Friday, February 3, 2012

commitment phobia

January was a great reading month for me. I blasted through five or six novels, all of them excellent. My lovely long-suffering husband The Rock God gave me an e-reader for Christmas and it's so easy! And so light! And so small! And I was spending time writing in the local library too, and it's impossible to go to the library and not come home with an exciting book or six.

And now we're in February and I've suddenly lost my reading mojo. It's not that I don't have good books to read: I've got stacks of them (literally) both in real life and downloaded to my e-reader, all of which I'm really excited about. But for some reason I don't seem able to make the commitment to any of them.

Because reading a novel is a commitment. It requires you to leave your own world behind for several hours, and give yourself over to the author and their world. And right now I just don't seem to have the energy for that commitment.

'It's not you,' I feel like saying to my tottering To Be Read pile, 'it's me.'

Part of it is because I'm coming up with a story of my own, feeling my way into it, and I'm a little bit afraid of being too influenced by other writers' work. Part of it is because some of the books I have to read are books that I do *have* to read, and while I know I will enjoy them, probably a lot, the duty aspect is making me drag my heels, because I'm contrary that way.

Plus, let's admit it: when we writers read a novel that's really really good, that we wish we'd written ourselves, we run the risk of getting jealous.

Or alternatively, when we read a novel that's so-so, but it's sold in its shedloads and is on all the bestseller lists, we run the risk of getting angry.

Reading is fraught with emotional peril. It requires bravery and trust.

I'm still reading a lot; I'm just not reading novels. Short stories are perfect for when I'm in a commitment-phobic mood, reading-wise, and I'm making my way through a brilliant and thought-provoking Phillip K Dick collection at the moment. But I hope I find my reading mojo soon, because when you find a novel that really does sweep you forget about being commitment-phobic.

Do you get into reading 'moods' like this? What do you do to jolt yourself out of them?


  1. Julie, you have taken the words right out of my mouth re the jealousy or anger inspired by some books.(RNA Blog interview, Feb 7th.) It's why I generally avoid reading in our own genre at all. I'm a bit like you, too, in the pattern of my reading. January is a good month for reading - not only have I been given a pile of new books that I want to get stuck into, but I feel a certain hibernatory (is there such a word?)instinct coming on. Keeping cosy and reading a good book is pretty much all I want to do. Otherwise, reading for fun feels like a self-indulgence and is generally consigned to holidays, or bedtime.

    1. In our work, Gilli, reading for fun isn't indulgence—it's our job!

      I agree that January is a really good reading month. I've read all the books I've been given already and it's been perfect weather to cuddle up and read!

  2. I have to add, that I don't often actually feel angry at or jealous of a book. If a book is really good, I'm more often admiring than jealous, and I tend to recommend it all over the place. And if I feel that one is undeservedly popular, I try to figure out its appeal, and think about if I can find a similar appeal with my own stories.

    But sometimes I get worried that I *will* feel that way, and it's enough to stop me reading for a little bit. It's the risk, rather than the actuality.

    And it tends to be at a time when I'm a little bit unsure of my own story, when I feel that I need to retreat into my own head rather than enjoy the contents of someone else's.

    (That's helped me understand how I feel a bit better...thanks!)

  3. Hi Julie

    I'm afraid I don't have this problem at least not with my reading and certainly not when I'm reading one of your books. But I do have it sometimes when I'm supposed to be writing which is not good!


  4. Julie - you summed what I have felt but have never been able to put into words...

  5. So agree. I've always enjoyed books but, not being the world's fastest reader, it IS a big commitment for me to read a novel. Not for me the speed-reader's "Oh, I soaked that up one Sunday afternoon". I would have to organise an almost military campaign in order to make that possible. I have tried speed-reading and skimming but, particularly with a novel, I find I have to take my time and savour the writing, not least in case I may miss some important detail or statement.

    And yes, if I read so much that's THAT good, book after book, my previous enthusiasm for my own work can take a nosedive. At least I often end up feeling that "something's missing" from mine. Yes, it was in the book I've just read!

    I have to remember to use those "good" books as inspiration and examples of what can be achieved and not allow it to diminish my interest in my work. Or I can end up with all kinds of self-doubt and not bother. But the contrary is usually true, I get so fired up by what I've just read, that I often end up thinking of how I can bring the qualities I loved in the "good" book to come alive in mine.

    I am rewriting (heavily) and working on draft two of my second novel. If I read several great books in between this and draft three, I fear yet another rewrite/rethink for THAT draft, too. But, as long as that leads to an inspired improvement and not a worsening, that's good news.

    The trick, for me, is to use the novels we read as examples: of what works and what doesn't! And, as readers, to be able to choose whether a book is worth reading to the end, or whether it would be better in the charity shop and our time spent on something more satisfying, is our prerogative.

    1. Yes, definitely. As writers, we have to take examples and inspiration from the books we're reading and try to learn for our own stories. It's so important.

      The thing is, that we have to read as *readers* too. I want to be completely absorbed in a story, swept away. I want it to be emotional, engrossing, FUN. (Reading is my primary form of recreation!) And if I'm looking for examples...well, that's work, not play.

      That's probably another reason why I'm at a reading impasse...most of what I've got to read at the moment is something I should be learning from. And I don't feel like learning. I feel like playing.

  6. Hmm, good blog post. Yes, I often feel this way. I think it's part of the reason I re-read old favourites so often, and frequently resort to really 'unchallenging' reads of an old-fashioned, easy to read sort.

    For me it's not so much the jealousy and anger, as the inadequacy and despair problem! But when it's bad, the prospect of reading a new book scares me: there's so much to lose.


  7. I do everything in phases so having a reading phase and then not read for a while feels normal. In between I might decide to do a sewing project or work on my family tree (although that one's a never-ending project ...) or bake or whatever. But I'm with you on not wanting to read while I'm writing a story of my own, much too distracting!