Since I started writing, a strange guilt plagues me whenever I read: I feel like I should be writing instead. A really good book overcomes this guilt, because then I consider it research, honing my craft by reading expert writers.

My own study of what I want to write and how I will do it makes me intolerant of what I consider mediocre work, so that I often don't finish a book if it hasn't grabbed me by fifty pages or so.

I've been trying to expand my knowledge of writers' names, since I often meet people at cons and it's embarrassing to admit a) I've never heard of them or b) I haven't read their work. This creates some interesting situations: I may have stopped reading the book of a person I'm introduced to because it failed to appeal to me as a reader.

Luckily, thirty years of reading student work trained me to look for the positive. There's very little published work that doesn't have some redeeming quality. After all, it appealed to someone in the industry. So while I may not like a writer's work, I understand that I'm not the end-all expert on writing. That's probably something all of us need to accept.

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Comment by Peg Herring on July 2, 2009 at 10:11pm
I guess we're lucky that our "work," writing, is so closely tied to our "play," reading!
Comment by Flic Manning on July 2, 2009 at 6:45pm
I also get a personal guilt-trip when I read. I think it is important for me to read to keep up with current trends. Sometimes I need to be made aware as a writer what the indstry is leaning towards. The book industry like all industries goes through phases and if I am aiming to get published I need to be aware of what is out there and why. I do get very critical of other writers - but the simple fact is out of the millions of budding authors someone found a little gem in what that person wrote so who am I to really judge - they must appeal to somebody.

In terms of finding a balance between reading and writing - I was raised with the "work now, play later" mentality. This means I am often writing, but when I do read I remind myself I have done my "work" (not that I can call it that) so now it is okay for me to have play time. My play time is educational for me so it is still productive.
Comment by Eric Christopherson on July 2, 2009 at 5:07pm
I think there are lots of good books to read, and I'm fairly convinced the writing today is technically better than it's ever been. Consider the education level is higher than for generations past; consider all the MFA programs that hadn't existed before recently and other courses one can take now, as well as the many good how-to books, and even more recently the online feedback one can get and writing communities one can tap for wisdom (Crimespace, for example); consider that more people have more free time in which to write than in the case of generations past. Consider the books themselves. There are a lot of very good writers with finely honed skill sets out there. But technically better writing doesn't necessarily mean better as a whole. Perhaps writers are too focused on publication--too extrinsically motivated and not as much intrinsically motivated as writers of the past. Perhaps the ways in which the publishing industry has changed the way it selects and deals with authors over the decades has had a negative impact too. Still I can't believe you can't find any good books to read, B.R.!
Comment by B.R.Stateham on July 2, 2009 at 2:40pm
Forgive me for saying this; but I believe it's an age factor. If we are a long-time reader, the older we become the less satisfied we find ourselves in the current crop of writers. We find less and less the the kind of book that can truly grip us like we could in our youth. Call it experience, call it cynicism. . . whatever. But damn few writers out there hold any interest for me. Like you, I'd rather be writing. But I do miss finding a genuinely good book to read.

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