Friday, July 18, 2014

Why I Can't Read Anymore

I've been pretty open about my whole mental breakdown surrounding publishing. It's crazy to think it's been four years since then, and even crazier to realize that I'm still digging myself out of that hole in a lot of aspects. But I've come a long way, and I'm definitely in a really good mental space right now, all things considered. There's just this one thing that I'm still struggling with:

I can't read books without feeling like a terrible author, without thinking every book is better than mine, without having significant anxiety attacks about how insufficient I am. It doesn't matter the book. This is true for my friends' novels, for bestsellers, for indies, for debuts across genres and age groups.

It's really annoying.

I actually remember the exact moment this became an issue for me. It was the summer of 2011, and I was at a writer's retreat with a bunch of friends. We'd done this retreat two years prior, and in 2009 we had these story times where we'd read from our WIPs for fun. It was my favorite part in 2009…in 2011, something changed.

I don't know what it was. I mean, in 2011 I had sold my first two novels. I was going to be a published author like I had dreamed about for so long. I was recovering from the intense panic attacks of fall 2010 pretty well. Or so I thought.

But as we began story time, as I listened to my closest friends read their awesome stories…I grew horribly self-conscious. To the point that I really didn't want to read my WIP at all. Awful thoughts blossomed in my head: "Your stories aren't that good. Their stories are all better than yours. Why are you even getting published? You suck in comparison to your friends and now everyone will be able to read your book and know that. Your friends must pity you and aren't telling you how much lower and suckier you are. You're really pathetic."

My head is not a nice place to be sometimes. Lots of the time, I guess. Thank you, social anxiety.

I bought into these negative thoughts at the time, though I didn't realize it then. I let them sink in deep—I know this because three years later I STILL feel like that whenever I pick up a book to read. First, I started avoiding the books everyone said were amazing, because I knew I would be crippled in my writing for weeks if I read them (which I couldn't afford when I was on deadline). Then it spread to books by my favorite authors. While I knew I'd love them, I also knew they'd make me feel completely lacking. So I stopped reading those. After that I started to avoid almost everything—debuts, books people criticized, indies, out of genre—I would just get so worked up and full of anxiety it wasn't worth it.

It got so bad I had to stop critting for many of my friends, because I would read their work and cry and panic because it was just so good and I would never measure up. Then I began to worry that they would HATE ME for not critting for them when they always helped me so much. So now I'm in this horrible cycle of having anxiety over books to the point I can't read, but then also having anxiety about people finding out I'm an author who can't read and also worrying my friends will hate me… *sigh*

This whole not-reading-because-it-hurts thing has been like my dirty little secret. I suppose I'm writing about it today because usually the first step to healing is acknowledging a problem. So here I am. Acknowledging.

I feel like this is one of my last hurdles in my long road to getting better. My heart is racing just typing this, just thinking about trying to fix it. But I miss books. I miss being able to enjoy reading—or at least not feeling like I suck when I read other authors' books. I miss the worlds of my favorite authors, where I used to find comfort but have now avoided because of my own insecurities.

I don't really know how to fix this weird problem of mine. But more and more I am getting the feeling there's only one way: To READ. To read until I don't feel like that anymore. To face the books I know I will love but will also make me feel like I shouldn't be writing.

It's ridiculous how scared I am.

But I'm going to try. I'm starting this weekend with a HUGE book from an author I practically idolize. I'm afraid I will never write again after because I'll be a puddle of "why do I suck so much?" But I'm going to do it anyway. Because I can't keep going like this, avoiding my fears.

Wish me luck.


  1. All the luck and love to you, Natalie. <3

  2. Facing our fears is probably the hardest thing to do but also a great way to move through it. Hugs!

  3. Honestly, I get this feeling too - although not to the extreme that you describe. I am not a published author. I've wanted to be an author since I was eight years old, but I'm still (at 30 :/ ) in the stage where I just can't finish anything because I get convinced that it's terrible and not worth it. When I read a really great book I can't help but be envious that I didn't write it, that it's so easy for them when it's so hard for me, and when I've started a story I'll avoid reading fiction because I just know if I read something good it will discourage me. It makes me feel a little crazy. So I sort of know how you feel - but you've accomplished so much. I can still only dream of being where you are.

