I hate reading.
How’s that for a catchy opening? That’s what we’re supposed to do in writing, isn’t it? Then again, such a statement is pretty much blasphemy in the intellectual world. Reading is elevated to almost divine status in every corner of the academic world. Perhaps with good reason. It is indeed hyperbole to say that I truly hate reading. I suppose it’s a lot more accurate to say that reading is often difficult for me because I often find so little actually said amidst the wall of words I’m greeting with when I turn a page. Maybe that’s because writers so often get so caught up in the “rules” of writing that their story is smothered, or maybe they ignored those rules so much that their unbound literary chops are dispersed in the wind never to be made any sense of again. Either way, I’m left closing the book or logging away.
You’re probably ready to do that now, right? Why on earth would you sit through some soapbox from a self-professed writer who is getting on some high horse to justify why he doesn’t read that much? Beats me. I’d probably be long gone by now so kudos to you if you’re still here.
I suppose the motive behind it all is that I think writing and reading should, in theory, be all that it’s cracked up to be. But so often it’s hindered by it’s own pretentiousness into something reserved for the intellectual elite and the bookworms. It often becomes so detached from the human experience that it becomes neither a sobering look at humanity or a sudsy escape. It just becomes a chore. At least, this has been my experience. I’m lazy. I don’t like to work. And I certainly don’t like to work doing something that is supposed to be a pastime. Leisure. Fun.
Now I’m not saying we need to throw all or even any of the writing “rules” to the wind. I just think maybe we get so hung up on them that we lose the joy of sharing pieces of ourselves with other people. Often I find myself reading a story and I’m just flat out bored. I see what’s happening, but I don’t particularly care. Maybe it’s brilliant and relevant literature. It could be the best thing written since they invented the word processor. But all too often, it just doesn’t resonate and after just a little bit, I need a break. Not all books are like this for me. I have enjoyed that high of picking up something truly engrossing. I even read a few books in a day’s time each, which for me is extremely rare. In hindsight, many of these books have noticeable “flaws” according to all the things you’re told you absolutely have to do if you want your work to not suck. And yet, they connected with me in ways the books that “get it right” never do. They got me to care about these characters in the ordinary moments.
Maybe it’s not so remarkable to capture attention for the midst of chaos. Afterall, even in real life we are fascinated by the extraordinary. You can’t go one day without news trumpeting something life-shattering being mentioned every few minutes. Occasionally, heroic triumphs over obstacles get a segment to themselves. But do we ever care about the emotion of the day-to-day lives of others? Why would anyone care about that? It’s only where most of us are at any given time. Who wants to read about that? Well…me. That’s not to say conflict isn’t the heart of a story or that we should waste too much time watching characters watch TV, eat dinner, or take a bath. But the good stories that affected me the most always made me just as interested in those moments as when the characters are running for their lives or lamenting the loss of everything they hold dear. Those are the often-unseen stakes that fuel the importance of all the life or death conflicts that truly interest everyone, myself included. Doing those scenes right is every bit as hard as anything else, but I think it’s a detail that I often find missing in the stories. Too often, everything just feels so rehearsed and stuffy. So manipulated. So written. It’s hard to get lost in something where you’re strapped down and forced to watch something unfold.
