Friday, August 5, 2011

"I work better alone," says your subconscious

To be a writer, you have to read.  Some people suggest reading outside your genre, others suggest reading only your genre.  I say, read what you want.

Why do writers have to read?  To check out the competition?  To set goals of what they wish their work to look like one day?  Not exactly.  I’m pretty sure that there is some disagreement on this, but the general consensus is that you read in order to see what other people did that worked and what other people did that did not.

I’ve heard people say that they read books as writers, i.e. differently than other people.  They look for things the author used and ways in which the words are stacked up to deliver an impact.  I’ve never understood this.  I read because I like stories.  That’s it.  I can’t bring myself to read a 100k words simply to learn a lesson from the author.  I’m aware that it isn’t as simple as that, but I can’t specifically look for writerly messages hidden inside the words.  That way, reading a book becomes work and I read to not work.  If reading became work, I’d never read anything.  Ergo, reading should be fun.

Am I losing valuable information?  Am I being a lazy bum for not wanting to put a little effort into improving my craft?  I don’t think so.

You see, I trust my subconscious.  I trust that my subconscious will do all the work for me.

When I was in high school, I avoided studying for English Language.  Why?  Because the grammar rules confused me to no end.  There were little bits of information that made no sense to me.  In fact, if I were to write a test where the questions were along the lines of ‘Identify the conjugated verb in the above sentence’ and more complicated ones, I’d be lucky to get 50.  Instead, I read.

Every word I read gets meticulously spun around in my subconscious and recorded somewhere (you’d have to ask Livia if you want to know where; possibly the limbic system).  I could spell and construct sentences with the best of them.  Why?  Because my mind had recorded all the grammatically correct sentences that I’d read.  Therefore, if a new sentence is compared to the recorded ones, it can tell me if something is wrong.  ‘The apples is in the basket’ just sounds wrong, because my subconscious has been conditioned into recognising correct grammar.

My point in all this is the following:  I read without studying, but I can still learn new things from it.  My subconscious will record the information and let me know when something is amiss.

If you are consciously looking for things instead of reading, you might even be hampering your subconscious from doing what it’s supposed to do (much in the same way I avoided thinking too much about the grammar rules).  Let your subconscious do its job.

You can’t learn everything from your subconscious, but there are a lot of things you can.  Read what you want, and read for fun.  Let your subconscious do the writer reading for you and enjoy the ride.


  1. I agree. I find there are often things to be learned from reading another author's work, but the subconscious is good at picking up smaller details it would just take a lot of effort to catch consciously.

  2. Eagle: I found that there are a lot of things that this is applicable on (not just reading).

    Mood: Good.

  3. I see what you mean, but sometimes, I can't help but read like a writer. It's not necessarily a good thing, but when I'm drafting, part of me is always a step away from what I'm reading, watching the flow of plot and getting more jarred than normal when something isn't right.

    When I'm editing, it's worse, because then I pick up grammatical errors and head hopping etc.

    I try to switch it off, but it doesn't always work.

  4. Yeah. Ever since I started writing, I've seen a lot more problems with books I read (the number of typos are surprising).

    Perhaps it is a part of the subconscious, letting you know that a specific point is not the same as the 'correct' ones in memory. Sort of the same thing as when it happens while you write.