A short while ago, a writer friend described me as a “writer’s writer.” I accepted this as the compliment it was intended, but given the choice I would rather be a reader’s writer. Every writer reads with essentially two parts of their brain: their writer brain and their reader brain. I think I speak for many writers when I report that my writer’s brain always comes forward first whenever I pick up something new, especially fiction. The writer brain observes the writing, first on a sentence-to-sentence level and then on a narrative level. This can be a fairly unpleasant way to read something. It is detached, critical, comparative, and intellectual. I am a lifelong student of writing, so I suppose I will always read from my writer’s brain, but the less I do so the happier I am.
That is because my reader’s brain wants to forget about the writer and the choices he or she made and just become lost in what was written. I can admire or respect a book as a writer, but I can only love it as a reader. Only as a reader can I go willingly on a journey with the writer, and only as a reader can I be changed by that journey.
If you’ve spent time in critique groups, or writing classes, or read too much of the NYT Book Review, it is easy as a writer to slip into the habit of writing for other writers. That is, becoming overly concerned about craft, and making unique choices that other writers haven’t made, or being clever or referential in a way other writers or “very good readers” will appreciate, as if books are a test of your ability to write.
Books are not a test; they are an opportunity to communicate. Forget about other writers when you write. They are readers too after all, and while a “writer’s writer” is a compliment of skill, the greatest compliment any writer could pay me is that in reading my work they forgot for a moment they were writers at all and remembered instead that they were human beings.