Reading As Part Of The “Job”


I’m not a slow reader, but when I saw my Goodreads stats for 2015, I stared at it for a second and thought, that’s itTwelve books?  I hastily skimmed over my “To Read” list just to make sure I’d not forgotten to categorize one as “read.”  It would seem I didn’t – so – huh.  Twelve.  I ought to be embarrassed, but there’s a reason for this small number.

When I was in my early teens, I was into reading romance.  All the Harlequin books I could get my hands on.  I would fake being sick (yeah, I did that) so I could stay home and read.  Mom would run up to the local drugstore and buy me two to three Harlequins at a time, while I was “ill.”  They weren’t epic in size by any stretch, maybe something like…175 to 180 pages or so?  But, I’d start one, finish it, then start another – all in the same day.

Then, when I was in my late twenties, I was a die-hard, fervent Stephen King fan, and when I would hear he had a new book out, (the bigger, the better!) I bought it, and saved it for the weekend.  And, I would read it over that weekend in it’s entirety.  I would start on a Friday night, and be done by Sunday.  (Then I’d be mad at myself because I had to wait for his next – which might not be out for a whole two years.)

So, I know I’m not a slow reader.  When I posted the Goodreads stats out to Twitter and Facebook, I felt a little shamefaced.  I mean, as a writer, shouldn’t I be able to read more than one book a month?  Can’t I fit in one a week, at least?  Apparently not, even though I read every.  single.  night.  That’s the issue, really.  The reading at night thing.  That’s the only time I “allow” myself to crack open a book, and of course, by then, I’m tired and know I’m only going to get five pages in, maybe ten, if it’s a really good story.

I know of other writers who write in the morning and read in the afternoon.  Or flip it around.  I just can’t.  There’s something about daylight and me – okay it’s really just me –  where I feel guilty sitting down with a book while the sun’s shining bright.  I think it’s because I still view reading as enjoyment, not a job.  Sure, I find myself reading critically all the time, which is part of a writer’s need in experiencing all the different ways of developing a story.  A variety of road maps, if you will, for getting to THE END.  Only, it goes against that “real” job schtick no matter how I talk to myself about it.  I can’t justify doing it – even when I know unless I read, I won’t get to study how other writers solved plot problems, described a setting, or worked through realistic dialogue, for example.

I realize I’m limiting myself by thinking this way because there’s that whole “read far and wide” thing too.  I can’t get but so much of the far, or the wide in, when my total count is – TWELVE.  And because I know I’m only going to read X number of books, I tend to be very picky about what I pick up next.  Sure, I’ve heard time and again any book can help a writer hone their skills, no matter the genre – only, hello?  TWELVE.  And if I can’t get passed TWELVE, I want the most out of my reading time.  At night.  (Yeah, my self-inflicted “rule” is starting to sound dumb, even to me.)

I can hear some of you, so, why don’t you just make more time by getting over your silly “can’t read during the day?”  Here’s where I get to be REAL honest.  If my husband came in and saw me curled up in the living room with my latest read – ONE FOOT IN EDEN –  I would have this huge feeling of GUILT.  Guilt because he’s out there, running himself ragged while I’m sitting in there… reading.  HE wouldn’t care – he gets it – it’s me.  My head.  My way of thinking.

It’s like that whole argument about breasts and breast feeding.  Some folks can’t get past the idea of breasts as sexual objects while others have no problem with them being displayed in public for the purpose they were intended – as a functional part of their body meant to nourish their child.  And this, in some lame way, is my own argument.  Since so many of us read as a pleasurable pastime, I find it hard to categorize it as work. Besides, books are marketed like that, like movies.  We start seeing the lists for “great beach reads,” in the spring, and if any of us are going on summer vacation, what’s the first thing people want to know?  What books are you taking to read on the plane, boat, or car?  And, we give people books as GIFTS.  Anyone ever hand you something to do at work that you considered a gift???

