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RemusShepherd
05-24-2011, 09:33 PM
I have an embarrassing confession to make. I don't read very much.

In my youth I was voracious. I'd read in class, between classes, in bed, while watching TV and at the dinner table. But in my late 20s, when I started learning how to write, I stopped enjoying reading. I see flaws in books, and I become obsessed with ways that I could write the story better. Now I'm in my 40s, and it's very difficult for me to find something that I want to read all the way through. I gave up on six books last year, and I think I only finished three.

I've tried reading only authors whom I trust, but most of them are in the silver age of science fiction and no longer relevant. I've tried sampling a series and then sticking with the series if I like it, but many series go off the rails by the third book. (For some reason, it's always the third book.) I've tried reading classics and award-winners, but I'm finding errors and frustrations reading them also.

But I want to improve this. I need to read more.

I see two ways out of this. First, I need to turn off my internal editor while reading. Does anyone have tips for that?

Two, I need to find quality stuff to read. That's getting more difficult, now that online bookstores are swamped in unfiltered, self-published crap. (Of course I'm not talking about *your* self-published book, dear reader. Yours is the one I want to find. But how can I?) Does anyone have any tips on ebook review sites or ways to filter the ocean of ebooks, or any strategy to find quality books for a picky reader?

When I read a book that grabs me, I feel a greater compulsion to write and my writing is better. I see how writing fiction is mated to reading it. I need to work on the 'reading' side of that equation. I want to be a better writer by becoming a better reader, but at the moment I don't see how.

stormie
05-24-2011, 09:39 PM
Seems like you're stuck on being able to finish reading a novel. Any novel. How about a book of short stories? There are mysteries, cozies, classics.... Or how about reading non-fiction: bios, autobios, humor.... Then of course reading a good magazine, like The New Yorker, Atlantic, Ellery Queen Mystery Mag.... Or a good newspaper each day, like The New York Times.

It's all reading, and all good.

Mr Flibble
05-24-2011, 09:50 PM
It's all about finding the right book.

I think every writer goes through a phase of internally editing everything they read. That passes, if you're willing to just let go a bit. Read for the story. Not the writing (though if you find really good writing too, it's a bonus).

That said, there's still books I've started and couldn't finish. Lots of them, or ones I did finish and though 'meh.' But that makes it all the more sweet when you find something that totally blows your little brain cells :D And you will, if you look hard enough.

Now excuse me, I have to get back to book three in a series that makes me gawp in admiration.

ETA: Of course, you could always read my pirate story lol.

DeleyanLee
05-24-2011, 09:53 PM
Re: Shutting off your IE. For me, it's a matter of "changing hats". I have a "writing hat", an "editing hat" and a "reading hat". The IE is only part of the obvious one. But, then, I've never had an adversarial relationship with my internal editor, so I might be strange.

If I'm reading and suddenly I find myself switching hats to an editorial one, then I realize that something about the book I've been reading has failed on a fairly basic note so I'm no longer swept up in it. Usually once I've identified that flaw, I can opt to switching back to pure reading and keep going. But if the author keeps switching hats on me, I generally stop reading the book for pleasure and then may stick to finishing it in editor mode to see if I can discern why it got published and/or why people are raving about it.

When I read fiction (and I'll be honest, 80% of all my pleasure reading is non-fiction and always has been), I tend to read what's really popular at the moment. It's the one way I can see what's capturing readers, where their joy is and, most importantly, if that's a joy I share or not. If I can, then I know that there's a chance that whatever I'm joyous about has a chance to appeal to more than myself. If not, then it won't be the first time the book is really, truly just for me. Either way, I've gained knowledge and that's good.

Reading for pleasure is a skill set that can (and, IMO, should) be regained, but my basic experience is that "fake it 'til you make it" works as often as not.

Good luck.

Puma
05-24-2011, 10:14 PM
I think one of the first clues is identifying why you want to read - for pleasure, to better your writing skills, to learn about something you don't know, to kill time.

If it's for pleasure - what gives you pleasure - laughs, thrills, fears, intrigue? What genre was the last good book you finished? If you can answer that question, some readers here may be able to give you good leads. And, there's no crime in going back and re-reading something you read (and really, really liked) ages ago.

To better your writing skills - what do you think you're lacking, what type of book do you want to write? (And my pitch here - have you done a lot of reading and commenting in Share Your Work? There's an excellent avenue for increasing your reading and improving your writing skills.)

To learn about something you don't know - what do you want to know - science for sci-fi books, about the world or universe? Googling topics leads to sometimes very interesting articles. Magazine articles are a good option. And there are always non-fiction books.

