Writing Made Me a Bad Reader

This essay was written by Rebecca Jordan.

Like most readers and writers, I fell head-over-heels in love with books in my early school years. Everything was fair game: the Bloody Jack series, The Count of Monte Cristo, volumes of thousands of the best poems, The Outsiders, Esperanza Rising, The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Flies, Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, The Scarlet Letter. Piratica and all books about women pirates were among my favorites. And then something happened.

I stopped reading.

I hear a lot this phrase: “Great writers are great readers,” and “You have to read a lot to write well.” I wasn’t buying it. I knew what a book was and I had stored up enough knowledge to write one.

I’m not sure exactly when or how this happened. Don’t get me wrong, I still (mostly) read assigned readings in high school and college. But I found that without being prodded with a hot poker (or the carrot that always awaited me, the big red A at the top of my papers that represented both Puritanical shame and the fruition of all my wildest dreams), I wouldn’t read. Anything.

Recently I finished Sanderson’s Mistborn. I started it in early 2012.

Before that, there were other discarded lovers. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Paolini’s Eragon series. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, whose heart I broke the worst. Some book about a potato famine that I still remember as the worst book I ever read, and the first book I ever failed to finish.

I traced my adultery back through the years, tracking for signs. Where had I gone wrong? Perhaps in mid-high school was where it started, though I didn’t notice it at first. Yes, I had stopped reading several books part of the way through, barely scraping by in the minimum amount of work required before I allowed myself to give up. And I unearthed something else.

That was when I had discovered writing.

Writing, it at first seemed, was easier than reading. With writing, you just pulled excrement from your already twisted brain and slapped it on a page. With reading, you were examining someone else’s excrement and trying to make sense of it. And books were so long. Who had the attention span for that?

And then it got harder. Writing, it appeared, was more a demanding lover than a sustaining one. So, naturally, all of my time previously devoted to entertainment now belonged to craft. And every time I tried to go crawling back to one of my old lovers – LeGuin, maybe, or, pensively, Melville – my writing would riddle me with guilt.

Do you see that sloppy character development? The forced dialogue? The awkward transitions? The improper use of semicolons? I could do much better than that. Come back to me.

And I did. I was no longer a mere observer, to whom were dictated The Words. I was a creator and destroyer of worlds. It was official: I was addicted to the power.

Writing started encroaching on everything else. Things like family and personal hygiene were secondary, as with any demanding lover. For almost my entire collegiate career I holed up, forgoing my admittedly sickly social life for 24/7 hibernation, just me and my computer.

And then something else happened.

A friend suggested to me a young adult book. Young Adult! I thought, scoffing. I had barely even read young adult fiction when I was an actual young adult. I knew this much: their plots were thin. Their pages were sparse. They were built for people with short attention spans and undeveloped minds.

Never mind the fact that I, too, had developed a short attention span and undeveloped my mind.

I finished the book in three days. It was the most exhilarating experience I had ever had, sneaking in minutes between classes, staying under the covers with a light turned on, falling asleep with the book squashed firmly between the bed and my breast. I wept, and not at my own genius. I wept at someone else’s genius, and I remembered why I loved reading again.

My addiction to writing waned to a more manageable essence. I was still a writer, but I was a reader again, too.

The young adult book was The Hunger Games. I immediately went to my notebook and began writing down ideas for my own work, which encouraged me to look up books similar to what I was writing and read them.

Reading and writing fuel each other again. And then Goodreads came along and allowed me to make shelves. Shelves of books that I had started and not yet finished.

Those were shelves I was going to come back to. I had begun to finish reading books again, and I remembered why I became a writer in the first place: the love of good story.

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Rebecca Ann Jordan is a ghostwriter and content writer in San Diego. As a speculative fiction author and poet, she has published pieces in Yemassee Magazine, Bravura Literary Journal, and Images Magazine. She loves talking with authors about great stories and arguing over grammar. Quibble with her at rebeccaannjordan.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Morten Oddvik.

5 Replies to “Writing Made Me a Bad Reader”

  1. It’s fascinating how a reader turns into a writer. To some it is a clear path while others, at unexpected period, find solace in one’s thought written on a page. And call it life.

    I think what makes writing worthwhile is the chance of laughing at one’s self–using humor to see the lighter side of things. I had a good laugh reading your post filled with journey of abandonment and discovery.

    I haven’t read the “Hunger Games,” and regret watching the movie first. So it is now in my Goodreads to-read list. I still have to go back to Walden and pick it up on long, predictable commute. But at least one less person is too busy to curse anybody or anything for a delayed trip.

    1. Carolyn,

      Hi! I just now saw your comment (a few months late…Happy New Year!). I’m glad you got a laugh – best medicine, after all. Humor has been invaluable when dealing with the inevitable rejections. Reading can be part of that. It can be comforting to come back to a story you love when the day’s dealt you some grade-A humility.

      And good on you for diving into Walden! Commutes can be great for that, sneaking time whenever you feel you can. Happily I’ve started reading new books as well (yes, mostly YA.. They’re so quick to finish!). And reading can fuel writing, as well as vice-versa.

      Thanks for reading! Get me on twitter @beccaquibbles if you want to talk further about bookly things!

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