On Reading as a Writer

Okay, so I have been blogging about what I read under the heading of ‘reading as a writer’ for almost two months now, but up until now I haven’t really stopped to explain what I mean by that.

As I have said more than once, I am an avid reader, some times writer and full-time misfit… and the order of those statements does matter. You see, being a reader is, almost by definition a preamble to becoming a writer (being a misfit, on the other hand, is just a bonus), but one of the things I have noticed in the last few years is that there is a considerable difference in how I approach what I read nowadays. When I was a kid I used to read just for the fun of it, that was easy enough. When I was in college I was forced to look at the scholarly aspect of things, and truth be told that one pretty much squeezed all the joy out of the experience. Reading became a chore… one I didn’t particularly care for. Yes, I had one great teacher that made me appreciate whatever it was that we were studying –a cantankerous old bastard who insisted on handwritten papers and actually cared deeply about each and every one of his students– but unfortunately he was the exception, not the norm. Still, he was there, and that kept me from becoming disenchanted with literature altogether. That was stage two. Stage three kind of crept up on me and it was born out of a combination of two different factors. After stage two I had gone back to reading just for the joy of it, and I was finally free to explore my own interests, but at the same time I had already discovered fanfiction.

Yes, I know that ‘fanfiction’ has a pretty bad name in writing circles –and as a writer I can even understand why– but the truth is that, in my experience, I have found it to be a pretty diverse community, and while I am the first one to admit that there is a lot of crap out there… well I think this is one instance in which Sturgeon’s Law (Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud) does apply. The problem with fanfiction is not so much a lack of quality, as a lack of an editorial filter… and that the stories written by authors who write at an almost professional level are not just mixed together with those of sixth-graders who at times seem to have the grammar of a six-year old, but are also vastly outnumbered by the kiddies (see Sturgeon’s Law above).

Anyway, in a way my interest in fanfiction had begun long before I even knew what it was. In fact it can probably be traced all the way back to the first time I left a movie theater thinking ‘well, that was a really dumb way to end that one. It would have been better if…’ but as I began trying to find my voice with those borrowed characters, I also became aware of the challenges that the writer was likely to have faced when putting the story together in the first place. It wasn’t just the ‘that was fun’ or ‘that was boring’, or even ‘that could have been better’ analysis that had characterized my first encounter with literature, and it wasn’t that dull approach to book dissection that had been beaten into my skull in school, but rather it was seeing where the pieces fit, which were the compromises the author had had to make and why.

What stays with me after I finish the book? What do the books I like have in common? Why do I like some books better than others? My answers to these questions are personal ones, and I know others are likely to disagree with me, but hey, this is my blog, and these are my thoughts both as a reader and as a writer –in fact let’s make that thrice: as a reader, a writer and a human being, hence the occasional post about cats– so grab a chair, and feel free to peep in!

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