I’ve always believed that the most important thing a writer can do is read. By reading, we not only see what’s out there that works, and what’s out there that doesn’t, but also, reading has a way of jostling the imagination, and sparking new ideas in even the most unexpected places. Unfortunately, once you’ve learned the technicalities of writing, it’s hard to forget them while you’re trying to read for pleasure. On every page it seems, there lurks some glaring type of technical issue such as misplaced modifiers, too much exposition, fragmented sentences, and overused adverbs. Another common problem (apparently) is the over use of commas, but I don’t seem to notice those (this is probably due to the fact that of all the rules of writing in existence, comma use is the one that I struggle with the most.)
I’ve always been an avid reader, and after I began to learn the rules of writing, I found myself unable to read without being critical. There are times this education comes in handy, such as when I’m reading actively, setting out on purpose to read something critically. But when it comes to reading for joy, it’s a real buzz kill.
My first approach to regaining the former pleasure I’d always been able to find in reading was to practice turning that part of my mind off. It didn’t work. I’m ashamed to admit that because of this, I probably only read half a dozen novels in 2011. I believe that if I want to get any better at my work, I need to read, so I’ve decided that I need to change my approach.
A few months ago, me and my friend Tom began our own little “book club” where we take turns choosing novels that we want to read. We’ve done several books now, and with the exception of one, I’ve managed to not only get through, but genuinely enjoy, all of them. I will continue doing this because I don’t ever want to become stagnant in my own writing, or closed-minded to the writing of others. With each book I read, I’m coming to understand more and more clearly that what was formerly stumping me is really just a simple concoction of pros and cons. Although I may find a lot of things wrong with a story, I am also finding a lot of things right. For every line I scoff at, I find another one with mind-blowing beauty.
Reading these days takes a little more patience, but I have yet to throw a book down, call it “bad,” and tell everyone how much it sucks despite the fact that I didn’t finish it. I’d be doing myself no favors by closing my mind this way – not to mention this kind of literary snobbery doesn’t look good on anyone. However, I also believe I should be a little more selective about what I read, because as important as reading may be, it’s still second to writing, and if I am doing enough of that, I probably shouldn’t invest a whole lot of time into something I probably won’t learn anything from.
I can not un-learn the things I’ve learned over the past few years, and I’m glad for that, but most of all, I’m glad that I’m coming to understand that when it comes to reading, nothing has changed except how I choose to approach it. These days, I need to approach reading with an open mind as well as a willingness to accept that not everyone follows all the rules all the time, not even me… and that is okay.