This isn’t a big deal.  I guess if I needed to, I would try and change my way of thinking.  For instance, if my current WIP was turning into a smelly pile of stagnation, or, if I had run out of ideas of what to write next, or if I simply needed inspiration, I’m sure I’d find a way to pick up a book in the middle of the day.  Peak at it.  Read a page or two.  A chapter even.

But, the guilt, and that way of thinking about reading as a “job,” that’s the hard part, for me anyway.  What about  you?

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Part of the reading collection – gathered over the years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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33 Comments

Donnaeve,
Your bookcase looks just like mine, except my wife has stacks of photo binders at the bottom. That doesn’t count the boxes in the attic and the boxes she took to the used book retailer. I now avail myself of the library to kepp my shelves from sagging.
I’m probably right with you on the 12/yr reading schedule with the 10pm-11pm reading schedule.
God knows I don’t blog enough.
Kregger

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    Hey Kregger, thanks for dropping in. I loved your interview and excerpt. I tried to leave you a message out there, but something didn’t go right – I ended up hitting the “Like” button to let you know!

    Yeah, if I’d kept all the books I’ve read since my childhood, I’d likely be able to fill a room from floor to ceiling! As you can see, those bookshelves are suffering for space. I’d really love a built in book case for that room. Maybe I can get one done, one of these days.

    My blog posting has been less frequent this past year. I’m trying to put at least one out a week now. “Trying” being the operative word. 🙂

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I just stopped by for a smile because now I can! : ) Thanks for that. Uh oh, now I gotta see if it works. Maybe that smiley thing shows up when I hit “Post Comment.” Otherwise, I gotta go back to the remedial emoticon class. 🙂

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Totally get it. I have that guilty conscience, too. I did take a Business for Writers course that echoed the fact that books are tax deductible. One must study them, understand the market, etc. It is still difficult for me, but I’m learning!

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    I think overall, it’s a never ending process (learning) because of ongoing change from all types of publishing to new technologies to individual processes.

    For one, this year will be the first year my husband and I do our taxes where I’ve earned some money as a self-employed individual. I will get a 1099 from my agent. It sounds crazy but even THAT is exciting! LOL! I don’t have a lot of expenses yet – per se, but knowing that books can be used as a tax write off? That’s something I am grateful to have found out about!

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Dear Ms. Popular:

Here’s a way to look at reading. According to the IRS, you can write off your book purchases as a cost of doing business. Who is a greater authority than the IRS, right? Nobody I know. Hence, if the law of the land says reading is work for you, it’s high time you tossed your lame argument. I take great pleasure in my work, but I still pay taxes on it.

That said, I offer no tax advice and none of the opinions expressed here should be used as a position for any taxing authority in this country or any other. Or some such. I’m not a lawyer either, obviously.

I’ve just started keeping track of my reading on That Library Thing. Unlike you, I am a slow reader. I think that should entitle me to 28 hours in a day, but nobody’s listening to my argument. On that and all other topics. Keep writing!

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    Ha, “Ms. Popular” he says…for like a day.

    Tax write off you say? Hmmmm. I like that. Would they be classified as…Office supplies you think? IDK. I’ll have to check into it!

    That Library Thing is what JR recommended. I went out and looked but I think I’m so used to GoodReads, I just couldn’t switch.

    You’ve got a way with words, so I hope you’ll keep writing too!

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I could have written this post. Not as well, but the same ‘only read at night’ habit. And the guilt, though I love Lennon’s idea. I could pretend to write comments on a notepad by my side. Fortunately for me, hubby is often outside or in the basement torturing a guitar for hours on end, so I could pick a book up.

Writing, editing, second-guessing decisions, takes up a lot of my day.

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    Ha, so funny – because it seems we’re not the only ones who have that albeit unqualified feeling of guilt, right?

    Oh, btw, “torturing a guitar.” Made me LOL!

    Ditto the writing, editing, second guessing. And please tell me, why is it when you write something one day – the next you go back and it stinks to high heaven? My daily word count is currently dragging due to this.

