Reading Like a Reader Is More Fun Than Reading Like a Writer

Last week I posted about too many books and too little time. Today’s topic is the reading process itself.

Years ago, when I was young, there were two kinds of reading. The first one was obligatory reading, usually for school, later for college courses. It was done at a table or desk, with notebook and pen nearby. The second was reading for pleasure. Whether I read classics, trashy paperbacks, serious novels, children’s books, or nonfiction, I didn’t need to take notes or write book reports. This kind of reading was an escape from real life.

Now that I’m a writer, reading is complicated. Thanks to all the “how to write right” blog posts I’ve read, my brain is full of rules and admonishments, things writers should do and many they must never do. For example, overuse of dialogue tags other than “said.” I just read a book whose characters murmured, muttered, and growled way too much. Another had way too many backstory info-dumps. It’s hard to enjoy reading a book if I find myself editing it.

Writers notice things like typos and punctuation issues because they’re always fretting about them in their own writings. Casual readers looking for a diversion may ignore minor issues as long as the story (plot, characters, voice) is sufficiently compelling. That could be why some poorly written books get five star ratings and rave reviews. But readers who also write and publish have trained themselves to find misspelled words and awkwardly constructed sentences. Writers notice even minor problems, and not with delight.

So what does this tell writers? The story is more important than its vehicle, but a vehicle that sputters and stops will drive discerning readers away from the story. They are more likely to abandon it rather than get out and push.

Then there’s the matter of reviews. I know how hard it is for self-published authors to accumulate reviews. I read a lot of indie authors, so therefore feel obliged to post reviews of their books, especially the ones I enjoy. But that means I can’t just let the narrative wash over me while I’m reading. If I intend to write a decent review, I have to remember details. Sometimes I even make a few notes. This reading experience looks more like work than escape.

Reviewing like a writer — is that good or bad? Maybe the person that wrote the book would appreciate reviews containing the kind of feedback they get from a critique group or editor. But then again, maybe not. The book has been written and published, after all. At that stage, all its author wants to know is whether readers like it or not. They may not appreciate another writer telling them what characters should have been removed or which darlings needed killing.

Sometimes I wish I could switch off “writer mode” when I’m reading for pleasure. On the other hand, that’s why it’s so important for published writing to be error-free. Writers, let’s give one another a frictionless, snag-free reading experience!

So, fellow bloggers (and writers): do you notice things like typos and other violations of writing rules when you’re reading for fun? Do you take the time to review the books you read? Do you see your TBR list as a source of delight or another job?

100 comments

  1. I do try to read like a reader… but I’ve the past few years have been astonished by the number of traditionally published books, ma.ny of which are old favourites on their third or fourth re-read, in which I find huge and glaring errors. As a writer, knowing that such typos and mistakes slipped into books prints by even the Big Five is hugely reassuring. Yet, realising they slipped past me all these years does not fill the self-edotor with any Co fide nice at all 😉

    Liked by 8 people

    1. It’s funny–in old favourites I’ve read many times, even the typos don’t bother me. Mind you, those books are solidly in the trad pub era (pre-1970) when proofreading must have been better, because they don’t have many errors. Thanks for commenting, Sue!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I review every book I read (60+) this year, but only, if they are badly written, have plot holes and typos galore. Then I try and contact the author directly. I look forward to the day when all indie books are perfectly written and formatted and we can take our rightful place beside the traditionally published and we are acknowledged as ‘proper and real’ writers. I think with their new reporting system Zon are trying to improve standards but I would rather tell the author and give them the chance to make corrections than report them.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think that’s a better way to proceed than public (or even semi-public) shaming. I don’t think indie publishing is going away, but some self-pubbed books are definitely better than others in terms of proofreading. I think serious indie authors in for the long haul are more rigorous about quality than those who put out one or two books and quit.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I often find myself wincing at awkward phrasing, structure or outright editorial lapses such as literals in books I read. It’s hard to ‘switch off’ being a writer. On the other hand, I think it means I can also appreciate really well-written stuff when I read it, because I know just how hard it can be to produce such material.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Sadly, it takes an exceptional book to make a good impression, and I don’t seem to find many of those… Which might be just as well, for finding the time to curl up with a good book is getting harder than ever too…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The more I write, the more I enjoy reading because I appreciate the effort and experience that went into a clever plot twist or a lyrical passage.

    Yes, I review every book I read unless it’s REALLY bad, then I either DNF or (if the author asked me to read and review it) contact the author privately.

