Reading on a Mission

by limebirdkate

My last post, Read to Write, discussed the importance of reading while a writer is working on a project. There were a few comments made about “mental editor” or “internal editor,” which spurred this post.

As a writer, it can be very difficult to read solely for pleasure. Writers are often reading books with an eye for structure, setting, plot and character development.  This is what I would call an occupational hazard.  In my case I can’t get through a book without searching for typos, grammar and punctuation mistakes. When I find a flaw I am disappointed and annoyed. I tsk-tsk as I move on, wary of more glaring errors.

This particular (annoying) habit of mine could be a result of having been a copyeditor. When I first took a job with a teeny-tiny publishing office, I trained myself to be vigilant for errant commas and apostrophes, misspellings, and poor sentence structure. I became so entrenched in my $8.oo an hour job that I took to the streets with my newfound death-defying editing skills. I would catch typos in menus and flyers and signs, point them out with ferocity and satisfaction, as though I’d caught miscreants lurking about town.

Long after I left that job and got married and had children, I was still wielding my editing knowledge with abandon.  I didn’t worry that this might be a small problem, like an editing addiction, until I started writing with the intent of publishing. As my desire to be a serious, committed author grew, I read books differently. Reading for pleasure soon gave way to reading on a mission.

I have finally learned to ease up and step into a book after making a deal with myself. I decide ahead of time what infractions I will forgive and what infractions are indicative of careless writing. My expectations will vary with every book, every author. I dearly want the author, the book to soar above my expectations. Such a feat is the only weapon that neutralizes my internal editor. Then I can settle down and read a book the way it’s supposed to be read — for pleasure.

How about you? Do you have an internal editor? How does it affect your pleasure reading?


50 Comments to “Reading on a Mission”

  1. I have a constant internal editor definitely, it’s terrible. I have the same problem. As I work as a Copywriter, and part of my job is to proofread and copy-edit, I just can’t carry on with things if there are mistakes. I feel your pain! B

  2. I definitely think as a writer you do pick up things like plot holes or editing issues more and it can make you enjoy a book less but I think it just lets you see what a great book reads like and that helps both reading and writing.

  3. I find I can keep my internal editor subdued if two things are present: 1) excellent writing & story 2)few to no typos. As soon as one of those things starts to wobble, the internal editor surges to the forefront. If I can totally lose myself in a book, the IE sleeps on, only occasionally opening a bleery eye to take a peek at how things are going.

    • I think you’re right, Kathi. If the story is engaging and compelling, then typos aren’t as noticeable to me either. Sometimes it is a relief to see that the best stories still sport a few mistakes!

  4. I think it’s natural for your internal editor to rear its head when you’re a writer, but I don’t think it’s any different from any other profession or skill. As I’ve mentioned before, I do acting, and I can’t watch a film/TV show/play without assessing their acting skills. And I’m sure architechts can’t walk into a building without mentally critiqueing its design, and a chef can’t eat a meal that someone else has cooked without assessing how it might have been cooked better. I think it’s natural when you do something, that you assess how others have done the same thing. I agree though that when you’re reading, it can be annoying if you can’t silence your internal editor and it can definitely affect your enjoyment of the story, but I think we just have to accept it as being a hazard of the job! 😉

    • Hi Vanessa, yes I’m sure you are right. Anyone in any profession may scrutinize someone else’s performance. Although in a lot of cases, there is probably more than one right way to do something, such as teaching or designing. That’s when we have to really tell our IEs to clam up!

  5. If the book is good enough, I can usually shut the editor off. If it isn’t, well then, no such luck. 🙂

    • Hi Carrie, I think you’re right. I will forgive the mistakes when the story continues to hold my attention and interest regardless. And as I said to Kathi, it is a relief to see some of my fave books have pesky flaws. 🙂

  6. It’s hard for me to watch movies or TV shows about archaeology because Hollywood never gets it right—and usually gets it very wrong. But I remind myself repeatedly beforehand that the show is meant to be entertainment. If the story an acting are good, I can usually enjoy the film or show.

    I do a lot of report editing in the day job, and errors do jump out at me when I read fiction, too. I can forgive the occasional typo—they will slip in, even in the most well-written and well-edited books from the best publishers. Similar to what Kathils said above, as long as the grammar is good, the writing is decent, and the story and characters are interesting, the internal editor usually stays quiet. But if not, there goes my enjoyment of the book! 😉

    • story *and* acting! It’s too early for my internal proofreader. 😉

      • Haha, the annoying aspect to posting blog comments is that you can’t go back and edit them if you see a flaw!! I can’t tell you how many times I kick myself for hitting “post comment” and seeing one second too late that I have a typo. 🙂

    • Hey JM, Hollywood seems to do things wrong a lot of the time, doesn’t it? 😉 I think that would be frustrating — because then your profession is misrepresented. Yes, even the best books have an error or two. Perhaps the reason those mistakes are overlooked in general is because of the great story and elements within.