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Hi Donnaeve – lurking from the JR blog 🙂 I know exactly what you mean about the guilt thing. I think it’s because we can see it from their point of view. If it were flip-flopped and my husband was a writer, it would be soo hard not to be jealous and even judgmental to find him on the couch with a book, day after day. But perception is worth so much. I would feel differently if he sat at a desk, computer and notebook out, maybe other study references surrounding and then reading a book sitting upright. It would be the same thing but one would look like goofing off and the other like working! The brain is so strange 😛 Have fun with all the reading you’re planning!

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    Ooooo, I love me some lurkers! 🙂 And OT, but I LOVE your name! It SOUNDS writerly. That’s another strange brain thing, no?

    But you nailed it. Yes, on the couch – working? Uh, no. Desk/computer, and notebook and then surrounded by books? Yes. That’s working. Now, I have devious plans to get all my reading in. Thank you for dropping by and giving me IDEAS! 🙂

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I used to play sick too, to stay home and read. And my dad would get me chicken McNuggets. I also used to get in trouble for reading at school, a book wedged under my desk.

I used to be a 200 books a year person, but that’s dropped off in the past couple years, as I’ve been writing more. I don’t have a designated reading time, though; I shoehorn it in. I’ll carry a book throughout the house with me, if it’s good enough and I’m hitting the pages hard, and I’ll read while I’m waiting for water to boil for dinner, stirring ground beef or eggs, etc. I’ll frequently have a separate book that I read on breaks.

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    Here’s what I hope. I hope that I’ll one day write a book that makes a person want to carry it around the house with them because they CAN’T PUT IT DOWN. 🙂

    You just jogged my memory about something. I’ve gotten in trouble at school before too – for reading! I stuck a book into one of my school books once and was reading it instead of doing the reading out of the text. The teacher was strolling around the room, but I was SO into my story, I didn’t know it – until she stopped at my desk. You know those goosebumps you get? When something like that happens? She took the book from me, and kept it at her desk till the end of the class. And she deducted 10 pts immediately from my grade for whatever it would have been. Man. You’d have thought a TEACHER would have been pleased!

    Oh well.

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I totally get it Donna. It is hard to find time to read between real life and writing. I used to finish all my workbooks, reading all my text books first week of school so I could read whatever I wanted. For some reason as a kid, I could polish off five or six books a week. I had a tree house in the woods where I would always stow a book or two. Some books I read out loud to my gang of buddies, all I boys. I was always the only girl. Now days, the whole being an adult thing cuts into my escaping into books thing far too much.

And I too love getting a gander at other’s book shelves. Catch you on the other side of Carkoon.

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    I’m glad you dropped in E.M., thank you! It’s funny how someone will tell me a tidbit about themselves and it’s not too far off from my own experiences growing up or otherwise. My brother and I had a tree house too, and I would go up there and read. I was always chosen to play ball with his friends as well – b/c I could hit the ball better than some of them. LOL!

    I thought about this the other day…I used to read when my husband would watch a football game. I think part of what’s cut into my usual reading time – and this is actually a good thing – is writing. And b/c writing consumes so much of my time, I have to force myself to stop to do laundry, clean, or cook. And so, in some ways, it’s no wonder I only read at night! Only 24 hours in a day…

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I used to read 2 and 3 books at a time, different genres to suit my mood. They’d be stacked on the table next to my bed. Could not read during the day unless I wasn’t feeling well. Now I can barely get in a few pages (again at night) without my writer’s-eye analyzing every word, every sentence. Even if I’m really into something (anything, magazines, not just books) my writer’s-eye focuses and I’m thrown off into the wow-effect of someone else’s genius.

I’m still reading DEAR SUGAR and now I’m convinced I should do a second, different kind of column, along her lines but different. (For oldies with issues, Lord knows I’m full of advice.) Once I finish the book that idea will fade but I am so influenced by other kinds of writing. First lines, first five pages, end of chapter cliff-hangers, turmoil, challenges, yadda, yadda, yadda, where do they begin and where do I end?

