reading is work


I read a lot. Good readers make good writers, you know? So technically, every time I read something?even a cereal box?I’m technically working.

At least that’s the joke I’ve always made with my partner. When he’d catch me reading in the middle of a work day, I’d feel a pang of guilt even though I knew I wasn’t goofing off.

Mike has frequently asked if my profession gets in the way of a good read. Not really, though there is no longer any such thing as reading for pure pleasure for me.

Other people’s outstanding writing and storytelling make me want to improve my own craft, and so I study.

When I find myself immediately drawn into a story?whether it’s a novel, a biography, long-form journalism or a quick news story?I take the time to suss out what is grabbing my attention. Is it the writer’s use of metaphor? The cadence of sentences building a steady rhythm that pulls me along? Maybe a snappy plot structure? Is it a particular brand of subtle humor or a clever use of language?

Like I said, reading is work.

(And I swear I’m not trying to rip off a similar blog post by Dale Ivan Smith; this topic bubbled up for this space independently.)

Other times, though, I come across writing that’s just not so good. The grammar is inconsistent, sentences are incomprehensible, story structure is sloppy, editing is non-existent.

Several weeks ago, I was reading the autobiography of a psychiatrist who’d spent his working life in a fairly controversial field. I’d enjoyed his previous books about his studies, but this one just stopped me cold.

Because the editing was so bad.

Biographical information was repeated unnecessarily across?and sometimes even within?chapters. There wasn’t great variation in the language, with some words repeated often enough to be onerous. Then I came across this sentence (which I’m quoting from memory):

“The response to my work had become overwhelming, and I became overwhelmed.”

I’m not kidding. Even though the story itself was interesting, the presentation got in the way. This is when reading becomes a real chore. My inner editor pulls out her virtual red pen. As I read along, I can hear my brain rewriting sentences and restructuring paragraphs in a strange double-narration that would probably drive other people crazy.

But that’s just how it is. Even troubled writing helps me to improve my own efforts.

Reading is work?but I must really like it, because I do an awful lot of it.

Creative Commons photo: Reading by paulbence.

Posted in writing & publishing.


  1. I read two novels by Tanya Huff last winter for fun. Despite interesting characters and story lines, the books were so badly edited and some cliches were so oft repeated that I felt insulted. No fun at all. I had to read the second one because I felt compelled to know what became of the characters, but I will not invest my interest in another story by that writer, I’m sorry to say.

  2. I couldn’t agree more that good readers make good writers!! But I’m compelled to read even badly written or edited ones to the end simply because I want to know what happens and so I know what not to do!

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