Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reading for Fun

In a recent post I wrote about my Reading Day, there were two comments that really struck me, comments that propelled me to write a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time.

The first was from my colleague Colleen Lindsay (and I hope she doesn’t mind me using her name). Colleen said, “One of the reasons I made the decision to leave agenting was that I was losing my love of reading. It can be a big problem when you aren't really reading for simple enjoyment anymore. For me, it was no longer worth the trade-off.”

I don’t think Colleen is alone in this feeling. I think there are a lot of people who leave agenting or editing because they find it’s taken away from their enjoyment of reading. I know I have a lot of friends who have left over the years and tell me later that one of the best things about leaving is that they now love to read again. It’s sad, and while I get it, I don’t really get it.

Think about it, it happens to many of us when it comes to doing jobs we love. For example, you love to write and there’s nothing you want more than to be a published author, but there is a real possibility that feeling might change when you are strapped to deadlines and doing nothing else but writing. When you “have to” read on a regular basis and you have to read critically, it’s easy to see why the last thing you’d want to do with free time is sit down and read a book. When you have to sit down in that chair every single day and write because others are counting on you there’s a real possibility the joy you feel now from writing might change.

All that being said, another commenter asked, Can you shut it off when reading for fun? And do you have any tips for how to shut off the inner editor when reading?

And this is probably why this job is meant for me. I can shut it off and read for fun at any given moment. There’s no doubt that after so many years in publishing I read differently. I suppose I do read more critically and I know I don’t give books as much time and energy as I used to. In other words, I won’t hesitate to get rid of a book and start something new without finishing the first, but my dream vacation still involves reading a stack of books that has nothing to do with work. Which is kind of funny when you think about it, because every book out there will always have something to do with work.

As for suggestions on how to shut it off: I don’t know that there are any and I think that’s why some decide publishing might not be for them. It’s because they just can’t shut it off.

The great thing for me about taking the time to “read for fun” is that once I do I come back to work with renewed energy and all sorts of new ideas about what I’m looking to represent.



Denise said...

Finding a new book? Joyous
Learning the author can really write? Thrilling
Getting sucked into a new book? Priceless

All I can say is that I'm very glad you've not lost the joy of reading. The ability to be transported somewhere else, to know the characters and walk through the story with them? It's why we read. It's also the joy of writing for me - taking people on an adventure, then having them fall in love with my characters and feel as invested in the story as much as I do is the best.

I hope this never changes for you, Jessica.

Kristan said...

That "turning it off" thing is the key. I think writers experience this same thing; it's just as important for us to read as it is for agents and editors, so we can easily fall into the same trap of getting sick of it. I joke that I have 3 categories of books (and movies/TV shows too, really):

1) So good I can't think about the inner workings
2) Good, but not so good that I can't think about the inner workings
3) So bad that I HAVE to think about the inner workings in order not to gauge my eyes out

And that's sort of true, hehe. But it's also true that I have *some* control over whether or not I look at the inner workings on a first read (or viewing). Sometimes I just want to enjoy the story.

If I couldn't just appreciate a story for fun -- if I always had a work/analytical hat on -- I'm sure it would get old fast. :\

So I guess I feel pretty fortunate!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

A large chunk of my day job is devoted to content editing: rewriting and explaining and/or defending why I'm changing content (usually to make it understandable since I deal with a lot of techie types who aren't necessarily the best writers).

Still, one of my hobbies I use to relax is to visit critique sites and edit queries. In fact, a large part of my own blog is devoted to editing/rewriting other folks' query letters.

It's the same editing skill set, but the difference is that my day job revolves around technical content while the queries revolve around fiction. There's enough of a difference that I'm still working in my comfort zone, just not getting burned out. I wonder whether agents who still love publishing but who find themselves burning out could choose a genre they may not love as much (or non-fiction rather than fiction) to rep and leave the rest for hobby reading.

While there's a lot of talk from agents of must needing to love a project to rep it well, I can tell you that I can't choose the projects I work on nor do I love them, but the quality of my work doesn't suffer. I put in 110% because I want/need the paychecks and the bonuses. And I can still lose myself reading what I love at the end of the day.

Noelle Pierce said...

