Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Unfortunate Writing Side Effect



I've been a voracious reader since the moment I began to read, gobbling up words and stories, letting them transport me and fill me and cover me. Books helped me through every rough time of my life. Pieces of stories from years and years of reading have imbedded themselves into my soul, probably taking the places of real memories that my mind deemed unworthy. Yes, books have always been a huge part of my life.

As a little girl I would hide behind my father's recliner in the corner with a blanket and a Ramona book while my family watched television. As a middle schooler I'd hole myself up in my room with spooky R.L. Stine books. As a teen, things were different. It became more difficult to find books that fit my frame of mind--there wasn't the massively awesome teen selection that there is today. I think I can blame a lot of my teenage depression and early stages of anxiety on the fact that I was mourning the loss of my old friend, reading.

Thankfully, once I hit my twenties I delved into the world of adult books and found my peace once again. While I was a flight attendant my best friend and I read the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and called one another "Dahling" for weeks. Then I went through a chick-lit humor phase where I devoured everything written by Marian Keyes, Rachel's Holiday being my favorite. Next I dove into "serious," literary books and nonfiction, things like Poisonwood Bible and Angela's Ashes (think Oprah's Book Club stuff). I was reading a book every 1-2 days. I could not get enough. While my husband was in vet school, he begged me to get a library card because we were broke and books were my primary spending vice. You all know how it is. Book nerd problems. Then as a high school English teacher I fell absolutely in love with young adult literature while trying to find books to suit my reluctant readers' personalities. Next up was romance of every variety.

I've been through every book stage and loved them all. All sorts of genres. I don't believe there's such thing as a guilty pleasure when it comes to reading. Books and guilt don't belong together. In the mood for a gruesome historical nonfiction? Do it? Spicy romance? Have fun. I certainly have.

But somewhere along the line, right around 2012, something happened--something that changed my ability to escape into books.

I became a writer.

It pains me to say this. I always loved writing, too, right along with reading. I wrote stories all my life, but it wasn't until 2012 when I was thirty-two years old, that I wrote my first full novel and began to seriously critique fellow writers.

At first, I thought I was just in a slump. I'd been doing so much beta reading that I found myself trying to beta read the published books I was reading. I wanted to change lines and cross out words, and I kept reminding myself that this was pleasure reading. Put down the red pen, Wendy. But it only got worse. It became harder and harder to enjoy the words on the page without turning phrases over in my mind and thinking about how I would have described that moment. Or, worse, finding myself shamefully jealous of said writer's skills. Over the years, it has only become more difficult. It began with reading the first book in a series, and enjoying it, but not feeling a burning desire to pick up the sequel. And it only went downhill from there. I still find books that I love, and series that I continue reading, but they are few and far between now.

In the past year I have found myself feeling that same sense of loss and depression that I did as a teen, because I miss my old friend. You have no idea how sad it is for me to admit that. I buy books ALL the time. I still love how they feel in my hands, and how they smell. I love the thrill of watching a new book upload on my Kindle. I love the possibility that *maybe* this will be the one I love and finish. Because most of the books I buy these days do not get finished. They are left somewhere between 20-70%. And it's not that they're bad. They're not. Five years ago I would have adored them. But it's so hard for me to fall for a book now. It's so hard for me to get lost in the story, from start to finish, and let myself be carried away without overthinking it. I don't know why. It's a horrible feeling. (That being said, please know that when I endorse a book on Goodreads, whatever I say about said book, I mean it. I would not BS and blow smoke up your bum. I've been lucky to find a few gems each year and to meet many lovely authors.)

All of that being said, I can't help but wonder...is it like this for a lot of writers? I've talked to a couple friends who also sadly admit they have a hard time escaping into books now. But I wonder if it's across the board in the publishing world - writers, agents, editors? That could explain why it's so hard to get published. If agents and editors are so submersed in the writing world that they're as word-burned as me, I can see how it would be harder to fall for a book enough to want to represent it and publish it. I can understand how so many good books would slip through and go unnoticed, hence the widely-loved indie movement.

I never dreamed that being a full-time writer would have an effect on me as a reader. I'm to the point now where I need to face this reality and embrace where I'm at. I'm a writer. It seems that my brain now prefers to be lost in story worlds of its own creation. Am I okay with that? Not yet. I'm still very sad. But being a writer is my dream-come-true. I would choose being an author over any career in the world. I'm beyond blessed. I love the worlds I make and the characters who live in them. I do. And maybe this is just another phase. I have faith that my love of reading will renew itself someday when things settle down in my life. Until then, I need to be satisfied with the fact that I get to provide other readers with the escapism they crave and need. If I can't have both, then I choose writing. I choose you.

Whatever book you're reading, friend, savor it. For me and you both.




