Perfectionism and Reading Fiction


Overhead shot of a boy sitting on the carpet in a library, reading a book.

I’ve taken a few writing workshops lately that teach craft by having me read books to figure out how the writer did something cool.  It’s been a fun and interesting experience.  Writers always get told to read fiction to learn from other writers.  Normally, no one ever explains this, other than treating it like we were in a college class getting graded, then complain when a writer tries to imitated a best selling writer.

I was in a monthly writing call and was reminded of this because the topic was on studying books.  One of the questions was “What writer weaknesses do you identify and how do you use it to improve?”

One of the writers said that she didn’t read for pleasure any more—only for study.  That’s a terrible!

The reason I became a writer is because I had all these wonderful books I was reading and I wanted to do books like that.  I wanted to go on adventures even if I really couldn’t go on adventures and besides, fictional adventures are fun.  Real adventures are quite a bit more dangerous.  Ahem.

Woman in a bikini surfing on a green and purple surfboard

But I got stuck into the critical analysis, too.  By 2003, I thought that the new releases I was reading were terrible!

I thought books had gone downhill from what I remembered reading when I was growing up.  So one day at work, someone had left out a bunch of freebies on the break tables: Mack Bolan, the Executioner.  That was a men’s adventure series, written by many different writers.  I’d read that during the those years, along with Nick Carter, so I snatched those bad boys up.

Man in suit fighting with a man in a yellow hat and red jumpsuit.

And…

They weren’t as good as I remembered.

Could it be me?

I thought about how much I looked for what was wrong in books.  Sure, I did run into ones that had geniune problems, like the one that ended on a cliffhanger.  Man!  That was an annoying book.

But I also went into a book as I was reading and looked for flaws.

And, as I thought about it, I really wasn’t learning anything from doing it.  At least other than hating books.  I was expecting perfection as a writer and lost my pleasure as a reader.

So I went cold turkey.  I decided that I was going to stop critiquing published books and work on enjoying them.  That next book was I read was The Da Vinci Code.

I did  enjoy reading it. I also thought, after I read it, about why it might have been such a runaway best seller.  I think the answer was timing, because it came out about the time we had all the scandals and cover-ups in the Catholic church.  The book provided escapism, and yet, played right into the headlines.

Writers on the message boards I was on nitpicked the words and the sentences as not being “perfect,” whatever that means.

No one asked what this runaway best selling writer did right.

This is what negativity does.  It holds people back.

One thought on “Perfectionism and Reading Fiction

  1. Pingback: No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links | No Wasted Ink

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