    Since my reviews aren’t very long, I don’t find it a chore to take just a couple of notes while reading, and it’s a pleasure to note what I enjoyed about the good books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s an extra level of complexity when one is reviewing a book whose author is a known person (fellow blogger or member of one’s writing group, for example). I used to think that negative reviews were “telling it like it is” and good for writers like nasty tasting medicine. I’ve since changed my mind; as writers we can help each other if we keep our criticisms private. And I’m grateful you reviewed my books. 🙂

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  6. I don’t review books because I either read for pleasure to to learn something new. Typos annoy me and have since I was young. Another thing that has annoyed me ever since I was a child is authors who get their own details wrong e.g. one page 7 they say has a character has blue eyes but one page 77 they describe the eyes as brown. This is incredibly trivial of me but it’s something that’s always bugged me.

    I love lyrical writing that transports me but get bored with prentious stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. I think that happens when authors crank out a book every three months, which apparently is the practice in some genres to maintain reader engagement and sales. But as you say, careless mistakes would lead to disengagement and fewer sales.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes absolutely. It does put you off mainstream publishing and genre writing. Our local library has started adding genre categories on the spine. I am making a point of only reading the ones that they can’t categorise! 🙂 (I do bend my own rules when it comes to sci fi though).

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The library I worked in separated fiction by genre as well. That annoyed me even before I started writing because it meant some people wouldn’t browse the full range of fiction. And we lumped sci fi and fantasy, which some would disagree with.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. Audrey, I have the blessing or curse (depends upon the circumstances) of being a sometimey or lazy reader. When I am taking a writing class, anything I read, I read critically–is it poorly written, are the characters interesting, are there too many Writing 101 rules broken? In between, do I like the story or not? If I like it, I’ll eventually finish it, if I don’t–life’s too short to read books I don’t care for. I seldom do book reviews, but if I do, I do make notes so I can go back to refer to a specific section when making a point. I love how publishing has progressed in the past 20 years from vanity press publishing to indie authors. Indie authors sound more in control and not narcissistic.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. These days I tend to edit what I’m reading. Mostly I note grammatical errors and awkward constructions. If I really like a book and get swept up in the story, I’m very forgiving. I realize that my own books must have a number of typos although I do my darnedest to catch them. If I’m planning to review a book, I always make notes (it’s the old English major in me). That’s especially true now that I mostly read on Kindle, because I never learned how to use the bookmark feature, so I need a word I can search for if (for example) I want to quote a line or two in the review. In the beginning I wrote a few unfavorable reviews, but now if I can’t think of anything good to say about the book, I just don’t review it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s pretty much how I proceed regarding reviews. My old e-reader has a “handwriting” function where I can make notes with a little stylus and revisit them later. Your books have almost no typos, and the stories are also easy to get swept up in.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. For the most part, I’m able to shut my writer brain off while I’m reading for pleasure. I’ll notice typos just because that’s something I’ve always done. And there are certain things that drive me crazy — but they are things that drive me crazy as a reader, not as a writer. For instance, I don’t like books that do a character dump in the first chapter or two. You know, by page 25, you’ve been introduced to 17 different characters and are trying to keep them all straight.

    Only occasionally do I read something and think about it in terms of the writing. I think part of it is that I don’t really care about the “rules” of writing, and am more or less unfamiliar with a lot of them. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t write “normal” reviews. I don’t know how to write about the art of writing when it comes to somebody else’s story.

    The one thing that is guaranteed to get to me is a self-published piece that has too many typos. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Even traditionally published books have an occasional typo. But there are indie published books out there where there are so many I start paying more attention to the typos than to the actual story. That’s not good. And it damages the reputation of all indie publishers.

        As for the “character dump” … it really is the best way to turn me off to a novel early on.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s like the book I mentioned where everyone was murmuring. At first I thought it was because the characters had discovered their premises where being bugged. OK, so they murmured. But it kept going throughout, to the point that I was laying bets with myself when the next murmur would appear. Needless to say, I sort of lost touch with the story.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Since I’m nearly blind to typos and the fact that they don’t bother me should happen to spot one, I can read without editing. However, being blind to them means that my poor wife and beta readers find hundreds and hundreds of my mistakes in my work, and still some slip by. I never have learned the “rules,” of writing. Instead, I use Duke Ellington’s dictum “If it sounds good, it is good.” and write conversational English in first person.

    I enjoy hearing what people think of my work. Not only did I appreciated your review, Audrey, but I also got a kick out of Ann Thompson’s “This is the dullest book I have ever read….” review of the same story. I know that I can’t please everyone, and since I don’t even try, I accept the fact that some readers will enjoy my stories, others won’t – and that both are right. I don’t feel comfortable writing reviews, so I don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to admit, I like the “Duke Ellington dictum.” That’s how I approach comma placement, although in the final stages of editing I end up deleting a lot of commas. And contradictory reviews just mean your story is nuanced.