To kill time - try a book of humor.

You mentioned trying some of the classics - I've done that too, but have discovered I pretty much read what interested me ages ago.

One of the best books I've read recently was an off the wall pick up at the dollar store. It was well done, good imagery, good story - and never went anywhere. The cover atracted me, the back of the book blurb read decently, a quick look inside didn't show any major issues - and then it read well. And I have to wonder why it never went anywhere - definitely better than a lot of the ones that are hyped. Puma

TudorRose
05-24-2011, 10:21 PM
I see two ways out of this. First, I need to turn off my internal editor while reading. Does anyone have tips for that?

My IE tends to shut up if I'm multi-tasking. I do a lot of my "reading" by listening to audiobooks when I'm walking, exercising, cooking etc. Helps me to focus on story and voice without critiquing structure and style quite as much as with words on a page.


Two, I need to find quality stuff to read.

Can you give us some examples of books that have blown you away?

RemusShepherd
05-24-2011, 10:36 PM
When I read fiction (and I'll be honest, 80% of all my pleasure reading is non-fiction and always has been), I tend to read what's really popular at the moment. It's the one way I can see what's capturing readers, where their joy is and, most importantly, if that's a joy I share or not.

I tried that. I picked up a James Patterson bestseller with the intention of learning how it worked. I couldn't get past chapter four. It's so bad it's painful.

It's books like that that make me worry that I'm too alienated from the human race to ever succeed; what I write will never match what they like. All I've gained from that experience is another voice to the chorus in my head telling me to quit writing.

RemusShepherd
05-24-2011, 10:48 PM
I think one of the first clues is identifying why you want to read - for pleasure, to better your writing skills, to learn about something you don't know, to kill time.

If it's for pleasure - what gives you pleasure - laughs, thrills, fears, intrigue? What genre was the last good book you finished? If you can answer that question, some readers here may be able to give you good leads. And, there's no crime in going back and re-reading something you read (and really, really liked) ages ago.

I sometimes read for pleasure, but my main concern right now is increasing my reading to improve my writing skills.

When I read for pleasure, I want sensawonder. ('Sense of Wonder', for those not familiar with genre vernacular.) Epic tales, thought-provoking situations and grand visions. The last few books that swept me away were Mistborn, A Company of Wolves, and Rainbows End. All were epic stories with deep philosophical underpinnings.


To better your writing skills - what do you think you're lacking, what type of book do you want to write?

I am lacking a connection to the readers. I am weird in a disquieting way, and the themes I enjoy tends to turn readers off. This often manifests in protagonists that are unsympathetic. So my main thrust right now is to concentrate on how to make readers sympathize with my characters, and how to pull the readers into enjoying the moral dilemmas I like to set up in my stories. (I also want to write faster, on the theory that if one book doesn't sell the next might.)


(And my pitch here - have you done a lot of reading and commenting in Share Your Work? There's an excellent avenue for increasing your reading and improving your writing skills.)

Not a lot. I fear that I am overly critical, and although I write with an authoritative air I have no credentials to back up that authority. I've already gotten in flamewars here on AW for stating opinions that the majority derided. You've all got me walking on eggshells, and that's not the best posture for giving critiques. I'll work through that, given enough time.

RemusShepherd
05-24-2011, 11:07 PM
My IE tends to shut up if I'm multi-tasking. I do a lot of my "reading" by listening to audiobooks when I'm walking, exercising, cooking etc.

I am doing this and it's great advice. I do most of my reading these days while on the treadmill. But that doesn't help me stick with a book when I want to give up on it.


Can you give us some examples of books that have blown you away?

In recent years I'll point to Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson), Rainbows End (Vernor Vinge), and A Company of Wolves (Elizabeth Bear), as I said above. A little bit further back I'll add Startide Rising (David Brin), Spin (Robert Charles Wilson), and the entire Dark Materials trilogy by Pullman. Even further back to my college and high school days, and I'd add the Foundation trilogy, the Narnia tales, most of Heinlein's work, and almost everything by John Varley, Arthur C. Clarke, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tanith Lee.

Big epic stories, mostly sci-fi, although I do like some fantasy. I haven't found any 'urban paranormal' fiction to my taste yet, and I don't enjoy mysteries or alternate histories much. I wouldn't know where to start with romance or westerns, but if there's an epic story in them I'm game to try.