I love writing like I love soup and I am damn good at making all kinds of soup. But when I taste someone else’s I really can’t enjoy it because I either believe I can do better, or try to analyze what they did and incorporate in my next pot. Speaking of soup, the snow has started and I’ve got cooking on my mind. And, a couple of good books to start once SUGAR is finished.

Love this post BTW.

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    Talking about feeling guilty…maybe this is just my nature because…we have some neighbors right next door to us who are without power. My mom is without power. And I’m sitting here, comfortable, drinking coffee and…feeling guilty for those without. I think I have a complex. 🙂

    ANYWAY! Yes! I do the same thing – analyzing every word, sentence, paragraph. With my latest read, for example (which you can see on the site here and I mentioned above in the post too) ONE FOOT IN EDEN, I started off not really liking the story because I wasn’t enthralled with Ron Rash’s depiction of a character he starts the story with – “The High Sheriff.” The sheriff says “up here,” ad nauseum. I saw it like four times in one paragraph. It stuck OUT and was annoying. And this “sheriff,” also has these internal thoughts (which Rash ITALICIZED – QOTKU would have a hissy fit) and multiple, MULTIPLE times, he has written the sheriff thinking, “whatever, whatever whatever, I thought.” It’s the overuse of “I thought,” this, and “I thought,” that – it started grating on my nerves.

    BUT. Then two other different character POV’s came in and boy oh boy. I can’t hardly wait to see what happens. Much, much better now.

    It would be wonderful if you could write another column like DEAR SUGAR, but for the Oldie Goldie’s – right?

    Hubby’s on cooking duty today – and he’s talking about a pot of chicken/rice soup and some baked ziti. 🙂

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First of all, wow, your bookshelves are pretty. And those floors are gorgeous (my current house is the first I’ve lived in without hardwood, and I miss it like crazy).

Second, I am glad you “stopped by” my blog because it reminded me to get around and visit some of the other Reiders. It feels kind of like I have a coffee shop I stop in every morning for convo and caffeine, and I’m now I’m running into other regulars out and around town.

This post hit home because I think 2015 was my worst year for reading books in my entire life. Like you, I know I’m not a slow reader because of how I used to burn through books in my younger years. I didn’t keep track in 2015, but I think my low would be 5 and my high would be 12. A lot of it has to do with being busy, but I also feel guilty when I read during the day.

I’m doing the PopSugar and BookRiot 2016 reading challenges. So far, I’m almost to 4 books (one was a chap book of poetry, one was under 150 pages, but still – progress!).

Here’s hoping we both make more time and read more books in 2016!

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    I loved your blog! It was set up so professionally, and made me want to stick around and linger. It actually had the look/feel (IMO) of my agency’s website. Thank you for coming to visit!

    Well. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out here feeling sheepish (although a lot of folks are making great cases against all of that and any guilt!) about low numbers. I think part of my “what??? TWELVE???” moment is because I’ve read where other writers have knocked off, oh, like 60 books or something. And they, likely, have a healthier perspective of their “job.” Like Julie mentioned, it’s about refilling the well. I feel certain I’d benefit by just keeping a book here by the computer, and when I’m done writing, read. If you’re already up to four books – no matter what they are or the length – you’re off to a great start!

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When I read what you write I always say to myself: this woman masters this craft!
I think that you should do whatever makes you comfortable, Donna! My late teacher used to say about work (I’m paraphrasing like crazy here): when it stops being fun, it becomes work.
If reading during the day makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter what the reason, then read at night.
I don’t read as fast as I used to, either. I take my time now and notice so much more than before.

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    Thank you, Lilac – you’re always so generous and kind about my meager little piddlings out here!

    I like what you said – whatever makes me comfortable. (who couldn’t be comfortable in BED, reading??? Right?) But yes, so very true about when it stops being fun, it becomes work. I had enough stress in my IT job, so I don’t need to dwell too much on reading stats here.

    I think because I do read more critically now – this does slow one down. I will re-read sentences over and over just because someone finds a unique analogy or description to use. And it’s inspiring, and makes me want to run downstairs and WRITE! That’s what reading should do – and I realize the volume doesn’t matter.

