Guest Post: Separating our Reader and Writer Selves. Or not.

The following is a guest post by client, Rhonda Saunders. Rhonda is a fantastic  MG fiction writer who lives in the Florida Keys among everyone else’s vacation. I met Rhonda on Twitter, where she stalked me for a few years, but ultimately she caught my attention with her sense of humor, strong narrative voice, tenacious commitment to the revision process and of course, excellent writing. Rhonda blogs at

If I’m reading a sad story that’s moving just perfectly, and my husband notes my absorption and says, “Good book?” I’ll say through my tears, “Oh my god, he cannot handle another let down right now. And she has like effing nailed the pacing.”

This type of response doesn’t even confuse my husband anymore. He understands that this probably means the main character is a boy who’s going through a crappy time and he’s breaking my heart, written by a woman whose mad pacing skills are blowing my brain.

As a fiction writer and reader, I’m constantly making mental notes and judgments about things like voice, character, and plot. But I do this simultaneously with immersing myself in the story.

Some people say they can separate the two–they can turn off their internal editor–if the book is good enough. Not me. My reader self and my writer self got married and I can’t split them up. Believe me, I tried harder than a kid who hates her new stepmom’s guts.

And why do that, anyway? It’s a fine relationship. They’re made for each other, my reader and writer selves. I don’t think I enjoy a good book any less than I did before I started writing fiction. It’s just a different level of enjoyment.

It’s like an insurance salesperson or a Realtor making new contacts at the bar during happy hour. I’m having fun while enhancing my chances of succeeding with my craft. Win-win?

Writers, can you separate your reader and writer selves?


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20 responses to “Guest Post: Separating our Reader and Writer Selves. Or not.

  1. What is an MG writer? Pardon my ignorance.

  2. erikswordpress

    They are fused in me as well. I listen to audiobooks more than reading due to my unfortunate commute, but I have more appreciation for excellent dialogue and beautiful flow and more winces for excessive adverbs and stilted conversation–and a quick finger on the fast forward button for excessive exposition. It doesn’t really diminish my enjoyment of reading/listening, though.

  3. I think this is great…and true. But, as a result, I’m so much slower when I read. Frustrating when I look at my bedside TBR pile!

  4. If what I am reading is not written in my “morse code” reading and getting it is like swimming through a pool of thick honey. Is it possible that our DNA is in contact with the authors..and if it is not a good match than the eyes reject the content.??

  5. I can completely lose myself in a really good story and not think about the technical side of writing.I don’t understand why that is…maybe it’s because I still have a lot to learn about writing.
    Because when I’m watching a movie (I love cinematography) I can be totally absorbed in the plot and crying my eyes out with the character, yet through my sniffles I’ll say, “That shot was just beautiful, I would’ve never thought to use that angle.”

    So, I don’t know why I don’t do the same thing with writing.

    Have you been able to do that for as long as you can remember or was there a certain point in your life when you were able to think technically while still getting into a story?

    This was a good post! Thanks for the question!

    • No, I think I do that. Like you with movies. I can’t NOT do that. I can’t NOT notice the “angle” while also feeling absorbed. That’s where I am now–can’t pinpoint when that started (probably when I started taking myself seriously as a fiction writer). Like others suggested, maybe it’s about an intense desire to learn more about our craft.

  6. I read as a writer, too, and often find myself more moved by the way something is written than by what it actually says. It’s the same as with any art form. I’m sure that people who understand how classical music works get more out of a chamber music concert than I do, as much as I enjoy spacing letting the pretty sounds wash over me.

    The hard part for me is to turn the equation around and write like a reader — to step back from my work and try to see it as if I were just casually picking it up. Would it draw me in? Hold my attention? Or do the words, however pretty, just wash over me?

  7. I think it’s a win-win situation, too, Rhonda. Now that I know how much work it takes to complete a book and get it on bookshelves, I find myself getting more emotionally attached to novels. Now reading is a much richer and more complex experience for me, and I’ll never take another good book (or good writer) for granted again!

  8. I think that’s the hardest part sometimes. I don’t think we SHOULD separate it. It’s what we do and we should learn from books. Plus, part of why I love writing (and reading) is so I can experience a book. And reading as a writer is part of that for me. But so hard. (And then add in editor stuff and it’s like crazy impossible to separate!) Great post.

  9. Steve McCann

    When actually reading, I tend to slip in and out of my reader and writer selves. I particularly notice crappy technique while actually reading. Great technique I tend to notice when I’m thinking about the story later. When I’m listening to audio books (I have two hours of commuting each day), I nearly always stay in listener mode. If I’m paying attention to craft at all with audio books, it’s more likely I’ll notice the narrator’s abilities while the story washes over me.

  10. Sarah

    Great post! I can’t separate them either. I’ve learned so much by reading authors I admire, but I miss reading for pure enjoyment.

  11. Zoë

    I can, but lately I’m trying to less. That may have to do with me being fairly new at writing novels, but recently I find myself particularily examining certain things authors do. I love reading so much, and if it can help improve my writing, like you said, it’s win-win.