Is There A Doctor In The House?

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I find myself, in recent years, starting to abandon books halfway through. This is almost always down to the same reason – I find that I suddenly realise that I don’t care one jot about any of the characters. Seriously, they could all die in a massive nuclear explosion and I couldn’t care less.

Hmm. Why would a person of previously strong reading habits cease to engage? We need a diagnosis and a prescription!

DIAGNOSIS

As we get older, we also get busier: jobs, kids, pets, hobbies, DIY and maintenance, oh yeah and sleeping occasionally. Reading time becomes a rare and exotic beast, with high value attached because it’s a few moments to yourself which could (should?) be spent on half a million other things. So we want to ensure that it’s spent in the very best way possible, which means a good book. Emphasis on good.

The pressure is on the writer to deliver something that, somehow, feels more worthwhile spending time on than sleeping, or playing with the kids, or fixing that leak in the roof. It may seem like a tall order, but it’s true. Reading time is like a company training budget – the first thing to be cut when resources gets tight.

The trouble is that the old fashioned practice of editing has largely been a casualty of competitive business and fast turnaround times. Editing adds cost without increasing price, so the process is much less exhaustive than it used to be and the onus is more on the writer. Which is a bit of a problem, since the writer is the last person able to objectively review their baby.

The other issue – and this is a big one – is the writer’s approach to the story. A lot of the time we write for ourselves – we have to, in a way, because it if doesn’t excite us then it will lack passion and doesn’t stand a chance of exciting other people. But the problem comes when we forget about the reader entirely, which is very easy to do and can result in a disconnect between reader and story. Kind of like being involved in one of those ‘you had to be there’ conversations – if the context isn’t explained well, you quickly lose interest.

PRESCRIPTION

For the reader – tastes change. Try something completely different, recommended by a friend whose tastes you know are similar to yours in other areas. Alternatively, to remember why you liked reading in the first place, go back to a trusted favourite. Those reading moments are precious and there’s nothing wrong in spending them with an old love.

For the writer – every now and then, come out of the bubble world and think ‘would this be interesting to anyone who isn’t me?’. Beta readers are your friends. Listen to them, even when they’re telling you to kill off Jimmy (secretly your favourite character) because he doesn’t do anything for the story and is frankly a smarmy git. You are not just writing for yourself and, whilst the customer isn’t necessarily always right, he certainly deserves a say. After all, it’s his time you’re wasting – the onus is on you to make sure it isn’t a waste.

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