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Donna,

First off, don’t apologize and don’t feel guilty.

A few things to keep in mind, though. Reading really is part of your job. It renews your creative well. It isn’t just recreation. It also teaches you. The more you read, the more you absorb. We learn by doing, but we also learn by seeing how others do it. That’s the reason I keep so many books I’ve already read. When I’m feeling flat, I go back to an author and study how they write. I invariably get lost in the writing again while the boys in the back work out the plot knots.

When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day.–Ernest Hemingway

I set up my calendar this year to keep on track. A star for x number of words daily. A star for reading daily. A star for this a star for that. My little kindergarten brain responds to that positive reinforcement.

I also bought an antique hour glass last year. One day I’ll have the money to buy one like in Master and Commander, but for now, this works. Every day the hour glass comes out and I write. I don’t do anything else while I write for that thirty minutes. Usually, I’m at a point I don’t want to stop at the end, so I flip it and write more. When I finish writing, I read to replenish my mind.

You must give yourself permission to read and not feel guilty. It truly is part of the writing process. You’re worth it.

Plus, you have beautiful bookcases! They must be fed.

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    Thank you for visiting me, Julie! I feel honored….

    And of course, as I read your comment, I heard “you,” you’re writing voice is so strong and it was really like you were right here beside me, coaching me out of my way of thinking! Everything you said rings 100% true. It is necessary to refill the well, time and again. I know I ought to refill it a little more often and what you are saying is I need to do it WHENEVER – and not feel guilty over it. Maybe I can excuse my ridiculous way of thinking as a quirk? Yeah…quirk is always better than crazy. LOL!

    I do love my little bookcases – but what I REALLY want are some built ins! For that ENTIRE wall. That dresser in the middle? It was mine as a child so it’s an ANTIQUE. Ha! Boy does that make me feel old. But wouldn’t a WHOLE wall bookcase, floor to ceiling look great there? And I have enough books to fill it, as I have stacks in the bedroom too.

    Thank you again for dropping in – it was great to “see” you here!

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There was a time when I vowed to read a book a week (on average), and I did. Many of the books during this period were substantial, 500-page tomes. I certainly read far and wide then. But I found myself obsessed with the number rather than the substance. I can remember it being twenty minutes before midnight on December 31 and I was rushing to finish a book within the year. (I think it was #62 for that year.)

Now I don’t do that. I read what I can, when I can. I read mostly in the evenings, in bed, usually for about an hour. What ground gets covered in that time is what I read. I’m sure it influences my writing, but I think I have grown confident enuf in my voice to not care too much.

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    I never really think of my numbers – until I see them each year. I think that’s why I had such a knee jerk reaction when it was the equivalent of one book a month. It just seemed like such a lowly number, even though I’m downright consistent – every night without fail, I pick up a book.

    But this is exactly why it’s only twelve. Last night I was reading, and even though I’m totally enthralled with the story, I still couldn’t do more than two pages. That was it. When I get to the point I’m re-reading sentences b/c I’m falling asleep…out goes the light.

    Glad to “see” you here.

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I was a voracious reader as a child. I would read *anything*.

As an adult, I don’t have the time, alas. My Goodreads stats for last year were also a bit sad. I’ve already outstripped them in the past three weeks (granted, for professional reasons). I’m hoping I have more time this year for reading.

Yes, I sometimes feel guilty when my husband catches me reading when I should b doing something else (like laundry). But most of the time, I claim ‘Professional Development’.

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    I was too, Heidi! Anything I could get my hands on. Mom still has this collection of hardback books – I think they came from Collier (like the encyclopedias?) and they contained all the classics, like Ann of Green Gables, Heidi, Robinson Crusoe, etc. I’m pretty sure I read them all, and on to the Greek mythology, down to all the old fairy tales like Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White/Seven D’s, and on and on.

    Professional development! LOVE it! LOL! That sounds right.

