Thursday, January 5, 2012

Year of the Sparkle Dragon: Read Less

Surely that's a typographical error? What writer wants to read LESS?


The pressure.
Last year, I signed up for the 2011 Reader Challenge on Goodreads. 100 books I declared. The year started off badly. I was home in Barbados for Christmas. And who has time for books when you have to see all your friends, and your entire family, and eat all your favourite foods, and go to all your favourite places, and you've only got 3 weeks to do it? Then I didn't start right when I got back, because it was really hard coming back, and I was homesick something fierce.

I spent most of the year playing catch up. Even when I'd caught up, I was playing "get ahead" because I knew that October is always bad at work, and November is nano, so there aren't any guarantees.

I finished the year with 116 books. Honest truth is that I appreciated all of them. Even the "bad" ones. What I didn't enjoy, I learned from. And I also learned from the ones I loved. But I never want to feel like someone's forcing books down my throat again.

Quality over quantity
This is not about the quality of the books. There are more great books published in a single year than I could read in a lifetime. It's about the quality of my reading experience. People experience books in different ways. Lots of people talk about "seeing" the characters and events. Me? I'm not a visual person. If you don't show me the character in a movie or on a book cover, I will never see them. How I experience books is difficult to explain. It's like I live them. Like I'm there.

[Warning: there's a Twilight: Eclipse/New Moon spoiler in this paragraph.]
It's like the things I read about skip all the basic forms of sense, and go straight to the destination. For example, when you feel pain, something usually happens outside your body, and the nerves convey that to your brain/nervous system, and your brain/nervous system tells you to feel pain. (Forgive me if the science is wrong here, just follow the concept.) Remember Jane from Twilight? How she can make people feel pain without a stimulus? That's how reading is for me. There's no external, everything happens inside my brain.

Because the story is so deep in my brain, it's difficult for me to come out of a book. I lose track of everything. I don't hear things, see things, and people always walk up and shake me and scare the frizzles out of me to get me attention. "Wait, wha-, who, where am I?" At the end of a book, as I've been so "intimate" with these characters, they stay with me for a while. In my brain, the plot continues. The story plays out in different ways. I was so deep in Elana Johnson's POSSESSION that I was literally incapable of following any other story's threads.

When I've got this arbitrary quota working with, I have to force myself out of one world and into another. I think I lose out on enjoying the previous story as much as I could, and I don't immerse myself in the new story like I should.

The habit
The more I read, the more I read, the more I read. 5 books in January, 10 in March, 12 in May. It's addictive. When I train myself to pick up another book promptly, then I can't NOT pick one up - unless it's a completely inappropriate time, like 4 am.

On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, but everything else gets sacrificed. I could wash the dishes. Or I could read. I could plan my vacation. Or I could read. I could write that email I've been meaning to send. Orrrr I could read.

Sadly, even writing gets sacrificed. Reading counts as developing craft. It's easy to tell yourself that there are worse things. At least this is industry-related. But getting stuck in any one stage of the craft, no matter how useful that stage, is a hindrance in the end. Like me having  a million first drafts and no completed novels. A writer should read, but a writer should also write.

Secondly, writers are connected to their creations. It's hard to form those connections when your head is full of other people's worlds and other people's characters. It's like trying to sing a lullaby while standing in front of the speakers at a rock concert. This year, it was really hard for me to get into nano. I blamed all sorts of things, but maybe it had something to do with the fact that I read 3 books in the first week of November.

I want to take my writing up a level this year. Reading is going on the back burner. If you're wondering what that means, I've set myself a goal of 52 books this year. What are you reading this year? Any goals?

PS, If you're on Goodreads, look out for me. I'm Claire Dawn.


Sidrah said...

Since I got into medical college I have been reading less and less books every year. And writing 0%. Still whenever I start reading a book, it's hard it to put it down. Right now am reading Inheritance cycle, it's a great fantasy series.

Great post =)

Marsha Sigman said...

Claire, I could have written this post. Word for Word.

I'm on a major reading binge right now (for the last few months) and it's really hard to let up. I have not been writing as much either because of it and I. Must. Stop. or slow down.

My goals this year are to prioritize my time a little better. I'm exhausted!ha

Elana Johnson said...

Good for you! Last year I think I signed up for 100 books too, and I think I got close to 80. I think 52 is more manageable. Good luck!