Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reading - It's My Job

One of the things I love most about what I do is that I have to read - really; it's a job requirement! Of course, the problem with reading is that I don't get to actively work, which leads others to think I'm not working, including myself! That pressure to constantly be doing something keeps me from reading for enjoyment as much as I'd like.

When I am reading as part and parcel of what I do, I do it "right" - I take notes, I stop and look-up words I don't know or am unsure of in their context, I pursue "suggested" reading, and so on.
I am actively reading: reading with a purpose. I am actively studying - whether I am studying the work I am reading, or reading it as part of my study.

While both types of reading are crucial to good writing, casual reading should be just that: reading without higher aspirations. You may be reading with a "keen eye" (a mixed metaphor I love) - that is, you might be reading to see how an author handles dialogue or to experience the genre or subject matter - but you really shouldn't be taking notes or deconstructing the material.

In fact, casual reading is essential to good writing and something many writers "forget" to do once they start writing professionally. You can tell it, too! It's obvious when a writer has stopped reading for fun; their writing becomes more forced, more "correct," and loses a lot of its spark. If you find yourself in this position, you may have to take steps to "relearn" how to read for pleasure. You have to read for pleasure if you want to write well.

Because of the breadth and depth of the projects in which I am involved and the fact that I work from home, I simply cannot read casually at home. So, whenever I have to be out of the house for extended periods (usually doctors' appointments, in my case), I leave the "work" literature behind and bring something to enjoy. And - to make sure I read it expressly for that purpose - I double-check everything I'm carrying to ensure I have no pencil with me. I always take a pen (checks, documents, etc.), but I'm nowhere near as likely to write in a book with pen, so it's usually safe. However, if I know I'll be tempted, I make sure I have no scrap paper either - that way, I can't even take notes in pen!

I've since learned ways to enjoy casual reading at home, but it can be a chore. If you can, a room set aside for that purpose is a good idea, though a reading "nook" can be made in almost any room - all you need is a chair and a lamp! Be sure to remove all vestiges of work from the area. Even if you are not tempted to work while you should be reading, just looking at work-related materials can distract you from your task. And your task is to read - for no other reason!

Reading is just as important to writers as actually writing, yet it's something far too few of us do regularly. While I may read a Harry Potter book only because I've never read one (true story), I already know I'm "reading with an eye" toward how Rowling crafts scenes and handles dialogue, and consider it an example of YA fiction. I also know that, as a writer, there's little I can do to curb that; I've trained myself to maintain a creative distance specifically so I can recognize these writerly things and that's not only important to my job as a writer, it's one of those things you can't "unlearn."

However, a little gentle reminding here and there - making sure there's no pencil at-hand when I want to crib a note, reading in the bedroom where there are no computers or stacks of reference works - forces me to relax these instincts and, if it's any good, the material should eventually sweep me into its world so that I'm not always cognizant of the fact that the author cleverly used foreshadowing to heighten tension, or employed onomatopoeia to avoid description which could have reduced that tension,

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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