When Reading Stories and Going to Bookstores Turns into Work

I think what I’m about to blog about happens to any writer if he or she stays the course long enough towards publication.  There comes a day when one discovers that reading books and going to bookstores has changed from being a fun way to relax to feeling like work.

It isn’t that the books have changed or bookstores.  It’s that one’s experiences and mindset have changed.  Before I started writing for publication and reading the writing trade magazines, I could go into a bookstore and simply lose myself.  Now I notice the store’s layout, the traffic in the store, and find myself thinking about the latest business news about independent bookstores, about whether Borders is going to go belly up in 2011, about pricing, about cover layout, about blurbs, on and on.

To no one’s surprise but my own, I recently realized that I visit bookstores a lot less than I used to.  It’d become a “job.”  So I had to make a conscious effort to change my mindset to enjoy going again.

What helped was realizing I needed to ditch the idea that I ought to do business research every single time I set foot in a bookstore.  I needed to give myself permission to have occasions that I would go in just to have fun instead.

Shutting off the business side of the brain sounds easy, but is a lot harder to do in practice.  I found that it helped if I had my 9-year-old along with me when I went into the bookstore; it was easier to remember I was there to relax, not do market research.

The bookstore mindset problem also ties into another problem: if one isn’t careful, one can lose the ability to read for fun.    There’s the danger of the marketing and editor voices in one’s head becoming too dominant, to the point one finds it’s difficult to shut them off.

I must say that losing the ability to read for fun due to the “critical voice” in one’s head is a serious pain.  It’s no fun to be always feeling like grabbing a red pen to do editing when reading someone’s story, and makes it so that one doesn’t feel like reading anything.  Reading had become work.

What shook me out of that reading slump was switching to genres I never write stories in.  So instead of trying to read fantasy and science fiction stories like I “ought” to, I switched to reading mysteries instead.  And found the joy of reading again–Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, John le Carre, John D. MacDonald, etc.

It was such a relief to shed that critical voice that was tearing apart every single book or short story I tried to read.  And lately I’m finding I can add a little science fiction or fantasy to the reading mix without the critical voice immediately shredding it to bits.


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