What’s the point of all of this? Again, heck if I know. Maybe it’s just some over-psychoanalyses for why it’s so hard for me to get into a book. Yet, for all of that talk, I am a writer. I’ve written at least a draft of eight novels in addition to lots of projects including a serial that had over half a million words to it. I’ve slowed down as of late but I can safely say I’m proud with how much I’ve written already. Maybe writing gave me the buzz that reading never did, a chance to truly immerse myself in another world without the trappings of it feeling written. But then I started getting critique and that joy started to strangle. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the critique made me a better writer, even if it was only in being able to recognize when somebody was completely full of crap. But it did perhaps show me that sometimes we get so caught up in the things that don’t really matter in a story. One of my mentors once told me that the readers don’t care about all of the things writers do. Writers often spend so much time obsessing over this detail or that details, worrying about adverb number, person agreement, and all that jazz that on paper matters and is an essential element if you want to reach readers. Yet, do readers really care about things as much as we think? If a reader is truly caught up in a story, will they notice a little slipup in these golden hallmarks of professional quality? (This isn’t an excuse to start putting out typo-ridden messes, folks)
The aforementioned serial was essentially a primetime soap opera written with weekly “episodes” and casts of characters complete with ideal actors I’d cast for the part. I had a good five or so readers throughout the whole thing. It was beautiful. And a hot mess. The structural and compositional qualities of this thing were putrid. Especially from my grown perspective now. But I had readers. They cared about my story and my characters and I honestly think they were probably more involved than readers were for my more academically sound stories. At the end of the second season of that show, I killed off several main characters, and one of them was a boy that one of my readers had grown incredibly attached to. It was drawn-out, schmaltzy, sentimental hogwash. Yet it affected this reader profusely. It devastated her. Some six years later, she still remembers it and holds it against me that her favorite character met a violent end. That’s a proud moment for a writer. For all the amateur execution, my story connected to somebody. And now I spend so much time fretting over this detail or that detail. Does it matter? Probably. Getting bad writing out of the way makes it easier to connect, obviously. But yet, so many of my readers probably don’t even notice. They don’t remember this sentence or that. They don’t even remember that this little point-of-view slip. They remembered the journey of these characters. The pain when they died. The joy when they were safe. The thrill when they didn’t know which way the story would go. And yes, even sometimes the often mundane antics that occur in houses across America day to day. They remembered the people.
All of this is to say, don’t let writing become a chore. Yes, make sure you know the craft. Be vigilant in correcting mistakes. Make your word choice intentional. All the things you are taught, keep them in the back of your mind. But don’t let the rules drive your writing. Often enough, we follow the rules a lot more closely than we realize without even thinking about it. It’s the fretting about it that actually makes us more prone to violating the rules. Just write. Let the story flow. These are people. They have lives they cherish and I want to cherish them too. If somebody is threatening them, let me care. I’m not looking for ascetic perfection. I’m looking to give a hoot. They say that the writer should disappear in a story, and they are right. But that is often done passively and not actively. You don’t disappear because you try to. You disappear when you are right there with the reader experiencing this story.
“Blood Chain” still thrills me even 5 years after it first popped into my head. Now that it’s finally out, I can finally share those thrills with others. Is it perfect? Heck no. Is it even a remotely decent seller? Nope. But it’s finally fulfilled its purpose and connected with readers. I could’ve done a lot better. I also could’ve done a lot worse. It could’ve just continued sitting around collecting digital dust, occasionally being tweaked with, awaiting the hope that one day it would be this perfect bestseller. Perhaps it would’ve been waiting forever. Instead, now it truly lives. Maybe in some small corner of Amazon, but it lives. It has readers. It was a story that revealed itself to me, in all its awkward messiness, and I published it. And people have liked it. Not everyone, but more than ever could’ve seen it otherwise.
Think I’m an out-of-touch and full-of-crap nutcase? I can live with that. Maybe I’m just a dreamer with too much time to ponder the philosophical facets of what makes a good story. All I know is that I am a person who wants to connect with others. Something either does that for me or it doesn’t. Writing does that for me. Reading only occasionally does. When it happens, it’s amazing. And if it doesn’t, it’s not necessarily a fault on that author. But even if something is heralded as amazing, if it doesn’t connect with me, what use is it? Regardless of your thoughts about writing and story, never lose sight of the real end. It’s my theory, at least, that we become so obsessed with writing a certain way that we end up losing sight of what it was we were trying to do. We’re a generation that doesn’t read. We want instant gratification. Maybe that can’t be fixed. Or maybe it can, if we redirect our approach on course. If we remembered the reason we started reading and writing in the first place.