Monday, October 18, 2010

Focus


The most important chapters in any new book I write are of course chapters one through three.

Maybe they aren’t to you but these chapters are where I set up the tone, the setting, the main character’s personality and voice, the internal and external goal and some good old standby conflict. I also push for a unique opening sentence and I make sure I like my MC. No—love my MC. Cause if I don’t love her, I can be sure my Beta readers will hate her.

This process never used to happen until the past year.

Not until I was critiqued and edited and took some courses. I just sat down and wrote what my little heart desired without any organization or plan.

I never thought to study the way books were put together. Just read them for
content. (Don’t wag your finger at me. Did it already.)

But here is the problem. It’s all I do and it is driving me crazy.

I am so aware of technical aspects that quite often I have stopped partway through a book more than I have ever in my entire lifetime because of this or that but mostly because my attention span is much more difficult to maintain.

I hate it. I dread it.

I’m not sure how to overcome it or to focus.

There is a bright spot. It makes me aware that the next book I write better be so compelling that whoever reads it will also forget about those technical glitches too.

Is that possible?

So tell me, how to you separate your desire to read for pleasure with reading for technique and style?

56 comments:

Ann Nichols said...

I so agree with you about the first 3 chapters! Once I got though those...the rest was a piece of cake (or a finished book!) But how do I handle reading for technique and style as compared to reading for pleasure: I read for pleasure before going to bed at night. Always!That's my time to remember why I love writing so much - from my first pleasure - that of reading!
Blessings,
Ann

Susan Roux said...

Lol If its anything like art, maybe never...

Once you become aware of certain things, its impossible to overlook them. And that bit you had when you would "just write", you'll come to long for again. Years after I "just painted" I longed for it again. I spent so much time studying and learning that it filled my mind and affected my work. It will all be hard to get out of your head, but in time its possible...

Welcome to the world of creativity! So why must there be so many rules? We learn them, then spend so much time trying to forget them, in order for the creativity to just flow.

Jessica Bell said...

I hate to break it to you, but there's no going back now. You will forever edit what you read. I hate it too. I wish I could just get lost in the prose, and I only do get lost in books when they are so outstanding that there is nothing possible to nitpick at. Sorry. Sad. I know. But we are now forever tainted!

Jan Cline said...

I just finished a book that I had to make myself push through to get to the end. There were many POV errors and it was very distracting. But the story was good and I did enjoy it for the most part. It's that technical knowledge that gets in the way. I think it's the same with writing - you just have to push through the wall. Maybe like a runner does when they get to that point in the race.

Sarah Forgrave said...

I think this will plague us forever. :) The worst is when I go back and read one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors (pre-writing days), and I realize how "flawed" their writing was. I'd rather just not read them again and ruin my impression. :) Obviously they did something right to thrill me in the first place.

KelliGirl said...

Terri,
I'm still in the learning stage (and waiting-for-inspiration stage) and haven't started to write a book. But one thing I've heard loud and clear from conferences, editors, etc. is that the first three chapters are the critical and the first chapter is the most critical.

After a writers' workshop on writing fiction I was so aware of story structure that I, too, was thinking of that more than the story. It was especially bad when I watched movies!

Because you're in such an intense learning phase I think you're going to be more conscious of technique. It's like learning to drive. At first you can't appreciate the sights along the way because you're so concerned with operating the car. In time you'll relax and enjoy the sights again. I also think you're become a more discriminating reader (in a good way).

Happy Monday and happy writing,
Kelli

Shelley said...

Uh oh, I think I'm going to get the finger wags now...

Typically when I read, I read for pleasure and not for the technical aspect. Sometimes, I try to pay attention to the way a book begins or ends, conversations, when conflict is introduced...but more often than not, when I think of those things it's after I finished reading the book.

I've still got a lot to learn - better get on the ball if I want to improve my writing!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'm a bit odd in this way. I know the rules, but it the story is compelling I can forgive them and be swept up. I can almost ignore them.

~ Wendy

kathy taylor said...

