Being Merely a Reader

Conventional wisdom says that as soon as you publish one book you should write the next. The point of this advice is understandable: don’t obsess about who’s buying your work, don’t rest on your laurels, build your backlog, be professional and proliferative. To tell you the truth, though, the idea of diving into another novel right now makes me want to cry. I’m exhausted. I imagine it’s like being in a delivery room after a natural childbirth while the goo is still being sucked from the nose of your newborn and before the endorphins have kicked in, hearing your husband say, “Let’s have another one. Or two. Or ten.” People have been murdered for less.

I don’t really want to commit a capital crime, so I’ve decided to ignore conventional wisdom for a while and shut off the stories in my head to go back to something I used to love: reading. For pleasure. Switching off the computer and all of the lights and curling up to spend half the night turning the pages to find out what happens or just to be wrapped in the atmosphere of the words.

Writing has ruined me for reading in a lot of ways. It’s not the time factor — even Stephen King says time spent reading is essential for a writer. It is the difficulty of getting lost in a story with so many voices in my head. The researcher voice is making a note of each element of literary genius worth studying. The eternal critic is paying attention to everything that should be edited. The petulant child says it’s not fair that this book is a bestseller when mine is just as good or better. The jealous monster wants to pitch great books out the window because I’ll never be good enough to write them. When I’m entrenched in a WIP, every other page I read for pleasure triggers an idea, and my own characters make me pause and let the ideas play out before I forget them.

For indie books, there is the added burden of knowing how much the author wants, and even needs, a great review. I like to support indie authors, but sometimes reading their (our) books feels like work. I know I’ll be distracted by thinking how best to describe things I like and being apprehensive about things I don’t. I’d rather walk across hot coals than apply a star rating. Even when I love a book, I worry that gushing over it could be misconstrued as a plea for quid pro quo. I usually end up not leaving a review at all, and then I feel guilty for not being supportive. An author’s hopes, wishes, and expectations can be a heavy burden for a reader who cares about them.

In grade school, the teachers wouldn’t let us raise our hands while someone else was speaking. They explained that it was important to listen to what was being said instead of thinking about what we were going to say. It’s still relevant advice, especially in this age when we’re conditioned to critique everything we ever experience. Before I became a writer, I never once reviewed a book or wrote to an author; my only role was enjoying their stories. So this month, I am giving myself the freedom to be merely a reader and not to review any of the dozen books at the top of my Kindle queue. No pressure, no guilt.

There is a reason why people read. To get lost, to learn, to feel — whatever the objective, it usually isn’t about the writer. Many people, like me, don’t want to be critics; they simply want to experience a story. So please don’t fault them for not being reviewers and marketers and megaphones, too. Just be glad they are readers.

Author: Krista Tibbs

Krista Tibbs studied neuroscience at MIT. She once had a job that involved transplanting pig cells into live human brains. She had another job that gave her clearance to the White House. Her books, The Neurology of Angels and Reflections and Tails, are mostly not about those things. Learn more about Krista from her blog, and her Amazon author page.

35 thoughts on “Being Merely a Reader”

  1. I hear you loud and clear, Krista. I have had so little time to read for pleasure that I plan to take a break for a short bit after this book is finished – and spend some time reading – just for PLEASURE. What a novel idea.

    But I am also betting that, for both of us, that break won’t last too long, as the writing bug will bite us again.

  2. Excellent post Krista. My sentiments exactly. I’m finding it hard to read for pleasure because the editor in me won’t let me and when I’m writing. I do leave reviews but not with every book and they are just as hard for me to write. Mainly the voices wont go away. πŸ™‚

  3. Your post rings so true. I find I react differently to books now that I write too and sometimes feel I’m much more critical than I used to be. I’ve only recently started writing reviews – can’t say I enjoy it much as I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I do feel a sense of obligation if the book is by someone I know and I agonise over the ratings – Goodread’s 5 stars means something like ‘wow, this is amazing’, but in reality how many books do you read which you do think are amazing? it strikes me as another case of grade inflation – you would think a 3 star book should represent a decent read for the average reader but nowadays it seems to be all about the four and five stars.
    I hope you enjoy your reading.