Devil Ledbetter
05-24-2011, 11:19 PM
I tried that. I picked up a James Patterson bestseller with the intention of learning how it worked. I couldn't get past chapter four. It's so bad it's painful.Well, no wonder. I read a Patterson last summer and I still get angry every time I think about it. Take the others' advice to find good books, whatever that means to you.


It's books like that that make me worry that I'm too alienated from the human race to ever succeed; what I write will never match what they like. All I've gained from that experience is another voice to the chorus in my head telling me to quit writing.Just because Patterson is a name-brand bestselling author doesn't mean there is no market for your work. McDonald's burgers are also a bestselling product. Yet gourmet restaurants aren't the least bit worried about their inability to attract McDonald's clientele.

As for reading, set aside a time of day for it. I'm very busy (full time job, 2 kids, working out, learning to play guitar) so my reading time is fairly limited. But I always have a book going, and at a bare minimum read before bedtime every night.

Puma
05-25-2011, 01:49 AM
It seems that almost all of the big name writers like Patterson go downhill and become formula approach only after the first or second novel.

But ... have you read Jurassic Park by Crichton or Congo or even Eaters of the Dead? His novels, before they became mass produced, aren't bad. Jurassic Park was one of the only novels I ever finished and went right back to page 1 to start over again. But then, I've always had an interest in dinosaurs :)

Have you tried any Isaac Azimov (same vintage as Heinlein - my husband read a lot of both of them.)

How about James Michener? Tales of the South Pacific or ...

And for short books I really enjoyed - Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea or Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Both thought provoking.

Share Your Work - there's a way to get along and survive, although even the most tactful of us periodically rumple feathers. My suggestion would be to pick a genre and read over some of the posts and crit comments (and responses) to see how people communicate and get along (and also see who can take criticism and who can't). You might even try one of the genres you say you aren't so familiar with.

Hope the suggestions help. Puma

Linda Adams
05-25-2011, 02:03 AM
On the internal editor: There was a point a number of years ago where I felt like there wasn't any good fiction any more. Everything I read seemed like it had flaws and wasn't as good as the books in the past. Then someone left some Nick Carter books on a table at work with "Free," so I got those. I was amazed at how unsophisticated those books were and not as good as I remembered. I decided after that to try to figure out what had gotten that book accepted, rather than what was wrong with it.

On reading more: I get a lot of my books at the library. My library has a table where they put out books using a particular theme, and I always browse that for something. That also gets me out of just going to the mystery or the fantasy section. I also hit the New Books section for the same reason, looking through both fiction and non-fiction. And I use the hold a lot, usually for non-fiction but also for authors that I like who have new books coming out. The scary part is when the books all come in at once, and I have five books sitting there.

I also have a Nook, so I can download eBooks. It's small and portable, so I can carry it anywhere. I bring it (or an actual book) to work with me and read at lunch.

If you want a list of books to read though, try getting 501 Books You Must Read. Then just start putting books on hold at the library. There's also a list of 100 books over on the Book forum that you can use.

xitomatl
05-25-2011, 06:43 AM
I went through a brief stint where I felt uninspired to read (it lasted about six months). It was because the books I were picking up to try were just books that didn't jive with what I liked.

What did I do? I picked up some of my favourites and read them over again. It seems so simple, but that's what did it for me.

Maybe pick one of your favourite books, and re-read it. Savour it for why it sticks out in your mind and find all those little things you didn't find the first time you read it. From there, skipping off into books you haven't read before will seem easier. At least, it did for me.

For the record, I have a soft spot for unsympathetic protagonists, but there is always something in them that makes you appreciate them for what they were, even if you don't actually like them or their actions. In the very least, they're always interesting, if unsympathetic.

Jamesaritchie
05-25-2011, 05:15 PM
I sometimes read for pleasure, but my main concern right now is increasing my reading to improve my writing skills.

.

I think this is your mistake, and it's a big one. Unless you're reading for pleasure, it simply won't work. You can't improve writing skills by reading books you don't enjoy.

I read something over a hundred books every year, but darned if I want to waste a minute of my life reading a book I don't like. Doing so will not improve my writing skills, it just makes me wish I had the time back.

Good writing is writing found in books you like. Bad writing is writing found in books you don't like. Same for story, characterization, etc.

Screw reading just to learn how to write. Read for pleasure, and pleasure alone. If you don't enjoy the book, why on earth would you want to write like that? Read strictly for pleasure, and you'll not only learn how to write in the process, but the books you write will be books you would also love to read.

