There was a time when I loved curling up with a good novel and losing myself in the story. There was no particular genre that tickled my fancy—I read everything from Stephen King to Clive Cussler to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Pat Conroy to Victor Hugo. But that was before I began writing fiction. Since writing my first novel, Divided by God, in 1993, I’ve gone through a peculiar metamorphosis that unfortunately has for all practical purposes forever compromised my ability to enjoy fiction.
This phenomenon didn’t happen overnight; it was a slow process. I first noticed it when I read David Baldacci’s debut novel, Absolute Power. About 100 pages into this thriller, it seemed as though I could not concentrate on the story. Instead of absorbing myself into the book and the characters, I began to dissect every adverb, every adjective—every single word. I would focus on sentence structure, use of language, dialogue, and evaluate each scene with fastidious scrutiny. I quickly discovered that I could have done a much better job than the author—or so my big, fat ego thought.
So distracted by this chronic preoccupation to editorialize every syllable, it reached the point where I could no longer enjoy this book. At first, I blamed it on the author, believing that all the hype that preceded the release of this novel sparked some curious need in me to find flaws with Mr. Baldacci’s writing. It’s not uncommon for unpublished novelists to be highly critical of successful writers. I think they call it sour grapes.
After careful consideration, I concluded that the book was not was it was hyped to be and wrote it off as one of many bestselling novels that didn’t deserve to be bestselling at all. No disrespect to David Baldacci; it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
I moved on to another novel (can’t remember which one), and less than 50 pages into this book, guess what happened? Yep, the writer in me took control and made the reader in me go stand in the corner. After going through this process with book after book—many of them remarkable works of fiction—the fog lifted and the dust settled.
I realized that I was no longer capable of reading a book as a reader, but instead, read books as a writer. So rather than enjoying a read and letting the story flow, I was like a crotchety old English teacher looking for every opportunity to criticize the writing. And this phenomenon has made it virtually impossible for me to enjoy a novel.
I can’t begin to tell you how many novels I’ve started but never finished. And it’s terribly disturbing because every writer worth his or her salt knows that a writer who doesn’t read seriously limits their ability to grow as a writer and improve their creative skills.
So, what can I do to cure myself of this affliction? I’m missing out on an activity I truly enjoy. I’m missing out on a world of poetic narratives, wonderful characters, and compelling plots. I have friends who read two or three books a week, and I can’t get through one in a month. How do I suppress the writer in me and unleash the reader?