  4. I'm pretty sure that every writer has felt this way at some point or another in their life. I'm going to be honest here: It's nothing new, believe me. It sounds like you've been in a lot of self-doubt, and I know it isn't easy, but you have to look at the positive aspects of your writing. Think of how far you've come! Think about how thinks used to be! Bask in all the awesome glory that is YOUR writing. Yes, YOURS. Not anyone else's. You have that power to control everything that goes on in your story. And I think all authors are powerful like that, you know?
    I mean, think about it. Everyone has their own writing style, right? Everyone and their stories are different. Sure, some stories are better than others, but that shouldn't stop you from creating something that nobody else but you can. Wanting to write like someone else, or wanting to be better than someone else, or even to copy them, is simply ridiculous.
    You know, reading is like exercise for the mind, especially for other authors, for crying out loud! Reading can improve your own writing in the best ways. Pay attention to what they do with words, how they describe things, and branch off from it. Get inspired. Break it down and analyse plot, character, theme.
    But reading, of course, is about much more than just learning and analyzing and experimenting. It's about joy. So don't let "reading to become a better writer" interfere with that. Most of the time, it's best to just forget about analysis and lose yourself in the book. You'll still be learning, so fear not. If you read for pleasure, you won't be able to help it.
    I don't know if I've helped at all, but I hope I made some difference. It's just that I found your post to be extremely odd because all I could think when I first read the title was, "wait a second, how does this author, who's been inspiring me in my own writing journey, not find any contentment in reading?"
    Like I said at the beginning, I'm being honest here. I've found you to be an inspiration to me. Why? Because over the time I've been reading your blog, I've gotten the impression that you don't write for money or fame, but for the sheer joy of creation and telling a story.
    And that's all a writer should really want, isn't it?

  5. you don't suck. You're brave and honest and you will get through this, you're on the right road already :) did you try the "worry period" technique? it may work, read as much as you want, and whenever a damaging thought comes make a note to address it later, take from 15 to 30 minutes a day to talk about your issues with yourself looking in a mirror, don't try to fix it just ask what ifs, it worked for me, stops the crazy mental chatter, I wish you all the luck :)

  6. There is apparently no end to the ways in which our brains can tie us up into pretzels of anxiety! Hugs. When you're ready to try reading, I would suggest reading for fun, reading whatever you want, not analyzing it. Maybe rereading old favorites or "comfort books."

  7. I do think the self-concious doubts are something that happens not only to any writer, but to anyone with a creative and artistic streak.

  8. Wishing you heaps of luck! You're a brave person, and I bet just from admitting this and putting it out there, that your reading this weekend will come easier than what it has been. Go get lost in that book! =)

  9. I love all of your posts here. As a not-published writer they're bracing (sometimes frightening), but always honest.

    I think all writers feel this way. I know I feel it myself (sometimes worse than others). But I try to tell myself it's a good thing--we have to be able to recognize *good* writing in order to create it ourselves (Ira Glass has an awesome quote about this). The fact that you sometimes feel this just means that you have really good taste--not that your writing is bad (I've read your writing. It's good stuff!). I would be more worried if you thought everything you wrote was awesome . . .

    That said, sometimes it helps to read something that isn't very good, just so you can think, at least I didn't write *that* . . .

  10. Oh, I love how honest you are. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. It's actually awfully encouraging (just so you know)...I'm always anxious about my books and writing, but reading is also my favourite thing. I hate it, though, how I find a book that absolutely blows me away and I'm get so excited and fangirl over it...and then the dread sets in. That omg, I will never write like that, why bother trying. It's hard. I feel for you. :|

  11. I think you're right, admitting this here is a good first step in handling the problem. It's a terrible thing to have, because there's so much joy to be found in reading. I hope this helps you, Natalie.

  12. From what I've read it seems as though you're apprehensive of what people will think of you now that you're a published author and they aren't...I really think it's a self-esteem issue (when it comes to writing that is) and that you just need to be more confident and explore your achievement as a 'published author'. It's not that your writing is worse then that of other people, it's that it is on the same level regardless of being a bestseller, using the best techniques, being the funniest...cos you're all writers, you're all connected by that 'feeling', and that's it. :D

  13. Wishing you luck! I hope you enjoy that book and that it encourages, not discourages you. :)

  14. Whenever I feel like that (I'm dyslexic, so I totally get the anxiety thing... especially when it comes to first drafts/etc), I read comic books :)

    Lots and lots of comic books :)

    It's a nice change, and somehow with all the pictures, it's not nearly as scary jumping into a novel ;)

    Also, it's a great reminder how wonderful it is to have all different kinds of stories. Wouldn't life be boring if there was no Bill Watterson, or no Ted Naifeh? Or Yoshiki Nakamura? Or if only one of those three drew every comic book out there?