  7. Kate your posts always make me think, and now that I look at it, I do the same thing. I’m just not as qualified at editing as many of you are and so maybe enjoy my books more. lol. My IE doesn’t interrupt as often (because I’ll never get comma placement right). I guess it’s true, ignorance is bliss. 🙂

  8. I have two strikes against me. First, my mother was a charter member of the Grammar Police (she taught English grammar) and she inducted me into the fraternity at an early age, so I’m constantly aware of errors in others’ writings. Second, I was an English literature major from college on through grad school, so I learned to read books with an eye to analyzing structure, characterization, plotting, etc. But that doesn’t really keep me from reading for pleasure. A lot of typos or errors (and you can tell the difference) in what I read will turn me off, I confess, but I’m willing to excuse a few obvious typos. I’m less tolerant of obvious ignorance. And I think the analysis part is fun – I wouldn’t have stayed in my chosen scholarly field if I hadn’t enjoyed analyzing works of literature.

    • Hi Lorinda,

      Yes, it sounds like your background can either be a help or a hindrance when it comes to reading others’ writings. My mom was a reading specialist and a teacher of the gifted and talented students in the school system. It’s amazing what I picked up just from listening to her talk about her jobs. Of course, that meant I had to be ‘spot on’ in my own reading and writing career. 😉 I didn’t always make the grade, but I quickly learned from the mistakes I made!

  9. As I read for pleasure, I try not to get carried away with diagnosing editing issues. Unless, I hit a spot that really jars me as a reader. Then I may go back an analyse what the author did or did not do to cause the problem. i probably should spend more time analyzing what I read. However, I read to escape so I try not to think too much. 😉

  10. My husband and I passed this trait down to our son. He’s constantly finding typos in his school handouts, workbooks, teachers’ sentences they’ve written on the board. He’s learning to pull back a bit, though, because being so critical can cripple creative efforts from the get go. I am still trying not to be too horrified when I write a WordPress comment containing an error and don’t see it until after posting. At least I can correct my errors on my own blog–that is, if I see them. It can be quite difficult for writers to edit their own work.

    For all you editors looking for a laugh, check out my photo of a grocery store display at Trader Joe’s in San Francisco:

    • Hi Jilanne,

      Haha, I love that your son is picking out mistakes like that. Actually, it’s pretty sad to see how many teachers make simple mistakes in their writing. And you’re right, correcting grammar and punctuation in the middle of creative output can be crippling and can make writers very anxious about showing their work.

      Oh, I hate seeing a comment of mine go up with a mistake in it. But it happens a lot. We type fast and we don’t have the time to edit every comment we make on blogs. That would take ages! Yes, it’s extremely difficult for writers to edit their own work. I think, for the most part, bloggers understand how easy it is to make a mistake while writing a comment and not realize it until it’s too late. At least, I have not run into a situation where a blogger calls out another blogger for sloppy comment-writing.

      Thanks, for the link. I’ll check it out!

  11. My internal editor is a curious gal. She reads along enjoying herself. Then she’ll stumble upon some marvelous description or unusual use of a word and savor it, study it, see how the author constructed the sentences around it.

    Of course, her critical reading eye will awaken when she reads sentences which are awkward or poor word choices.

    But I read as much to hone my craft as a writer as I do for pleasure.

  12. Oh, yes. Guilty. ; ) We got an automatic 50 out of 100 in journalism school if we got a spelling error. That was before anything else that might be wrong was accounted for. It happened to me once on the name of a local bagel store, and I never, ever let it happen again. ; )

    I actually had to learn to read for plot structure and certain devices in fiction. I was/am such an avid reader that I would get sucked in and forget to notice how the author was doing something so very well. It’s been a definite learning curve. I’m sure some of that stuff sinks in automatically after reading two trillion books, but now I always feel as if I’m walking a tightrope (internal editor/avid reader). It’s all a joy, really. ; )

    • Hi Anne,

      Oh wow, I hadn’t thought of journalists and what they must endure. But it makes sense. Gosh, that’s a quick way of nipping the problem in the bud. Perhaps we need to instill that kind of fear in elementary and middle school students! 😉

      I think it’s tough to find that balance so that we can read for pleasure but still learn how the author crafted the story. But I agree, it’s like walking a tightrope.

  13. Good post, Kate. Interesting to see so many different responses, too.

    Personally, I can’t stand seeing glaring errors in published books. One or two is not a big deal – I’ll gloss over and keep reading for the enjoyment of the story. But some have just horrid editing, and I think to myself, “How did this ever get published?!” Although, it makes me much more aware of what I need to do before I send my manuscript off to a beta reader, critique partner, or (gasp!) editor, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

    It’s likely more politically correct for me to say a compelling story can overcome flaws in presentation. And, in a free trade of stories between friends, I’m fine letting things slide. But, when I’ve paid money for a book, I expect it to be the best it can be. Sure, some errors can slip through. But, if I’m expected to hold myself to the highest possible standard I can reach, for my work to get seen by editors, agents, and publishers, I damn well expect others to do the same.