That's one of my fears about writing. But then, I also need deadlines, so maybe it will help when I get published (I'm an optimist). I know I couldn't work in the publishing industry in terms of editing or agenting. I have a hard time reading my students' papers when I have to grade. In fact, the moment I have to read anything out of obligation for work or school, I dig in my heels and start procrastinating.

I think it's wonderful that you can turn it off and still enjoy reading for fun. That makes for a better agent, imho.


Bethany said...

I was a textbook editor for a small non-profit for several years. It sucked all the joy out of both reading and writing. When I got home from work, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was look at pages of text, no matter whose text it was.

I quit and became a wildlife biologist. Now, I almost never go hiking for fun anymore. Too much like work.

Obviously, shutting it off is way beyond my abilities.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I can't turn it off. Even when I read for fun, the book has to be really good for me to stop reading critically. I still enjoy myself, but it makes it harder to find books I'm interested in reading.

I was in charge of a slush pile for a year, once. By the end of the year, every time I tried to read something from the slush, I would start to throw up. I am not cut out for that kind of job.

Rosalie Lario said...

I have to wholeheartedly agree with Kristan. I think once you are in the writing business, it changes the act of reading for you. Whereas I used to read purely for pleasure, now I do most of my reading to keep up with the market. But there is the occasional book or author who can make me forget all about reading with a critical eye and just enjoy the story. When that happens, it's pure heaven!

Kate Douglas said...

FWIW, I've always loved to write and I have to admit, as much as I gripe about the pressure, I do love the deadlines and the joy of finishing a story that's actually going to end up on the shelf in a bookstore, and eventually in readers' hands. There's nothing better...though the advances and royalties are close seconds!

I have found, however, that it's hard to turn my "inner editor" off when I read for pleasure. I still love to read, but it's made me a more discriminating reader. If a book isn't well done, if I find myself rewriting sentences in my head as I read, then I probably won't read that author again. The "rhythm" of writing is more important to me than it used to be. Of course, the time available for reading for pleasure is much more precious.

Elizabeth said...

Like you, I get it, but I don't really get it. And that's extra confusing for me, because I've been there, and I'm not sure I even understood it then.

Carin Siegfried said...

That's why I quit editing, too. And I haven't looked back. Best decision I made. Loved editing, but loved reading more. It is still a little hard to not edit while reading, but if the book is good, that part of my brain stays dormant. It's only when a book really needs editing that the switch gets flipped.

Laura Drake said...

My tip for shutting off the editor?
A wonderful author!
I critique so much material (and so much of if is not great) that when I'm reading for pleasure, I'm much more discerning than I used to be.
I don't waste one hour of that time, reading something that doesn't transport me, thinking, "Well, Oprah said this was good, so . . ."

Anonymous said...

Call me stupid for not getting all emotional about this. But I would imagine that if an agent is making money and has a few big books, and if his or her love of reading suffers, they probably learn how to deal with it like well rounded individuals.

Actually, I would wager to bet that if the big books are there and the royalty checks are coming in, the love for reading only becomes more intense.

I know people are going to compare this to editing and other publishing related fields where people don't get paid enough to make it worth losing the love for reading. But there are many agents out there who do have big books, who do see great royalty checks, and they all seem to suffer through the pain.

Unknown said...

I wish there had been some handy tips! At least I'm not the only one sending books to the second hand bookshop heaven already after the first page.

Joanna St. James said...

I really cant stop reading once I pick a book up good or bad, I just have to finish it.
I just love to read even when its a painful read.

Anonymous said...

I won’t hesitate to get rid of a book and start something new without finishing the first...

I used to finish every book I started. For some reason it seemed important not to quit a book, as if that was a failure on my part. When I began writing, I gave that up. I decided that life was too short to read books I didn't want to. So for me, becoming a writer meant I stopped forcing myself to read and only read for pleasure and/or satisfaction.

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Khanada said...

I love this post!

I've always loved to read and write, but it's only been just a couple years now that I've tried writing for publication. At first, I couldn't really read critically, but then the switch suddenly went on for me. It's still somewhat new so I'm enjoying it, but I can't turn it off, and I've wondered if I can really get lost in a book again.

It's nice to know that maybe someday, I can!

Sam Mills said...

The only correlation I can make is with my schooling. I was a literature major in college (history minor), and by senior year I was so bogged down in reading that I hardly ever read a book I had chosen for fun. The best thing about graduating was that I could read for fun again-- reminding me of why I was a lit major in the first place!