us authors to stop making the same damn mistakes again and again--reminding me that I make all those mistakes still (it's only my second book, give me a break!) and probably a dozen more that they never even see because it would have been rejected by any half-decent agent.
And, I read the blogs of agents, who are inundated with work from polished to half-assed authors, and don't really have much time to give to newbies who are not on their client list, but try anyway because they want to raise the level of quality for everyone--leaving me to wonder if I'm so late to the game that it's questionable whether I should even make a grab for the ball. Not to mention the rejections. Oh, the rejections.

This is my reading. So much reading. And it has left me doing not enough writing.

Yet, still, when I put pen to paper, as I did tonight, I know that the quality of my work has improved greatly from all the reading I've done. My characters are who they want to be, my plots are still a mystery to me until the book is finished, my grammar has improved and the basics of the craft come more easily. Yet I'm less confident about my writing than I was last year when I was writing my first book.

The beauty of the solitary nature of this work is that no one is criticizing, looking over your shoulder or saying what you should do from paragraph to paragraph. There's no teacher checking your work and telling you, "No, you can't do that." Your instincts for how to tell a good story are honed by the hundreds (hopefully, thousands) of good stories you've already read.

I made a mistake. I have mentally invited the critics into my work before it's ready for outside eyes. I'm reading "no" before I've ever given myself a chance to hear "yes." It leaves me in a quandary. The reading I've done has had the intended effect on the work I'm producing and an unintended effect on my psyche. Where's the line? What do I do?

For now, I shall continue reading it all, but try not to indulge my comparative side. No one is writing just for me alone (though wouldn't that be cool?) so why am I taking it personally? I shall absorb the good, deflect the bad, and learn, learn, learn.

And for goodness sake, I must keep writing. It's the only way I'll ever become one of those authors that newbies writers read years from now and think, I'll never be that good.

Just finished: Lover Avenged
Currently reading: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

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