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  11. Good post Audrey. Has to be reblogged.

    I like errors. I like it when successful and prestigious authors keep using the same phrase or introduce a stiff as cardboard character.
    They make me feel……’Ahhhh. Not just me then’ or ‘Hmm. There’s hope yet,’

    As for typos, well you know my view on the malice of computer programmes and that clan of mischievous pixies who have moved into the cyber domain.

    My tip to new self-publishing authors..sell you first books cheap, then what have folk got to complain about?

    OK I’ll stop now I’m letting my subversive characters take me over again…..

    Liked by 2 people

      1. My pleasure to re-blog Audrey, I do like spreading, good points interesting and provoking thoughts and wisdom.
        Mischief?…..Well that would be Karlyn, we do get on together, very well.
        On the characters I sometimes wonder Audrey whether they are influencing me and not the other way around
        A recent internal conversation went:
        Me: ‘Arketre is that wise, to say that?’
        Arketre: ‘Don’t y’all back-seat general me sweetlin’. Which one of us is at the front line here?’
        Me: ‘OK…You’re the boss in this bit’
        Sometimes I think I am but the reporter and translator…😄

        Liked by 1 person

              1. Hi Audrey
                (This is being typed under the kitchen table…..)
                I can’t…they are in my head and I am in their world….and they craft more sense in the narrative than I can.
                …..Still, at least this has given me another idea for a blog post 😉

                Liked by 1 person

  12. I found my first missing quotation mark in a Nancy Drew when I was nine. And I’m a compulsive line editor (although my critique partners have almost cured that). So I notice errors and constructions I would have written differently. But I don’t mind reading like a writer, because I learn how different writers handle their material. And there’s so much to admire–from developing characters to just getting them across the room. In a way, reading like a writer is a richer experience than reading like a reader. (I wish I could proof my own work.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I read Nancy Drew books too, and loved them. Don’t remember finding errors in them, though. And thank you for pointing out the positives of reading like a writer. We can always learn something that way–how to write better as well as things to avoid. Seeing actual errors is more dramatic than reading about them.

      Like

  13. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    A terrific post from author Audrey Driscoll that I recommend you all read. I was only thinking the other day when reading my latest book off the bestseller list that was much anticipated, how my reading process had changed. As a writer I see issues that I would never have noticed before.. a bit like watching a movie that involves an area in which you have a level of expertise. Audrey lays it out very clearly and I agree with her analysis. She would love your feedback.. Thanks Sally

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Excellent post Audrey, so true! Once a writer, it’s difficult to shut of the discerning eye, lol. I also write reviews for books I read because I’m a ‘do onto others kind of gal’. As an author I hope those who’ve enjoyed my books would leave a review, they are gold in many ways. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I read a lot but I rarely review (I know I should because as an author I love reviews – if they are good one) because if it’s a good book and I’m totally caught up in the story I forget I should be making notes. I do notice typos and missing words but if I’m hooked on the story I can let those pass. If it’s a book very badly written I give up on it – life is too short and I’m never going to have time to read all the books I want to read.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s sort of the way I operate too, Mary. I sometimes find myself “writing” the review in my head. If I don’t make notes, the actual written and posted version is never as good. And you’re right — there’s no point in putting together a critical review of a poorly written book. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Yes, I notice all the little speed humps, unless . . .

    My unless is that if the narrative sweeps me up in it, I don’t care. I just don’t want to stop reading.

    What I find is that I have less of those experiences now, perhaps because I’m getting old. I treasure the stories that take me.

    Thanks for the article, Audrey.

    Cheers,

    Frank

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I read a /lot/ and it’s always for pleasure…even if the experience isn’t always pleasurable. And yes, I notice typos, awkward sentences, repetitive use of words like ‘somewhat’, plot holes or fudges, things that don’t make sense or characters that all sound the same. That inner editor never completely shuts up, but sometimes it takes a back seat as the story carries us both away.

    I only leave reviews for the stories that carry me away. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  18. As to reading, I notice typos and awkward phrases and so on. As a writer myself, I can’t help “editing” when I read. But, like many readers say, if the story is very good, I’m not aware of problems…except for typos! One piece of advice I’ve always remembered is that typos and other mistakes “take the reader out of the story” and no writer wants that to happen, because the reader might just dump the book then and there.

    I rarely do reviews. And this is because I usually read novels that were published in the 80s and 90s and there’s nowhere to review them. Although I’m an indie writer/publisher myself, I’ve found very very few indie books that appeal to me. But — the older I get, the fussier I get. Only certain kinds of stories appeal to me, though I’ve read widely in the past.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Perhaps the ratio of quantity to quality has shifted. Some excellent authors have chosen to self-publish, and I’ve been delighted to discover them. As to reviewing older books, Goodreads is the place. I’ve added my comments about favourite books published decades ago there. The site can be somewhat frustrating to navigate, but setting up an account and posting reviews is pretty straightforward.