Terri,

Years ago, I lost my love for literature after majoring in English. I had to read so many books I hated and then had to write papers about them. Even the things I loved to read became objects of analysis, papers, you know the drill. It took years and years before I could read for true pleasure again. For a long time I read only nonfiction. The first book that allowed me to read, free of analysis was Where the Heart Is. Somehow it set me free, really allowed me to escape. I am still a critical reader, but I am thankful that an assignment does not lie at the end of the read.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I know what you mean. But I don't have it all the time. Sometimes it goes away and I don't think about it at all.
There are times when I'm really reading for "research" or "to understand why it got published". Those are the times that STINK and I can't enjoy a book. But when I decide to take that hat off, I can enjoy. It's tough.

LisaShaw said...

Hi Terri,

Thanks for sharing this!

I have to say I read for pleasure and purpose but not for technique so I'm not sure I can add any help to what you've asked but what I'll share is the struggle I have...

For me it's writing with the 'voice' GOD gave to me and not thinking about the fact that 10 other people have talked about the same subject, chapter or Book in the Word.

I often think, "what's one more voice on this topic?". What will make mine any different or any help to others? Make sense?

It is then I am reminded by the Holy Spirit that the voice I have is HIS and each person can talk about the same point but have 10 different experiences and nuggets of wisdom.

Hugs and blessings!

Gaia said...

Terri, I do not think I can do both... bird brain my son will say.
if I needed to pick up a course and analyse writing skills, I guess I will need to compartmentalise!!! Blessings!

Julie Gillies said...

I think the two go hand-in-hand for me, Terri. I rarely read a book without a highlighter in my hand...even fiction. If a phrase or sentence jumps out at me, or I think it's just beautifully written, I highlight it. I'm always learning, even as I enjoy a good novel.

However, I've caught myself SO caught up in a book that I completely forget about the highlighter. THAT is always the mark of a well written book for me--that I just get swept away and forget about learning. But even THAT teaches me. LOL

Heidi Willis said...

I absolutely agree with how hard it is to just enjoy a book now. Everything in me wants to analyze and criticize.

Lately I've been reading books by the MFA faculty where I'm starting in January and I've found I can't publicly criticize them, because they are going to be my mentors and advisors. So instead, I'm looking for the things I really like about the books and the way they use words and weave the story together. By focusing on the things I like about the writing, I've found I'm also enjoying the stories more, and opening my eyes to the varied strengths of writers.

I think at some point every rule in writing has been broken, so instead of focusing on what they did wrong in my eyes, I try to see what they did right, including, even if its the only thing, coming up with a great premise.

LisaShaw said...

Hey Terri,

Tried to leave another comment but blogger had an error message. I wanted to say that God used you in a big way this morning....so thankful...I shared a post about it.

Hugs and blessings!

Brenda Leyland said...

Enjoyed your piece about focus today! I do have a problem with knowing where I'm headed in any writing project, and I'm trying to learn a better way too...... so your words were encouraging!

paulgreci said...

That's a tough question. I think the longer I write, the more I turn my writer-brain on when I read.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I can't separate the two anymore. I start reading a book intending to enjoy it but that critical eye always gets me into trouble. Out of the last three books I've read, I stopped one before even halfway, finished the next in one day and this one that I'm on now...it's taking me forever. It has just enough redeeming qualities to keep me going but not enough to be eager every moment I'm awake to read it.

It makes me acutely aware how important those beginning pages are. And now when I read a book that can do that, I want to tell everyone how amazing it is because I know how hard it is.

And it makes me endeavor to make each first chapter I write even better than the last. I hope I'm getting there!

Jeanette Levellie said...

NOt sure there is a cure for this--so sorry, honey!

I kick myself when I do this, too, but it helps if the story is compelling. That balances out the ten povs, unrealistic characters, and overruse of cliches. If the story isn't compelling, I simply don't finish the book.

sarah said...

I just read your previous post. Whoa. What you said is so true...everything in our life has purpose. You're the best Terri. Your words always impact me. Stay safe and strong out there.

Patti said...

I'm finding that hard as well. I really have to have a good story to over look that kind of stuff.

LittleWomen21 said...

Oh, I know exactly what you mean! I have gotten a lot pickier with what I read now. But the good part is when you start a really well-written book, and you feel yourself drawn into the story. Then I love to go back when I'm done and re-read the first three chapters and try to figure out how the author drew me in. One clue I think is that you have to put your main character into really defining situations right away. Unusual or tense situations and have them react in a way that defines the charcter for the reader. Of course there's more to it than that, I'm still figuring it all out!