    Or if there were only written stories, nothing drawn, nothing spoken, animated, or sung?

    I'm an insanely fast reader (yeah, yeah, despite the dyslexia), and an insanely picky reader... and your books are some of the few I've re-read out of the hundreds I've read in the past year.

    They've got a great flavour :)

    ...and don't tell me that Aaron Alexovich, Tom Siddell, and Svetlana Chmakova aren't equally wonderful, even though their styles are all completely different...

    Having something lighter to dive into, something that reminds me of how much I love stories and I I want to write my own, that's an amazing thing., if the book you're starting is too daunting, read comic books!

    (I highly recommend them ;p)

  15. I think it is great that you are going to face your fears and just READ. Good for you and good luck!

  16. I think you're right - the cure is to read, and read, and read until your eyeballs fall out. Just kidding on the eyeball part :) But just read and love it and push through it.

    And you totally don't suck!

  17. Wow, it seems I'm exactly the opposite. I write and hope to get published, but very often I get these same thoughts you described: maybe I'm not as good at writing as my friends say; everyone will see that I suck. But then I pick up a book, read it, think about how well it flows, go back to writing, and... I realize I'm not so bad at all. Considering there are so many different writing styles by so many authors out there, I always get the feeling I blend in pretty well :) The thing is that I get insecure knowing I'm opening a part of my mind to so many people. And whenever I'm insecure, I need to see how other people are doing something, so I know if I'm going the wrong way.
    Also, whenever I read my own work, what I've written right after reading a book, whatever the genre (except for poetry, that messes with my writing style quite a bit), it's always better than what I've written at other times.
    Good luck!

  18. Natalie, do you know David Farland? He's not far from you. He's helped some of the best in your genre. Teaches at BYU, I think.

    Long time no see (speak). My 14th novel, Diablo, is out, but I'm having a similar crisis to yours.

    Charlie Whipple aka Chuck Tyrell

  19. As you have likely heard numerous times before, part of the gig of being an writer is also being a reader, when I read books I too feel the way you do but I tell myself I am learning and its a different type of creativity.

    I think too its feeling comfortable in our own skins, the same skin that had to be trained to get thick like an alligators skin in order to deal with the publishing wave.

    I also read many books within my genre(s) and out of my genre to further help me as I hone.

    I bid you happy reading and finally look at it a different way as well your supporting your fellow writers by stepping out of the author role and becoming the reader and enjoying the world they create.

  20. Best of luck; I really hope you can overcome this. I know how important it is for us, as writers, to read, and I can only imagine being afraid to read anything because it might start such a downward spiral. >_< As ridiculous as this sounds, maybe you should find something published that you know is really bad, and read a little of that? Eh heh heh...

  21. Hang in there Natalie. Whatever our profession, I think we all feel this from time to time. Seeing the excellence of others can be an excellent motivational tool. I enjoy reading fiction to simply marvel at how creative others can be.

    I hope the book has you smiling.

  22. Try to read something you love and think "That makes me want to write!" instead of "My writing sucks in comparison!" It helps to change your thinking around.

    Good luck!

  23. That used to affect me also. I worried that I would never produce anything people would truly care about--unlike all the other books I'd read. But what really helped me overcome that fear was to listen--and really hear--the positive feedback I was getting from readers beyond my close circle of family and friends. The overwhelming positivity forced me to accept that it's all in my head. So get lost in that book this weekend and then read through your great reviews! You're where you're at for a reason. :)

  24. I am not a published author, but I went through something very similar to this a few years ago...I could read, but the only way I could do that was to go through the book I was reading at the time and nitpick it to the very last detail, then compare it with my work. It wasn't very enjoyable, as you can imagine. It took months of just telling myself "just enjoy the story. Don't think as a writer, think as reader." It was really hard, and even today, I have a hard time showing others my writing, because I'm worried that it still isn't good enough. That it isn't even comparable to others.

    But I'm getting better.