It seems I am in A Phase. Over the weekend I waved a cheerful goodbye to two unfinished novels, then dropped them off my nightstand. The week before that, I got twenty-three pages into another before dumping it onto my library donations pile without so much as an apology. This morning I broke up with a fourth, a best-seller with reviews that swore there was no way I would not love this book. After forty-eight pages I gave up and searched my pile of unread books for yet another victim.
Most of the time I go through books the way I would eat chocolates if my hips allowed it. I finish one and delve immediately into the next, savoring the characters, the plot, the clever turns of phrase. Each time I exercise or clean house or push a squeaky-wheeled cart up and down the grocery store aisles, I plug into an audio book, letting stories wash over me. When hubs and I take our canvas chairs to a nearby overlook to watch the sun set over the desert, we often tote along something to read aloud to one another.
But I cannot, no matter how much I try, completely lose myself in reading while I am in the middle of revisions. Once I spend hours analyzing each sentence of my own work, the picky part of my brain is turned on. From then on, every bit of writing I encounter, whether it is mine or someone else’s, is routed through my editing filter.
That is happening now. The obligatory six weeks have passed between the draft I wrote this summer and the edits required to start submitting it. Now, after several days spent performing major surgery on my novel at every opportunity, my brain has once again turned into an Equal Opportunity Editor, and I’ve gone from eager-to-read to impossible-to-please. The quality of my reading does not matter. If I am spending hours each day examining my own writing, then by habit I will analyze every other sentence to waltz my way as well. Only blogs, it seems, are exempt, perhaps because the style is so different.
My inability to switch off the ruthless reviser inside me is exhausting and inevitable, and totally unfair to the author of whatever pleasure reading I attempt. Worse, my inability to relax with a good book feels unnatural and somehow very wrong. Reading, after all, is what led me into writing, and now writing is preventing me from enjoying reading.
I’ve gone through this before, and I know that it will end. Within days of finishing edits, I will be able to see an adverb without feeling the impulse to ink it out. I will once again have the patience to read backstory — it is, after all, sometimes necessary. I will not automatically pause after I read each line of dialogue, wondering if it should be reworded to make it sound more authentic. I will, in short, be able to lose myself in a book again, which is the best possible incentive for finishing revisions. I’m already saving several books I know I will love for after edits, as a reward.
The second best incentive, for the record, is getting to begin a new story. My next book has already begun to evolve in my mind, and I cannot think of it without a little zing of excitement. But first, revisions.