Janet Johnson said...

Separation is hard! I can only read parts of a book looking at the technical aspects. Otherwise, it drives me crazy. But I really do learn a lot that way.

By the way, I left you an award at my blog. Just to say I like coming here. :)

T. Anne said...

I was just thinking about this over the weekend! Great minds, right? I decided it was impossible for me to be at least on the peripheri looking out for style, technique and pitfalls. It's a writer thing.

Karen Lange said...

I am constantly examining things as I read, so I don't always separate these things. If there's something I don't like about a book, it bugs me the whole way through. Sometimes I just even stop reading.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I know what you mean! I definitely read books and think, "oh, look at that technique" and "Yup, there's the conflict for chapter 1" etc. I hope it doesn't get out of control for me. I'd hate to lose the ability to appreciate the magic. Reminds me of when my chemistry teacher told me exactly what made the sky blue and my physics teacher told me how a rainbow was made. So wrong!

Melissa Marsh said...

I don't know if you ever can fully separate it. The only time I don't think much about a book that I'm reading is if it is REALLY well-written. Thus, when I go to the library, I usually get at least three books and hopefully, one of them will capture my interest long enough to read the whole thing.

Jackee said...

I have the same problem! But I think when I find the rare book where I don't notice the mechanics as much, the joy of reading it is that much sweeter.

Adn the first chapters are the most important to me too. :o)

Have a wonderful day, Terri!

~ Jackee

Lin Floyd said...

I have to push myself to not get lost in editing or the details...first comes the rough draft written loosely and creatively THEN later I will use techniques I've learned to tweak the manuscript.

Amy DeTrempe said...

It is really hard to separate the two. Once I was critiquing and being critiqued every time I read a book my mind went into editing mode. I hated it. Now, to just shut off that inner editor and enjoy a novel.

Julie Musil said...

This is tough for me also. Now I'm paying attention to adverbs when I read, which I never worried about before.

I like it when I read a really good book, and I can see exactly how they used a solid story structure. That really helps me as a writer. But sometimes I get lost in the story, and don't worry about how it was written.

Keli Gwyn said...

Terri, I have trouble turning off my Internal Editor. Maybe it comes from having been a copy editor in the past. Maybe it comes from being a bit OC. Maybe it comes from being steeped in the writing craft the past five years.

I've learned to accept that it's going to happen and do my best to read quickly and not stop to analyze.

Every now and then, I come across a book that is so well written or the story so captivating that I forget to edit, and that's a real treat. When that happens, I set the book aside so I can go back and study it intentionally to see what it is about the story/writing that made it work so well. I guess you could say those books become my texts.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I still read for content. and I write for it too. I honestly don't try to do anything stylistically. I think if we practice enough and get it into our heads the way it should be, it become second-nature to write that way. I like my writing to be like reading--easy.

Rhonda Schrock said...

Like Jeanette, if it's just plain weak, I can't finish it. Or just barely. I haven't had all the training you have, but I've read enough to know quality when I see it. It's a rare find when you run across someone who can emote well and take me along.

Yolanda said...

Just wanted you to know, that I care about you and I love ya!

Nancy said...

I just read for fun, but I do notice diffeent ways points of view are done as I have some difficulty with that. I also find myself upset if I have to go back and figure what was going on in an action scene. These are often done very poorly.

Jennie Allen said...

Oh I know- don't you think it is just one of our curses as writers. you just need an off button! :)

Jill Kemerer said...

I turn off that voice when I'm reading for pleasure. There's something wonderful about drowning in a fresh book!

Michelle said...

My plan is that I escape into the book's world, first, and read it for pure enjoyment, though a little quickly. The second read-through, if I choose to read the book again, I slow down and analyze. This quiets a lot of the proof-reader's voice in my head.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

I think this is why it's so important to hone our craft. We're trying to get past professional editors. Imagine how they feel when our technique leaves something to be desired.

Certain authors provide a great reading experience because there's nothing to trigger that inner editor. Our own Jody Hedlund achieved this, and I know she's going to be around a long, long time.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Lynda Young said...

