Being a writer’s a rewarding thing. It’s always thrilling to finally put the ideas and stories floating around in your mind down to paper. There are lots of rewards, but there are also a lot of negatives to go along with those rewards.

One of those is the effect being a writer has on reading and the way I approach a novel. I remember, back in highschool (that’s my disclaimer so I don’t get mocked…) I was watching an episode of Dawson’s Creek and Dawson, a film nut, was whining becuase he was getting so involved in cinema, and the way it’s crafted, that he was no longer able to enjoy movies as a viewer. He spent more time picking them apart, marvelling or critiquing the technique of the filmmaker, and less time being a fan of the medium and getting lost in the movie.

In a lot of ways I know how Dawson felt. As a writer I often find myself watching the the way the author crafts the story, rather than getting involved with the characters/plot. Of course, there is no better way to learn the craft (besides practice, I suppose) than watching and interpreting the masters at work. I learn a lot about the craft by taking in what my favourite authors do – what works in certain situation, how they handle paticularily hard parts of a novel, etc… – but also what they don’t do.

I know a novel’s good, however, when this cumpulsion doesn’t overwhelm my experience. When I lose myself in the story, the characters and the setting; giving little regard to the craft and simply losing myself in the words. Afterwards I’ll reflect on how damn good the novel was, and take a look at why it was so powerful and effective, but the learning process is all done subconciously as I read, a much more preferable way of reading than the constant analyzation that should be reserved for high-level college papers. This most recently happened with Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War; William Mandella (the protagonist) and the world into which he was thrust was so compelling and well written that I simply forgot to approach it as anything other than a compelling story.

On top of this, there’s also the fact that I’ve also recently begun reviewing novels and that’s had an obvious (but unfortunate) impact on the way I approach reading. It’s hard not to think of a potential review as I’m reading a novel and, in many ways, I think it’s necessary to considering the review as I’m reading the novel. It’s all fine and dandy to convey to my readers how I felt after I finish a novel, but I think it’s also important for them (and myself) to be aware of how I felt while I read the novel. To this end I generally take notes as I read – most of the time mentally – and gander at them once I’m finished the novel. Sometimes I throw some of the ideas/preconceptions away, but most of the time they allow me to better recollect how my opinion shifted throughout the reading.

Has reading been ruined for me, like cinema was for Dawson? Of course not. I’m as big a reader as I’ve ever been and, though I may not have the time for it like I did in highschool, because of these other facets feel that, though I may not always realize it, I also enjoy reading more than I ever have. Being an aspiring writer, well versed in understanding how much skill is actually involved in writing a novel, I think I’m better able to appreciate what goes into a novel and how best to learn from it.

Certainly a good novel should inspire me to write, that’s a given, but a truly great novel should leave me feeling as though I’ve become a better writer (however slight the improvement) without even having touched the page with my pen. Those novels, however, are few and far between, as, perhaps, they should be.

  • Gabe July 12, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I just have to admit my unadulterated love of Dawson’s Creek. When it was re-showing on TBS a couple years ago, I caught the pilot episode, and it became a ritual for me to watch every morning. I watched the whole series from start to finish. It got my day started, for some reason I can’t fathom. Sure, it was mopish teen angst drama… but it worked. I can see why it was so popular.

    Great piece, Aidan.

  • GFS3 July 12, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Despite the references to “Dawson’s Creek,” this was a good post and resonated with me. I think all writers tend to look under the hood – especially when bad writing gets in the way of a story. I often let my reviewer loose when I’m reading; thinking about how I’m going to review a book rather than just enjoying the read. I’ve tried to stuff the bastard into a trunk until after I’m done, but he often manages to escape.

  • Mark July 13, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Great post, Aidan. Myself, I find it nearly impossible to ignore the craft details when I read these days. Few writers just allow me to relax—and I think that’s because I’ve read enough of them to trust them fully. Steven Erikson, M John Harrison, China Miéville are three who I know I’m in safe hands reading. But great that you’ve turned it into the positive ‘appreciation’ angle; I’ve known of people where it so dangerously turned into a competitive feeling.