Monday, May 7, 2012

Rachel the Reader vs Rachel the Writer

I've been doing a lot of interviews/general talking as the Spirit War's release date gets closer (SO EXCITED!), and the question of "what are your favorite books?" has come up a lot, as it does. For the record, my favorite book changes all the time, but perennial favorites include The Last Unicorn, Dune, The Deed of Paksenarrion, 1984, The World Without Us, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. 

As I was answering all these questions, though, I began to think why I choose the books I do and more, why there are certain books I can't seem to enjoy no matter how hard I try or how good I know they are. For example, confession time, I can not get into Game of Thrones. I have tried four times in the last ten years to read the first book and I've never made it past the first hundred pages. 

This infuriates me, because I know I'm missing out. All my friends love the series, but I just can't get into it. Same with The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). I've heard nothing but amazing things about this book, and while I got a good half way through, I just never really cared enough to finish it. 

I actually have a very long and impressive list of books other people loved but I could never get into, including several genre classics I feel I should read as a writer. But no matter how hard I try, I just can't make myself finish them. 

I think this is in part because Rachel the Writer and Rachel the Reader approach books differently. Rachel the Reader is far, far crueler than Rachel the Writer. When I'm reading, my tolerance for slow starts or gentle build up is next to zero. Sometimes I just hate characters, other time there's something in the book that I find distasteful to the point where I don't want to read any more about them. And sometimes I just don't care enough to keep going.

This incredibly picky, irrational way of judging books horrifies Rachel the Writer, most of all because it's so arbitrary. Like, I can see as a writer that something is good, but the reader part of me just does not care. It's one thing to understand that not everyone will like every book and quite another to see it in yourself, especially when it's so easy to start seeing reasons a reader could hate my work. Undermining doesn't even begin to describe it.

Some writers talk about their internal editor. Me? I fear my internal reader. I'm constantly scared the bitch will zero in on something and that will be that. I've actually put down whole, perfectly good novels because the reader half of me wasn't on board, and while that's probably a good thing, I still can't tell you why the book didn't work. As someone who likes to be scientific and specific, it drives me NUTS. 

So, have you ever had a novel you knew you should have love but didn't? Do you let fear of reader expectations cloud your writing? Do you notice a difference between your writer mind and your reader mind? I'm really curious!

- Rachel


Vala Faye said...

I actually agree on the whole 'Game of Thrones' series. I cannot get into it. I can appreciate the work that goes into writing a book like that and the fact that killing off your main characters is..well, hard core, but those books just piss me off for some reason. I saw one part of the tv-series and was completely turned off by it, yet again. And friends are all completely stumped by that.

I notice that my inner 'reader' comes out when I start editing. It has to *feel* perfect. Pacing, structure, the feeling you try to generate in your reader. As a reader, I expect to be pampered and swept off my feet, into a world far far away. And I get really cranky if I'm suddenly thrown out of that comfy spot.

As a writer, I want to share my inner world, the things that my mind comes up with and my heart dreams of.

As an editor, I want to perform like I'm on stage..pampering my audience ;)

So when I edit, I check my performance, but I also try to put myself in the front row seat, to see if the performance is actually transferring properly to the audience ;)

J. Leigh said...

Ugh, I'm the same way too! Game of Thrones infuriated me so much that I got rid of the book (I'd picked it up at a used bookstore). That says a lot. I never get rid of books. I just couldn't stand it. I also have a problem with some YA books with a ton of hype around them, like the Hunger Games. Read it, didn't really care. Just felt kind of blah and boring to me...and I know it's weird because so many people adored it.

I'm a very critical reader. It's kind of annoying sometimes. As a writer I'm Little Miss Sensitive, "Don't say anything if you can't say something nice!" angst and all that. I can feel quite snarky as a reader, though, and dream of unleashing my verbal venom on unworthy books. And I know it's so not even fair, but I can't help it. *sigh*

Lauren said...

