Read for Pleasure
If you wanted to learn how to play the blues guitar, you’d listen to blues music in all its many forms. You’d listen to legends like B. B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and try to learn how they played. When you get serious, you’ll branch out and listen to all the genres that have roots in blues: country, classic rock, heavy metal, most of modern pop music.
But if you don’t enjoy listening to blues, why bother learning how to play it?
The same is true of fiction writing in any genre. If you don’t enjoy reading mystery, why write mysteries?
Read the type of books you enjoy. But never read books to study. Study is a critical voice activity. Tearing apart and deconstructing a novel requires a logical, critical approach, no creativity required. You don’t need a creative voice to analyze fiction, just a dry eye and plenty of caffeine.
Critical voice is useful for learning. And that’s okay. Learning is possible when problems are solved with a discerning approach. Problems happen when the critical voice seeps into pleasurable activities, like reading. You’ll never enjoy another story if you’re constantly nitpicking somebody’s word choices, syntax, plot structure, etc.
If you can’t get pleasure from reading, how can you expect to give the pleasure of storytelling to another reader? (I see the innuendo in that sentence. Sorry, I’m leaving it that way on purpose.)
Once, not so long ago, I tried to finish reading every novel I started. Did not matter if I enjoyed it or not, or how long it took me to stumble through the pages. No more. Life is too damn short to waste on novels I can’t find pleasure in.
This is not to put shame on a book I didn’t finish. Quite the contrary, I don’t finish a number of tales that are probably quite good and have wide audiences. Only, that wasn’t the book for me at the time. I read enough to figure out if it’s up my alley or not, and then read it or move on to something else.
I no longer write reviews anymore, for that matter. Like study, review is a critical voice activity. When something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter why. It wasn’t my type of story. Or maybe the first chapter was too slow. Or the character disgusted me. But I don’t waste time analyzing books that don’t hook me.
The books that keep me up until four in the morning and make me cranky from lack of sleep the next day… those I will study, because I want to know what the author did to pull me under. I want the tools she used to put me in a hypnosis like state, so that I wasn’t even aware I was reading.
I set that book aside, and copy the cliffhangers, settings, and openings as if I were writing the book. Word for word. Not always the entire book, but key moments, like ends of chapters and the beginnings of scenes.
The key is, I read for pleasure first. If I can’t enjoy the book with a bag of popcorn and an appropriate beverage, it’s not the book for me. I’ll make exceptions for non-fiction books, but even then I want a good read that is intellectual and entertaining. For fiction, I must be entertained, or the book goes back on the shelf.
I also believe you should read outside your own comfort zone. If you want to write an epic fantasy, you should of course read fantasy of all stripes. But also seek out romances, for characterization and emotional setting. Read thrillers for pacing. Find a good mystery series to get a feel for how a detective unfolds a puzzle problem. Read science fiction for the bizarre ideas. Et cetera.
I must stress again, read only for pleasure. If you don’t see pleasure in reading, you won’t approach books very often. When stories become pleasurable again, you’ll enjoy your writing more as well.
Finding your voice involves doing things you enjoy doing, as opposed to slugging through a tedious task (like so much else in life). Reading for pleasure is the goal for yourself, as well as the audience you want to entertain with your work. To know how to please an audience, you must first be the audience.
Copyright 2015 David Anthony Brown
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