Ever since I started writing seriously for publication, reading has had to take a back seat. On top of the daily writing on the current manuscript, there are multiple rounds of edits and revisions on manuscripts I’ve sold, blog tours and promotion, posts to blogs I’m a member of—such as this one—and to my own blog (which is sadly languishing), social media, conventions and conferences, and always one more thing popping up that has to be done. In addition, I have a full-time day job.
I used to consume books, but I realized when I looked at Goodreads at the end of last year that in all of 2012 I had read three books. Three. So this year I took the Goodreads Challenge and made a New Year’s Resolution to read at least one book a week. So far I’m about two weeks behind.
I’m discovering that in addition to taking time to read that must be squeezed from something else (sleeping is the first to go), reading actually takes a lot out of me. I become emotionally invested to the point of being in major anxiety if something bad is happening to a sympathetic character. I can’t seem to cope with fictional tension.
A book is nothing without tension. But does it need the level of constant rising tension without valleys in between the peaks that I seem to be finding everywhere lately? I think maybe this is a recent development in the publishing world, this demand for outrageous tension. Or maybe it’s the genre I’m reading currently, as I seem to notice this more with urban fantasy, in which it seems there’s some rule that the main character can never be truly happy and must face increasing misery a real human being would never be able to survive.
Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s my anxiety disorder (admittedly, I have one) and books have always been this way; I’m just having new issues I didn’t used to have with separating myself from the fictional world of the book.
I’m not really sure what the cause is, but it’s making me think about what I’m putting out there in the world. I hate the idea of making other people feel the way I’m feeling right now with the particular book I’m reading. It’s part of a series that didn’t seem to have the level of tension this one book has. And it’s great writing. The author dug deep and is sparing no punches. But I feel really bad—uneasy and angry, and afraid to keep reading lest it get even worse. (And then it does.) Is that how reading is supposed to feel? It used to be something I loved.
I’ve been known to take a certain sadistic pride in tormenting my characters. But I never intended to torment my readers. On the other hand, if the character doesn’t suffer, he or she doesn’t grow, and the reader won’t be invested in the outcome.
There’s a delicate balance in this contract between writer and reader. As my reader, you’re taking a journey of trust with me, and I don’t want to betray that trust. I want to give you a story that makes you feel, but not one that makes you feel you’ve been punched in the gut.
If nothing else comes of this reading challenge, it’s certainly been an eye opener to be on the other side of the page from where I’m used to being.