Libbie
05-25-2011, 07:10 PM
I got a subscription at Audible.com years ago and I've loved it ever since. For $15 a month you get one free audiobook of your choice every month, plus great discounts on other purchases. It's awesome. I've "read" more books that way, and expanded my reading horizons more, than I ever would have otherwise. Now I can read books while I commute, while I exercise, and while I clean the apartment. It's awesome.

Libbie
05-25-2011, 07:12 PM
I think this is your mistake, and it's a big one. Unless you're reading for pleasure, it simply won't work. You can't improve writing skills by reading books you don't enjoy.

I read something over a hundred books every year, but darned if I want to waste a minute of my life reading a book I don't like. Doing so will not improve my writing skills, it just makes me wish I had the time back.

Good writing is writing found in books you like. Bad writing is writing found in books you don't like. Same for story, characterization, etc.

Screw reading just to learn how to write. Read for pleasure, and pleasure alone. If you don't enjoy the book, why on earth would you want to write like that? Read strictly for pleasure, and you'll not only learn how to write in the process, but the books you write will be books you would also love to read.

James, nobody said they're going to read books they find tedious in order to learn how to write. Why would you jump to that conclusion? Seems to me his point was that he wanted to read with more of an analytical eye than purely for pleasure. He'd still be reading good books, but would be approaching them dually, as entertainment and as education.

Nothing at all wrong with that idea. I have been doing that myself, and I must say, I've never enjoyed the process of reading more. I am getting twice the benefit from it.

Purple Rose
05-25-2011, 07:26 PM
Sounds like you had a great habit and then got out of it. Now you need to get back in. I also think it might be unrealistic to read as much as you used to, especially if you now have other commitments. I agree with the advice above. Personally, I find that choosing a popular book from your preferred genre helps. On top of that something not too long, say in the 250 to 300-page range.

Libbie's idea is actually really practical. I just happen to like holding a book turning the page.
Once you find it is not so hard, keep repeating the cycle.

Jettica
05-25-2011, 08:00 PM
Thank god it's not just me!

I've learned to turn off the internal editor and just read but I still find myself rolling my eyes at bad writing. But if the story is otherwise engaging I press on through. However, this isn't so easy.

I'd say read some shorter books. There's less chance to make you bored.

I've found epic fantasies difficult to read simply because there's so much back story, too many characters and often a fair bit of info dumping.

A series that contains short books, is funny and well written is the Discworld series.

Two other fantasy series I've heard people rave about, but haven't read much of, are the Song of Fire & Ice (Game of Thrones etc.) and Wheel of Time books.

For fantasy I'd recommend Raymond E. Feist. For Sci-fi, the Revelation Space series by Alistair Reynolds.

I would not recommend the Millennium Trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.).

Have you tried reading anything a bit weird (i.e anything by Jeff Noon, Christopher Moore or Poppy Z. Brite)? Also, maybe try reading some new genres.

I only read one book last year and decided I needed to read more as it would be fun and would improve my writing. I've read six books this year. The ones you really enjoy will be the ones that improve your writing but it'll be on a subconscious level. Don't worry about sentence structure, rogue commas etc. Look at the sentences as a whole rather than analysing their parts.

RemusShepherd
05-25-2011, 08:27 PM
James, nobody said they're going to read books they find tedious in order to learn how to write. Why would you jump to that conclusion? Seems to me his point was that he wanted to read with more of an analytical eye than purely for pleasure. He'd still be reading good books, but would be approaching them dually, as entertainment and as education.

Honestly James isn't that far off. I want to enjoy what I'm reading and learn from it. I am guilty of choosing books that I might learn from, because I don't know where to find books that I might enjoy.

But I'm not finishing those books. So James is suggesting that I prioritize enjoyment over research when I choose a book to read. It's good advice. All I need now is to find books that I might like (there are several suggestions in this thread), and tips on how to stick with a book when it turns out to not be as good as I was hoping.

Finding books to read is something I can do elsewhere. Here I was hoping to get advice on how to kill my internal copyeditor. I think there have been several good suggestions so far, including James' advice.

Jamesaritchie
05-25-2011, 11:18 PM
James, nobody said they're going to read books they find tedious in order to learn how to write. Why would you jump to that conclusion? Seems to me his point was that he wanted to read with more of an analytical eye than purely for pleasure. He'd still be reading good books, but would be approaching them dually, as entertainment and as education.

Nothing at all wrong with that idea. I have been doing that myself, and I must say, I've never enjoyed the process of reading more. I am getting twice the benefit from it.

It's not much of a jump. Read the posts again.

Besides, too much of an analytical eye on a first read can be deadly. You read for pleasure, or you read for analysis. You can't do both at the same time.

