"When I’m writing, really writing, I read selfishly. Not only do I want to be awestruck, I want to be driven to write better — as well as I possibly can — and I want to feel that the book I’m reading, however superior to my own work, shows me how I might do that. I want it to lead by example."
Yes! Well said. Bring on the insecurity! Bring on the self-doubt! Because along with it comes the burning desire to write more, to write better, to hone my craft.
There's a flip side to this, though. Reading for reading's sake is a different animal than reading for writing's sake. When I'm reading for pure enjoyment, for the pure love of words, I can lose myself entirely in a story. I'm not mindful of where the author decides to place a modifier or why she chooses an em-dash instead of a semi-colon. I don't think, "Oh, what a brilliant sentence," or "Ooh, I wouldn't have used that word there." But now that I'm writing, I can't help that.
I'm not saying I can't still lose myself in a great book. But I also can't lose my critical eye, even if I try.
I read a really good book a few weeks ago (which I won't name in order to avoid spoiling it for anybody else) and was having one of those book-in-one-hand, spoon-stirring-pot-on-stove-in-the-other-hand moments - I couldn't put it down. Here I was, living in this world the author had created, feeling what the characters felt, cringing in anticipation of the inevitable disaster. Then right when the story reached its pinnacle, when the inevitable happened and the tension was at its most tense, the author broke in with a narrator-esque, sing-songey speech to the reader, waxing poetic about the characters and their fates. It very nearly ruined the book for me because it pulled me so abruptly from the story. The funny thing is, though, I don't think I'd even have noticed it if it weren't for this critical eye I've developed through writing.
It's an occupational hazard, for sure, and one I was already familiar with. For years I haven't been able to read a newspaper or magazine story without mentally editing it, and since going to design school I can't simply sit and enjoy my surroundings without rearranging them in my head. It's not an ego thing. (Struggling with self-doubt and insecurity, remember?) It just is.
Again, I think it's a good thing. As writers, we have to be aware. Aware of our surroundings, aware of human behaviors, aware of words and how each individual writer shapes them. It helps us discover our own shape, I think. Our own voice.