I’ve become a picky reader. I want to say that it started when I began to write more, but it doesn’t really line up, especially since I’ve written less this summer than I did in the spring. I thought my pickiness sprang from the writers’ groups I’d attended, but I haven’t really attended one in months.
I noticed it when I starting reading/listening to Brandon Sanderson’s stories. I thought they were very good, but I felt like I could see the man behind the curtain. I felt like Neo, standing in a world made of streaming lines of code. I enjoyed the books, but I lost some of the immersion.
Initially, I thought it was just Brandon Sanderson. I thought Brandon’s favorite patterns and crutches were apparent to me, more than the trappings of other authors. Again, I really enjoyed the Mystborn books, and I’m currently enjoying The Way of Kings. It’s just that some of the structure of the story is apparent to me as I’m enjoying the story.
After Brandon Sanderson, I moved on to Patrick Rothfuss’, The Name of the Wind. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t the same kind of reader I once was. The adjective I kept using to describe The Name of the Wind was “indulgent.” I found the multiple beginnings, and the describing of things by declaring how impossible those things were to describe, indulgent. At one point, I turned to my coworker (that had already read the book) and said, “This is a story about a man telling two other men a story about himself as a child, listening to a man tell him a story.”
I did enjoy the book, but when it was done, I couldn’t go straight to the next in the series. I had to take a break. I moved on to something completely different, and I found myself enjoying it, but noting the pieces of the story that didn’t seem necessary. Then I went on to something else completely different, and I couldn’t get through it. It seemed to me that I was listening to exposition mixed with cliche in a blender, pureed, then poured into my ear by someone that may or may not have been on Valium. I tried my hardest to get through it, but it was too painful.
I want to say that I’m reading more critically, but I don’t know if that’s accurate. I’m hearing the places where we’re told something, rather than shown. I’m more aware of adverbs than I’ve ever been before. The passive voice is something that I’m seeing more clearly than before. (See what I did there?) I don’t think that necessarily means “reading critically.”
I thought that it might be the difference between reading a book and listening to a book. However, when I went back to finish reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, I found the author there with me. As much as I enjoyed the story, I still found myself aware of how the story was constructed.
Someday, this greater attention to story construction might serve me as a writer. Right now, it is a distraction, and a substantial impediment. Flaws in my writing jump out at me with sharp clarity, and it is hard for me to shut down my inner editor. The main problem is that my appetite for a greater story has become deeper, but my ability to prepare such a meal has not grown proportionally. At least, that’s my perception.
The answer as always is to keep writing. I just wish that what I’m trying to create met my standards.