The goal should never be to read for analysis on the first pass. It doesn't work. Effective analysis comes on the second pass, after you've read a book for pleasure. You simply can't read a book on a pleasure level, and an analytical level, at the same time.

You can think about a book after you've read it, or, better, you can read it a second time, but what you should never do is stop every few pages in order to do an analysis. Doing so stop flow and continuity, and probably mood and tone, as well.

Puma
05-26-2011, 01:44 AM
Ages ago I taught several English classes for adults. One of my pieces of advice was to read anything that appealed to them - even Playboy or comic books. The whole idea was to get them reading.

Up the thread I suggested humor reading. I have no idea whether you have any interest in outdoorsy type things, RemusShepherd, but Pat McManus has some very good humor books - titles like They Shoot Canoes Don't They? Erma Bombeck also has some easy to read humor books like The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.

I think you may have mentioned you weren't keen on mysteries, but ages ago when I was in a bit of a slump, the Mrs. Pollifax books picked me up. They were short, pretty much inane, but easy to read and with likeable characters.

On your question about how to finish a book - I very rarely don't finish a book no matter how bad the writing is (only once that I can remember in the last ten years). I pretty much make a committment to finish what I start. Recently one of the books I read (dollar store again) was about a specific area of submarine warfare in World War II. The prose was purple in places, but underneath there was a story I hadn't heard. So I ignored the overabundance of adjectives and convoluted sentences and let myself enjoy learning about something I hadn't encountered before.

BUT, the best piece of advice here was from Jamesritchie - read what you want to read and what you'll enjoy. Reading something because you think you should only leads to resentment. Puma

waylander
05-26-2011, 02:38 AM
How about getting yourself a gig reviewing for a mag/website?
I did this for a couple of years to read my opposition. To write a fair review you have to finish the book and it makes you think very analytically about what makes a book good for your taste.

happywritermom
05-26-2011, 03:10 AM
Have you considered exploring other genres? Some of the epic novels you mentioned are, quite simply, classics. They are going to be few and far between.
I also have that same problem with the internal editor. I've had to teach myself to focus on the good in a book and limit the attention I give the negative stuff. But I will only do that if there are aspects of the book that genuinely appeal to me.
I used to feel guilty when I quit reading a book.
No longer.
I just can't afford to waste time on a lousy book.
I certainly wouldn't allow yourself to feel bad about unfinished books.
If you tackle an unfamiliar genre, you might have to wade through a lot of junk before you find authors you like. I only recently started reading mystery/suspense and I can't tell you how many awful books I read before I got a good feel for the best authors.
Often, when I can find no fiction that appeals to me, I seek out nonfiction. I just finished Unbroken and ... wow. That's about all I can say. The story itself is so overwhelming that I found myself paying little attention to the writing. I gained a whole new appreciation for life from that book.
Hang in there and keep trying.

Clair Dickson
05-26-2011, 03:48 AM
I went off-the-beaten path. Since I was disappointed with mainstream books, I started a serious hunt for books that were specifically in my narrowest interest, and more so if they were published by small presses.

I also make sure that I give the author time to redeem themselves. Maybe they'll pull it out in the end with a finale that makes the rest of it worth while. If not, at least I can say I finished the book. However, there are many readers who don't bother to finish a book they're not enjoying. In which case, you can continue to discard books until you find the one(s) that you can finish.

With the internal editor, I find that while I do want to re-write what I think they're doing wrong, I can't. This is THEIR book. I file the notes on what not to do and carry on. Just like I don't stop shopping to chastize someone on their dietary choices, I don't stop reading to mentally chastize the writer on their choices.

Kweei
05-26-2011, 04:29 AM
I don't know how you can change. For me, it just sort of happened.

I read all the time when I was young. Books and music - my world. I just couldn't get enough.

Then, when I went off to college and had to read boring ethnographies, articles, dry academic texts, my urge to read fell away. I was reading so much for school that in my free time, I didn't want to read.

When I graduated, I was still in the read non-fiction mode and it took me a while to get past that, get past my inner editor, and just enjoy reading again. I can't really say how it happened. I don't have a how-to for it. One day, I realized that I really wanted to read what was similar to the stories I wrote. So, I picked up some books and gave them a try. And I had fun with it.

Are the books I read flawed? Oh yeah. We can find any flaw if we try hard enough. But I'm enjoying them and, better, learning from them as I relax.

I think if you can coach your mind into remembering we're readers and writers for the love of story, then you can let go long enough to enjoy someone else's tale :)