    1. I think you really hit it on the head. As a rater, I consider a 3-star book to have been something that I liked and was worth the read, but when I see that 3 or even 4 stars will bring down the average rating for a book, that makes me even more reluctant to rate it at all.

  4. I have those same pesky voices in my head when I read, that’s why I only review the books that are so exceptional they send the voices on holiday. I still loathe having to rank them though, which is one reason I don’t leave more reviews on Amazon. I wish readers were just allowed to give feedback without the pressure. πŸ™

  5. That stupid editor voice has been in my head for decades. Even if I quit writing tomorrow, it’s not going anywhere.

    But I hear you, Krista. I’ve been kind of annoyed with my last WIP, which required me to read a bunch of books for research when I have a whole pile of books-for-fun taunting me. And you’ve hit on the reasons why I don’t give stars to books I review on the blog. πŸ™‚

    1. I hear you. I used to be able to confine my internal editor to non-fiction when I read. Now it takes a little bit of brick to build that wall.

  6. Thousands of people have bought my dragon books; thousands more have downloaded them for free. The Amazon reviews for both books combined barely number 60, but I have no thought that I should have thousands of reviews just because I have had thousands of sales. I’m grateful to every one of those readers, whether or not they reviewed.

    I didn’t write my books to get reviews, and neither did most other authors I’ve spoken with. I wrote my books for people to read them and enjoy them.

    Revel in the books you read. Get lost in them. Read them for the sheer joy of it. It’s what they’re there for.

  7. I’m jealous.
    Your sentiments echo my own frustration with my pile of ‘to be read’ books. I may follow your lead and take a planned break after this WIP. But then what do I do with the file stuffed with ideas on post-it notes? πŸ™‚

    1. A) Let the cats play in the file box.
      B) Put it in the closet behind your winter clothes.
      Whatever you do, don’t try to hide it under the bed because then you’ll dream about it.

  8. What a great piece and a reminder to all writers that we are missing out on something that started us off on our writing. Thanks Krista, for the timely message to dive into that pile of unread books and not obsess about not writing!

  9. Ah, Krista, what a breath of fresh air your post is.

    One book, five books, it’s the same. I was rattling away for about five years: gotta get this finished, gotta get onto the next, gotta get the next finished… so many stories, so little time left to write them… Whoa!… Just a darn minute there… what are you doing?!

    You have to stop and smell the roses or, in the case of an author, read the books. I mean, just as you have so eloquently stated, Krista, just read the books – not research, not review – just read and absorb: go through someone else’s creative gateway to another reality, let go and enjoy.

    Excellent post, Krista.

  10. There must be something in the air for us writers. A few days ago, while giving myself a stern talking to about the lack of progress on my WIP, it hit me. I’d all but negated my love of reading in the past six months or so. Of course my writing has stalled. If I take the time to read, it’s like running on a full tank when I get back to my writing. It’s real hard to get to where you’re going if you run out of gas.
    Thanks for affirming my decision to take a week off and do nothing but read.

  11. I read a lot, but I know what you mean. It is hard to switch off from your own books and characters. I have also become more critical and more likely to spot issues. I also feel more guilty about leaving a bad review even if I don’t like the book.

  12. I tend to read in a far wider field than the one in which I write so that helps. Hurrah for readers is what I say. I love reading.

  13. Spot on post! I only wish I’d written it :). I really like the idea of consciously reading for pleasure. As Calvin said to Hobbes, “Having fun is hard work!”

  14. I’ve just finished my latest book and, like you, all I want to do at the moment is read. Currently, I’m proofreading for an author pal and then I’ve promised to read and review a book from another pal. Once I’ve done that, I’ve got masses on my Kindle and I’ve just bought three paperbacks to get my teeth into. But it is hard just to relax and let the reader take over, isn’t it? But I know one thing… I’m sure gonna try my best!

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