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Can Writers Still Be Readers?


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All writers begin as readers, right? We fell in love with other people’s stories—where they could take us, what they could do—and then, one day, decided to make a story ourselves. The love of words begins young in some of us, takes longer for others, but has stayed lifelong for nearly every writer I know.

Yet becoming a writer changes our relationship with reading. In my case, since I’m a novelist, it has changed my relationship with novels. I read as much as I ever did, plus some more—reading upcoming novels for potential blurbs, reading other work in my genre, reading my friends’ books, reading for research, reading books to review, and of course, when there’s time, reading for pure pleasure.

But unfortunately, as its position at the end of that list shows, reading for pleasure sometimes has to wait until the other reading is done. The thing we do just for fun becomes something else entirely. That’s one reason I asked the question in the headline—can writers still be readers? Can we still fling ourselves into books, get swept away by them? Can we still disappear entirely into a story someone else has created?

In my case, I find it a challenge. Especially if a book is very successful, I keep slipping out of the story to analyze it from the outside. For example, I read Gone Girl about a year after it came out, and I couldn’t experience the characters as people at all. I wasn’t thinking about why Amy did or said something, but why Gillian Flynn chose to have Amy do or say that thing, which is a very different angle and therefore a very different reading experience. My writer brain was there the entire time, like a lens imposed between me and the writing that I couldn’t set aside.

On one hand, it’s important to read like a writer. When we read thoughtfully, we learn just as much from reading other people’s work as we do from writing our own. But on the other hand, if we’re reading with our writer brains, we’re losing that swept-away feeling, that joy. I will say that if I’m enjoying a book, I still read with that what-happens-next urgency. I’ve still wept over characters’ fates. I’ve still stayed up late at night turning pages, even if a small part of me is holding back, whispering, Ooh, I see what you did there, author. Nice job.

Q: What say you? Do you always read as a writer now, or are you able to approach books purely as a reader?

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About Greer Macallister

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN'S LIE was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. Her novels GIRL IN DISGUISE (“a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read” - Booklist) and WOMAN 99 (“a nail biter that makes you want to stand up and cheer” - Kate Quinn) were inspired by pioneering 19th-century private detective Kate Warne and fearless journalist Nellie Bly, respectively. Her new book, THE ARCTIC FURY, was named an Indie Next and Library Reads pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a spotlighted new release at PopSugar, Libro.fm, and Goodreads. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC. www.greermacallister.com

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