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14 comments:

  1. My friend, also named Sarah, edits law papers (something like that. The specifics are beyond me; ) and she has the same problems!! She gets into a lot of book slumps.

    I've been wondering about how writer's do it. I've been writing, and between writing, being a mom, trying to find a job....well it's all a lot, and it all takes up so much time. My DVR is getting pretty full.

    After high school and college, I stopped reading books for fun for YEARS. I'd been forced to read so much for school that I actually forgot what I liked to read! It was an obscenely long time--a decade or so--before I started reading for fun again. Hang in there! :) <3

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    1. Oh, it's good to know I'm not alone, but sad to know others go through these crazy reading slumps too! Thank goodness for the upswing part of these phases, though. Thank you, Sarah!

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  2. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, Wendy. And some pain never goes away. But doing something you love and are good at like reading and writing may help, even if they temporarily might hurt in reminding you. And don't be such a critic of yourself. You have such a huge fan base and in some cases more like friends because you're awesome and we all know it. I'm sure every writer goes through phases of similar things to you now and they get through it with support and love. And you have both, from me at least ;) xoxo

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    1. Hugs to you, Brittany. Thanks for the support. <3

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  3. Oh gosh… yes. This DOES break my heart… especially since you create the kind of books that are so easy to get lost in. It just doesn't seem fair that you'd lose the most wonderful part of reading!!! I hope it comes back some day… but you HAVE to know that at least you are giving people that magic… even if you've sacrificed it for yourself. HUGS… <3 <3 <3

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    1. You always know what to say, Morg. Love ya.

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    2. This is literally everything I wanted to say, but I just couldn't find the words. Thank you!

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  4. You and I have spoken about this a lot. I get it and it breaks my heart. I don't read nearly as much as I used to :(

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  5. I had an issue similar to this when I read an author I had previously written before I got into the writing community. Now I know more about the mistakes that are made and it irked me that she made so many. I mean like simple ones an apprentice shouldn't make. The book was still good but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were in the dark. Thankfully it doesn't happen too often. I'm a procrastinator and pantser and I think my internal editor is affected by that. Best of luck in reading Wendy but I can see why you would choose writing. I can't imagine doing anything else.

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  6. I am, as usual, completely with you on this. Right down to the Marian Keyes, Elizabeth Young phase. And I find myself slogging through books that I would have adored a few years ago, reading a few pages at a time and knowing that I should be enjoying them more than I am. But the side effect to this side effect is that once in a while, I find a book that makes me rediscover the joy of reading all over again. A book that lets me dive in and forget that I'm a writer, forget that I'm reading and just enjoy being in that world with those characters. I'm so thrilled when I find that book, and that writer is suddenly my hero and my muse and my exemplar. I treasure those authors and those books even more than I would have before I started writing. I guess that's the trade off. I'm even more of a crazy fangirl now as a writer than I ever was as a reader. And I shove more books at people than I used to. But yes, I'm sad that there are less of those books, and that they're fewer and further between. : (

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  7. Today understand this post and I'm not even published yet! I used to read 100+ books a year. I've read less than 20 since I decided to write full time. I think the reading love will come back once the worlds in my head are played out. :)

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  8. I think if you get into any kind of writing the mental red pen never leaves your head. I used to be in journalism, tried editing too among a lot of other writing related ventures that didn't really last because it wasn't the right fit for me and it's so easy to get burned. But honestly I think reading because you feel some sort of obligation to can color the way you look at a book in and of itself. I tried to do a review blog once and I couldn't say no to anyone even in the genre was a completely wrong fit for me. I got to the point I was reading at least 2 but usually more books per day. And I love books, I love stories and words but I was completely miserable. When I gave up the review blog I didn't pick up a book for like six months. Even now when I go on a reading binge where I get in mood after a time where nothing is right, nothing grabs me and I just get frustrated. I'm not really a writer anymore (because it sort of requires finishing things and I suck at that) I gave up journalism and a myriad of other things that would almost be embarrassing to list, years ago, but I still do sometimes see the red pen in my head and I still get burned out. And I don't know if you get a choice about reading for quotes or obligation but if you have one maybe don't and all those books at percents set them back to 0 and start over when you feel that craving again and that description is the one that hits you. Read when you feel that craving again and only then for a time period and maybe you won't feel so burned and will have the chance to get lost in a story again. At least that's what works for me. I love to read don't get me wrong and I read a lot. But it's my personal opinion that if you do anything for obligation it sort of ruins it. And if you can't get lost in the first few chapters that's not the right book for the person you are right at that moment in time. It's a book for another day or not a book for you at all. Again I'm nobody and I don't share the same life experiences as you so what works for me may be worthless to you, but I thought I'd offer.

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  9. It is truly sad. Only when I stopped writing, could I savour the pleasure of reading again. The brain works in its own unrelenting ways.
    Wonderful post.

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