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  19. If the book is really good, I can still suspend my annoying and intrusive author. Probably not for the whole book, but at least somewhat. Complicating matters for me is that I used to review professionally for a few trade magazines back when reviewers were still paid for their considered opinion. So now, I really don’t like to review. I mostly don’t do it. And when I find myself re-arranging a sentence or wondering about a plot twist, I try not to do that, either. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  20. It takes a pretty glaring error to stop me in my tracks if a story is good. I recently saw an Amazon review by a reader who had enjoyed a book but subtracted one star because there were too many adjectives and adverbs. When I checked it out on ‘look inside’ I was immediately gripped by the story and didn’t even notice the adjectives or adverbs. Another reviewer found the book ‘a joy to read, with each turn of phrase and descriptive passage a delight’. I think the first reviewer must have read too many writing advice articles!
    Writing rules can be useful as guidelines in the editing process, but I get really annoyed if they creep into my head and glitch up my flow when I’m writing a first draft – God forbid they should start infesting my consciousness when I’m reading a good story!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree totally about writing “rules” and advice. Writers who adhere to them too closely end up producing stuff without heart and soul. And there’s an infinity of opinions as to what makes a good book. Thanks for your comments, Annabelle!

      Like

  21. Misspelled words as long as I know what word they were trying to use doesn’t bother me. Colloquialisms drive me crazy. A writer I love drives me crazy with an English way of saying “We were sat,” or “They were sat.” Like fingers on a chalkboard, but I ignore it to enjoy the story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funny about “sat.” When I first saw it in a blog post, I thought it was a mistake. Then I kept seeing it in posts by Brits so figured out it was just British usage. But informal and recent, as you say, because I don’t remember it from books published in the UK before 2000.

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  22. I can overlook typos, though whenever I write a review, I feel obligated to mention them in case they are a deal-breaker for others.

    Interestingly, I think the more I enjoy a book, the more likely I am to start reading it as a writer–I think to myself, “Now, what else could I have this character do?” or “What backstory could there be here?” It’s when I’m not particularly drawn into a book that I tend to read more casually.

    I do to try and refrain from adding too many of what-I’d-do-if-I-were-writing-it comments from my reviews. While it doesn’t bother me personally when people offer alternative ideas on my writing, I can definitely see how it could come across like backseat driving, monday-morning quarterbacking, or any other term you like for annoying second-guessing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So books you find enjoyable are also learning opportunities for you as a writer. That’s interesting. I think I don’t do that kind of analysis until I’ve reread a book several times. On the first read I just go with the flow.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Yes, having two writing degrees has ruined books I might otherwise have enjoyed, she opined. My approach to reading has evolved to trying my best to experience each book on its own terms, although teacher and editor brain are coming along riding shotgun. I’ve also begun writing reviews of books I’ve just read. However, I shut off the “reviewer” part of my brain while I’m reading so that I can experience the story as it was intended. Writing the review will then involve some backtracking through the book but that’s okay.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I recall the thrill of exams being over and reading novels not text books and novels for fun not to analyse. I only like to write short reviews , a few remarks about why I enjoyed it, but I often find a review popping into my head as I read.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I read like a writer too, and also review many indie authors’ books. I so agree that it can be complicated. I always keep a notepad with me to make notes, so I won’t forget key points. I’ve had authors turn on me because they didn’t appreciate my reviews (and I’ve never given a 1 star review ever), but I believe in being not only as positive as possible, but honest. I’ve had many more authors comment that they honest reviewers are not only appreciated but needed.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. They are a bit of work, but it’s also my way of keeping track of what I’ve read. After five decades of reading, I find myself wondering if I’ve already read a certain book because the title, author, or plot sounds so familiar. Now I keep a record of all reviews for personal reference 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  26. My pet peeve is characters who have a mannerism, but they mannerism it to death. I remember one book I read whose main character wore a sash around her waist. She tightened that sash as least once a page. I almost had to stop reading.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. I have not run into any problems lately with my book list, as for typos and bad edits and just bad storytelling. I agree with you so much on this post. If it happens when I start reading, I put the book down and that’s it.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. I plan my reading into two types: those I read to apply in my work, and those I read for leisure and/or knowledge. For the first kind, I read with a purpose, and I have several steps to help in speeding up how I read. For the second, well, I can read fast and ignore details, or I can read slowly to enjoy the plot.

    Liked by 1 person

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