    …deep breaths, calm down….

    Unless there are a lot of errors in a book, I can usually tell my editor to dummy up and let me just enjoy the tale as woven, hiccups and all.

    • Sounds like your IE and my IE were cut from the same cloth. 😉 And you’re absolutely right when you talk about how much more aware we need to be before we send something off to someone else. But I think not enough authors take their work seriously.

      I understand that some people simply don’t grasp the concept of correct grammar/spelling/punctuation as well as other people. (Personally, I’m lousy with numbers.) But why would they forego an editor and publish their book anyway? (That’s like me doing my own taxes.) Only bad things can happen.

      I applaud the writer who admits that grammar isn’t their forte and gets someone to help them before they send it off to be published. The writers who don’t try (or care) are the ones whose books are the most painful to read. (Gosh, am I getting myself into trouble with this little rant? 😉 )

  14. Wow. CoAch I cant’ really relate ot your editing problem? It most be tuff having two edit on reflex; but I can sea how it can bee frustrating thoe. Eye 2 be afraid of editors mieself. You guys n galls can be intimidating sometimes. I’ve over came my feers noww. I enjoy analizing books myself. Thats part of my reading enjoyment. I’ve leerned two be and objective reader and movie abservor. I love to dissect a good book. It’s a pleasure. I’m never anal about grammar, because I’m seriously grammar deficient, but I’m okay with that. I’m improving as I continue to write and blog.

    Thanks for being a part of that Coach

    I guess I wouldn’t say I have an internal editor in me. That would be hypocrisy, but I do have an internal analyst.

  15. I’m similar, but with movies/scripts more than books. Something my husband and I both agree on is that going to film school can sometimes take the fun out of watching movies. Everything becomes critical – that cut should have come sooner, that cut shouldn’t have come at all, why don’t they turn the freaking lights up?!?! SO I totally know where you’re coming from, with the critical eye out everywhere. I don’t catch too many typos like that but I’m like you, I get really frustrated with them when they are just blatant and easy for my eye to catch. If I’m catching them then they should have already been caught!

    • Hi Laura, yeah I can see how being a film editor or being involved in the film industry at all would make it difficult to watch movies strictly for pleasure. You just can’t help noticing certain elements because that is what your eye/mind are trained to do.

      Haha, exactly! I’m not the world’s best editor, so if I can catch silly mistakes editors who work in the big publishing houses should be catching them, too!

  16. For me it comes down to whether or not an author has something to say, which usually becomes obvious rather quickly, and if there are too many typos or other mistakes, my IE starts to question and doubt their ability to be insightful. Nice to stumble upon your blog (hope I didn’t make too many mistakes in this comment)…:)

  17. So true. I by no means claim to be perfect, but when I see a gaping plot hole or a blatant cover up for a plot hole (e.g. “Hello,” says Lauren. She’s a girl I met an hour ago at the coffee shop. You just weren’t there then, reader.) it makes me cringe! Same with typos both in books and on marketing material.
    When I studied music my teacher said to me ‘You will never be able to turn this off while listening. Your enjoyment capacity is now limited.’ I definitely feel this is true with writing and myself today.

    • Hi Lauren,
      Same here. I am not perfect either. If I were, then I would be working for a bigwig publishing company editing bestsellers. And they don’t even get it right 100% of the time. That’s an interesting comment from your music teacher, and now that you bring it up, I can imagine the difficulties. Again, if the story is compelling enough then I usually can let errors slide but it’s not easy!

      Thanks for swinging by.

  18. I can handle a small number of typos etc. as these sneak through even with the best proofreaders. However, if a plot point isn’t logical or the laws of physics are ignored without even an attempt to explain why they can be broken, that causes me to pause, too much of that and I walk away.

    • Hey Dennis,

      That’s true, there probably isn’t a book out there without a typo. And typos are easier to forgive than plot holes, etc. While a proofreader isn’t going to catch structure problems, a good beta reader or writing coach or editor can (and should). Another reason to be careful with our work before we send it off to be published or represented.

  19. Apply your solution to life in general and you will find even greater happiness.

  20. I can’t read purely for pleasure unless the book completely sucks me in. It’s very very rare. I’m constantly taking its pulse. Noticing where a character isn’t developed, or a subplot makes no sense, or something feels forced and not flowing. Info dumps drive me nuts though.

    • Hey Kourtney, I love that “taking its pulse.” What a great way to describe how writers read. Yup, info dumps make me zone out and I skim. That’s not what I consider good entertainment.

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