Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The one in which I confess my addictions...

As a writer, do you still read? If you do, has being a writer changed how you read? Is it still a pleasure, or is it work? What do you read?

As wonderful a theme this is, I blushed, looked at the floor, and metaphorically muttered something about addiction when I spotted this one.

I spend around £100 on books every few months. I save and save, and then go out to Waterstones, or similar, or onto Amazon.co.uk, and buy books. Mainly fiction, but I also buy non fiction on things like writing, self help and the current projects I have in mind (I start THEM with dummies manuals, cause I'm not the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to certain things).
I've got an excuse though, like every good 'junkie'.

I'm SUPPOSED to spend a small fortune, yearly, on books anyway, because its part of the requirements for being a student. Be a student, get the text books, cause though ALL the campus libraries are amazingly good, when there's 20 of us on a course, all wanting the same book, it can cause some interesting issues. So, to save those issues, I buy the core reading list without question or objection. And if we don't use them, that's OK, because I still read them.
Beyond the core reading list, I'm currently 'using' Uni as an excuse to extend my reading habits. I've spent the last five years reading a very narrow range of books, and only when my favorite authors (Terry Pratchett, Ian Rankin, Alistair Reynolds) and my favorite serials produce more books. I'll occasionally stray into other territories, but feel a bit like I'm scurrying back to comfort, so I rarely did that before Uni.
Last night though, after buying it on Friday and starting it on Saturday morning (and reading about an hour a day), I finished 'the Kite Runner'. It was fairly cool, but I'm beginning to see a pattern in 'literary work' that I don't like. And I'm glad that's not my chosen genre, for the moment.

One of the things I had to learn was not to pick. Instead I give myself the equivalent of mental indigestion by 'devouring' books whole. Reading them as if I didn't care about sentence structure, grammar, clever hooks, absorbing language...eating them like I wasn't a writer, and was simply reading them for the joy of reading.
How does that give me mental indigestion though?
The problem with devouring books whole is that if there is a huge error, your brain might try to fix it. MY brain does this on a regular basis, redesigning TV show plots when I could have 'done better' - rewriting whole book chapters for my own amusement. Consider it an antacid of sorts.
My prose lecturer took my antacids away. All I'm to do now is read. I can write, of course, but not 'rewrite' while I'm reading.
And so, when I read god awful books (which is also part of the learning process), I give myself a headache - or I get angry, up tight, agitated. My brain fills with bile, because its really annoying to see awful books come out. (I should pro ably say at this point that the Kite Runner isn't an awful book). It annoys me that writers are allowed to publish trash when there are amazing writers with brilliant stories still struggling to be discovered. It gives me 'mental indigestion'.

There are, to be honest, very few authors I respect enough not to rewrite stuff, or tweak it as I'm reading. I think that's what makes me a writer in the first place, I'm always on the look out for the 'best' way to tell a story - the 'better' way to express something - the 'right' words for that wrong occasion. And while I'm addicted to books, I'm more addicted to the craft of making books better. I love editing, even when the book is a 'literary' masterpiece. Or when its pulp fun. Just so long as I can see a way to tell the same story, in a different (and hopefully better) way, I'm fulfilling that need too.
See, I'm an addict. I'm addicted to writing - to language - to stories. I think my bank balance would prove it too ;)

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