    Here’s to the opportunity for more reading this year – but like Diane says above, we won’t apologize – right? It is what it is – at the end of the year and if it serves us well, that’s all that matters.

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Fist off, I loooooooooovve getting to look at people’s bookshelves. That’s beautiful furniture, and a great spot, so much light.

Second … remember what I was on about yesterday at Janet’s blog, with the “I don’t apologize anymore for the way I am a writer” thing? That, to this.

And yet – for me, reading is so tenderly, obscenely intimate that the idea of public stats FREAKS. ME. OUT. I’m all to well aware that part of my “job” as an author is supposed to be slavishly reading bestsellers and the latest in my genre, but I not only resist that … I have to reject it. I can do a lot of things to support my writing, but it has been plain to me all along I just cannot be the person who bases my every authorial conversation or action on what others are doing. I know it’s market knowledge, but I just *cannot* bring myself to it.

This is largely an emotional response, but there is one justification for it, and that is this: I don’t want to be influenced. I don’t want to begin echoing others unconsciously or intentionally, and I am *highly* reflective. I take on things I see or learn. So for me to read what is current would lead to me to places I really don’t want to go.

And books are so personal. This means I like (a) reading OLD stuff, (b) reading really eclectic genres, forms, themes, periods, whatever, and (c) I *hate* reading popular things because it diminishes, for me, the bruisingly deep intimacy of reading. It is such an intensely personal experience for me, sharing it with millions wigs me and annoys me. It is extraordinarily rare for me to lend a book (when I do, trust that the gesture is epochal in its import); I don’t even recommend them. I’m aware this is for many (most … ? I wonder) readers entirely part of the experience, but this confounds me. Taking something that I experience in silence, which happens *essentially* alone – there is no other way to do it – which happens inside my head, my mind, that most un-share-able of places, and trying to share it? Makes as little sense to me as trying to share the experience of what it’s like to wear someone’s skin and feel with their heart.

Public stats also bring me back to the “apologizing” thing in this: there’s always somebody judging those stats and the “doing it wrong-ers” have less than no place judging my fitness as a reader, if they’re going to use that to judge me as a writer, which they will.

Even if that person … is myself.

You have nothing to apologize for. 🙂

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    Love this response! It goes to show how quickly something departs my head – because I loved what you said on JR’s blog too.

    In my wee little woodland creature head, I’d already surmised there would be an “opinion,” about my meager reading stats, which also directly correlates to your comment on “not apologizing,” and the thinking of the “you’re doing it wrong’ers.”

    🙂

    I am intrigued by your comment as to what you will/will not read, and avoiding the potential for influence. I’ve worried about this too, and my experience so far in reading what is definitely more mainstream works than what you read, has been rather interesting – from the perspective of influence. There are a finite number of words in the English language and to achieve voice and that uniqueness in storytelling is a distinct marker for exceptionalism. So, when I read, and then work, I try to be aware, and focus on how the story is coming out of ME. It’s hard to do sometimes. I mean, there are the colloquialisms, and vernacular identifiers, and regional dialect which can’t/shouldn’t be tampered with for the sake of authenticity.

    And then the question becomes, what then? What does one do to set oneself apart? That’s the struggle day to day for me, because I love writing with that sort of “flavor,” while trying not to sound like “so and so.” We, as writers, do LOVE comparisons, but not because we’ve rubber stamped a voice, but because the writing would be considered uniquely ours and just “as good,” as someone who’s seen success.

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I totally get the guilt thing. I don’t read near as much as I want because of that. And don’t stress over numbers. Last year was a really low year for me too, book wise. Some years just are. I totally get the reading as work thing, though. I can’t pick a book up without picking it apart, acting as if I was beta reading. It’s hard to find books I can read for enjoyment.

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    If I told my husband I felt guilty about reading, he’d tell me to get over it. He’s great – but I still can’t seem to view it any other way. I do read critically – like I mentioned but, despite that, it’s not like having to do a project for work, ya know? I agree, there are lower years for reading volume, I just think I was SHOCKED at 12 – LOL! Oh well, new year, more books maybe!

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