I can't separate it anymore. I can't turn off my inner editor when I'm reading other people's work. But I know I've found a good book when that voice is quiet ;)

Sally said...

Have one technical book and one book for pleasure going at the same time. Always have a book you are reading for enjoyment, you'll pick up the important points even if you are enjoying it.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Terri, its a Writer's Curse or shall I call it a blessing. You cannot separate the two. It becomes an intrinsic part of a writer's personality as we write and read more and more.

Heather Sunseri said...

Yeah, I picked up one of my favorite books recently that I hadn't read in years by a very popular, very succcessful author, and I was amazed at how flawed the writing was by today's standards. AT least by the standards we're forced to learn to break in. I almost couldn't read it again.

K.M. Weiland said...

I like to call myself a "forgiving critic." If your characters grab me and your story pulls me in, I'm likely to forgive a host of other faults. I'll probably still notice them (and they may anonymously make it into one of my what-not-to-do vlog posts), but I'll still enjoy the book.

Deb Shucka said...

It's so hard, isn't it? I don't know that I ever read simply any more. I will negotiate with myself from time to time, and choose to read just for escape, devouring a book like potato chips. I've always been a pretty critical reader, so mostly I'm thrilled to be able to apply what works and doesn't work to my own writing world.

Jolene Perry said...

Still working on that one. As long as the language or the story captivates me, I can forgive the other, to a point...

Lynn said...

Sometimes when reading for pleasure, I'll come across a passage that jumps at me, and my analytical mind kicks in. But instead of analyzing at that time, I'll stick one of those small narrow post it notes to the page and just keep on reading. Later, when ready to read for technique, I'll go back to those tagged pages. I've thought about using different coloured post its for different critique subjects such as theme, dialogue etc but that might be over the top organization!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

If I'm reading sci-fi or paranormal it's for pleasure...Otherwise I'm studying. I have sticky notes handy and often leave them on the front of the books for future referrence...

Carolyn said...

I read this blog the other day...stored it in my memory bank and decided I'd wait a day or two to respond. I am focusing on a couple of projects and people in my life. I told my husband about your blog...he's a voracious reader - he's read 85 books so far this year. Yesterday he was reading, called me over to look at the page. On that one page, there were multiple inconsistencies - this from a well known mystery writer. Jim said...she was right...reading your writings, I'm noticing this stuff. I hope he hasn't looked at mine too closely...

Just Be Real said...

Terri inspiring truthful post. Thank you for sharing. Blessings.

Patti Lacy said...

Oh, MY, girl. I have been in my cave and missing out on your GREAT STUFF!!!

Hmm. You know, I ALMOST always read holding the book in one hand, a pen in the other. I LOVE to analyze and mark. For me it just enhances the experience. I write "NO!!!! BAD!~!!"
Or "This blows my mind."
Or "CRYING here."

It's SOOO fun plus I can learn and feel justified that at least some of the books are tax writeoffs.

Because they truly are. I mean, I am learning bigtime from every book I read.

Whew. Don't let the girl outta that cave again. She's BABBLING!!

Miss ya, girl. You go.
P

Jackie said...

Hey Terri!

Lisa Shaw's post linked back to this post and I want you to know that Lisa's words echo my heart completely. For me.....it's finding my own particular voice that God has given me to share. And your post and Lisa's confirmed that I must continue on and stay focused on what's in my heart to share and follow through! Thank you Terri!

Also, as for your question about separating reading for pleasure with reading for technique and style? I've found that no matter what I'm reading I keep a highlighter at hand to note when something jumps out or inspires me.

Blessings to you!

HE IS FAITHFUL!

Hugs!
Jackie

Laura Pauling said...

Unfortunately I think it's just part of being a writer. I put down a lot of books after the first few chapters b/c nothing is leading me forward. But I just appreciate when I find a book that makes me forget about the technical side. Of course a part of me going 'ding' inciting force. 'ding' first turning point...etc

Sandra Heska King said...

I read even fiction with a pencil. I tend to underline or circle colorful words or phrases that jump out at me. Sometimes I'll get excited about little threads the author has woven through. I don't tend to mark anything that jars me. It's mostly about taking the good and inspirational and enjoying the journey.

Nehha N Josshi said...

Was just up to that one....it's difficult how to differentiate or say switch on and off between the roles.