Back in the day, I used to sit down with a nice, fresh book from the library. I'd rifle through the pages, inhaling the scent (you fellow book lovers know the scent to which I'm referring--you Kindle lovers who never crack a book will not understand), and I would crawl onto the couch or the bed or the floor or the park bench and settle in for an unparalleled flight of fancy.
The authors never made mistakes. The tone, structure, narrative style never even hit my radar. I simply immersed myself in the story and digested every word with absolute satisfaction.
Fast-forward a few years. I wrote a book, then two, then three, then four, five and six. Every word was studied, every adjective used, then discarded, then used again. Sentence patterns were read, and reread, flipped around, reversed, turned upside-down, then right-side-up. Books were read aloud until my throat ached and my voice rasped. The overuse of adverbs galloped through my nightmares.
Plot lines! Oh, dear goodness, the torture of a hole in my plot line!
A college professor once told me (and perhaps it wasn't an original quote, but the first time I heard it, it came from him) that to be a good writer, I had to be an avid reader. I took that to heart. Every night for years, after the kids were in bed and I'd closed up shop for the day, I crawled in my bed and cracked open a book.
The hour didn't matter; it might have been midnight or one or two in the morning. I would still read. Sometimes, I would only make it through two paragraphs. Most often, a chapter. A particularly engrossing book might have kept me awake till four in the morning as I'd tell myself, "Just one more chapter. That's it." Until the next cliffhanger, and then I'd burn some more of that midnight oil and keep going.
But the simple, relaxing enjoyment had flown.
Now, I study every adverb, every adjective. "Why did they put 'slightly' in there? It would have made a stronger sentence without that word!"
The occasional typo presents itself, and I smirk. "See, I'm not the only one."
I grow green with envy when a particularly interesting adjective or simile pops up. "Now why couldn't I have thought of that first?" I went with my husband to see Catching Fire, the second story in The Hunger Games trilogy. My enjoyment of the movie was tinged with the fact that jealousy ate away at my innards.
Fie on thee, Suzanne Collins! Why must you come up with such an interesting story?
All joking aside, if I had a choice whether or not I would begin this journey again, this relationship with my keyboard, I wouldn't refuse it.
Yes, it does affect my view of other literature, and yes, it is often frustrating that I can't simply sit and enjoy.
But on the flip-side, I've known few activities more enjoyable than the pleasure of allowing my fantasy unparalleled freedom, of constructing a world in which other keen readers, like myself, can wander freely. Perhaps I will never be another Suzanne Collins, author extraordinaire, but I am Tamara Shoemaker, weaver of ideas.
And I'm fine with that.
(Photo courtesy of my six-year-old daughter. This is apparently what I look like when I write a love scene, as I was doing when she took the picture). ;)