Here I thought I was the only one with this problem. So glad to know it's not just me. I felt that way about the Twilight series. My sister read them all and gushed about them and several friends recommended it to me so I gave it a try. I absolutely hated the main character. I couldn't connect with her in any way whatsoever. I made myself finish the first book just to say I had read it but it was a total waste of time.

I actually haven't read Game of Thrones yet, but I do have the first book on my shelf as one to pick up later.

Anonymous said...

Reader Me can't even be bothered to hate most books; so often, she's just... indifferent. It makes me leery of accepting book recommendations, because I'm afraid that Beloved Book they adore won't affect me a fraction as much, and it makes me feel like I'm failing somebody.

It's really rough when I'm writing a story and Writer Me is just in love with the characters and the plot and all that good stuff... and Reader Me is just acting bored.
"What?! Come on!" cries Writer Me. "This is your book, you *love* this book, you know it'll be awesome, what gives??"
"Meh," says Reader Me, for no reason at all that I can see.

Maybe it's the pacing. Goodness knows it can take a lot longer to write a novel than to read one. And when it's one of those slow days when you've been on the same two pages for the last four hours, yeah, I can see why the reader self would be so over it.

On the flip side, maybe if Writer Me would stop grumbling about other authors' word choices and sentence style and other nitpicky, usually subjective, editorial stuff, Reader Me would be better able to actually enjoy more stories.

Come on, Me, Myself, and I -- can't we all just get along?

Unknown said...

My reader self is actually much more easily pleased than my editor and writer self. I think the reason is that for a while after I became an adult I kept reading mostly young adult novels because I really don't care reading about sex, and they seemed to be the safe haven from that. And young adult novels in general don't have as much finesse in the writing style as adult novels, so I don't require finesse when I read. I just appreciate it especially when it happens.

At any rate, when I begin reading a book, I have to decide whether or not I'll finish it within the first ten pages, because after that I'm stuck. I've only quit reading a book after a hundred or so pages about three times in my life.

But when I'm writing, I want things to be absolutely perfect. I tend to write several pages smoothly, then come to a sentence that gets me stuck, knowing there's a better way to phrase it to be more pleasing to the reader. I'll spend twenty minutes or so just thinking about that one sentence before it comes to me. Then and only then am I able to move on to the rest of the story.

Katie said...

For me, it's the Tru Blood/Sookie Stackhouse books. All of my friends adore them and are constantly talking about them, but I can't even make it through the first couple of chapters of the first book and I have tried twice.

Once upon a time, I would have doggedly pursued a book to its bitter conclusion, but now I don't see the point of wasting my time on a book I'm not enjoying. Onto the next one! I don't think it's a bad thing when it comes to my own writing, because I think it ensures I won't be writing something I wouldn't enjoy reading in the first place. Of course, if I starting thinking about it too much, it could result in extreme paranoia and a reluctance ever to touch the keyboard again.

Rachel Aaron said...

I am SO GLAD to see I am not alone! Lining up the reader mind and the writer mind makes me feel schizophrenic sometimes. I actually read once (on Making Light, actually) that the key to seeing if your book will make it is to read your work with your reader mind rather than your writer mind. This advice has tortured me for years! My reader mind is fickle and cruel T__T

Bridget said...

I can pretty much always tell you why I didn't like a book, specifically, the analytical side of my brain doesn't turn off. I also give books second chances. For example, I couldn't get into Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" the first two times I started it, but the third time was the charm.

Also, my writer brain remains active. Some people write fanfic, I will literally edit fiction in my head as I go along to make it suit my tastes. I'd rather change it in my head and enjoy it than put the book down. Some books are beyond the help of in-head editing, of course, but it works for the majority of things for me. I do sometimes run into trouble recommending books, because I have to think hard about "How much did I change for myself? Are they going to like it without being able to see inside my head?" A different kind of problem, haha.

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