Experience has shown me time and time again that I am not meant to be a writer, or not a writer of fiction, at any rate. It’s incredibly frustrating because I have so many ideas that I wish I could get out, but every time I try… it’s just not pretty. I’ve done NaNoWriMo on more than one occasion, and I love the act of it, but I don’t love what I’m left to work with at the end. And I know that most first drafts are terrible, and I could work at it and make it better, but for something that’s just a hobby, I’ve just never had the motivation to put forth as much effort as it would take to create something I’d actually feel comfortable letting other people read.
So, I can’t write a novel. And yet, somehow, I find myself perfectly capable of picking apart others’ novels, to the point where I’m thinking, this is how I would have done it differently, when all evidence indicates that the way I actually would have done it would never see the light of day. In my head, though… well, I may not be a good writer, but maybe I’d be a great editor.
But what I really am is a reader. And while reading a few hundred books doesn’t qualify me to write one, or even edit one (despite what I’d like to believe), what it does is teach me what I enjoy reading. So, when I’m thinking to myself, I could do better — too wrapped up in what I’m reading to remember that no, no I couldn’t — or even, this is good, but it could have been great IF… what this actually translates into is, with these few tweaks, this book would be much more suited to my taste. This is precisely why my reviews and ratings focus on, not whether the book was good or bad, but how much I liked it; that’s really the only thing I’m qualified to comment on.
And yet sometimes I wonder if I can even do that. Looking at my favorite books, even I can’t figure out why specifically I liked them so much more than others. Sure, there are recurring ideas or characteristics —
- books that have high stakes on a global scale
- books with intriguing characters (especially antagonists, or characters in a grey area)
- books that put a new twist on established theories and beliefs
- books that both entertain me and make me think
- books that are intricately plotted
- books with a satisfying payoff
— but I’ve come across a lot of these same things in books that didn’t work for me at all. It’s like there’s this indefinable “other” quality. If a book has it, it will click for me in all the right places, even if there are little things I’d tweak if I were recreating the book just for myself… and no matter how much I enjoy a book, there are always those spots where I could “do better.”
So, I’m curious. For those readers who are also writers of fiction, does your own approach to writing affect how you read for pleasure? And if you’re not a writer, do you find it hard to criticize, or do you feel confident in your ability to judge purely as a reader?