I’m talking about the time it takes to read and write. (Hahaha, you thought this was going to be about queries and subs, but no. I mean, not exactly, but also yes? Agents and editors are human beings, too, remember.)
Reading and writing, though… I keep dancing around posting something about this, because I think it’s a huge part of book-life we often breeze past, both in reading And writing.
Just because a book can be slurped down in one sitting doesn’t make that the measure of “best.” Yes, a book is a product, and making more product is how things get done, but there are factors here that are, for me, too important to overlook.
I’m hyperlexic, and I read faster than I can think, and I type faster than most people can talk. So why do my books take a year to draft, and why doesn’t my Goodreads challenge reflect my awesome speed?
BECAUSE I HAVE FEELINGS, Y’ALL. (Also a life, but mostly Feelings!!!!!)
We deal in emotions. Some emotions take time away from the page to let the words seep in. This isn’t just about triggers (though they are certainly a factor in my own mental preparations for reading), but about ALL emotional processing.
I spent 8 months reading SPACE OPERA. This is the longest it’s ever taken me to read a single book (note: I was listening to an audiobook, which is totally reading).
Rushing felt wrong. I wanted each delicious sentence to linger and gel in my head before moving on, because it was so rich. There was so much there to sit with and experience, and I had to pause and replay often because my laughter or surprise would make me miss the next lines (cue more laughter and surprise). I also read 40 other books during this time, all while continuing with SPACE OPERA. Sometimes a line or passage would spur me to write or make some other art, or even just squeeze my children and marvel at their singular wonderfulness that is both part of me and incredibly Not-Me.
And, like, hell yes, I wanted to, and could have, gulped THUG (THE HATE U GIVE) in one day, but OMG. I had to sit in some serious feelings awhile, and let the words seep in and do their work on my heart and my thoughts. There was a lot of work to do!!
The heavier and more intense the content is, the more I may need to step away. I may need to think and stew, or heal and cry and dream and read something else before coming back.
Similarly, I read the whole Broken Earth trilogy in under a week (because N.K. Jemisin is a goddess AND a wizard, who dictated my thoughts for me onto the page and held my attention so thoroughly there was no time to look away), but I’ve reread each book thrice over, each reading going slower than the last, just to soak up all that goodness.
And if I LOVE a book, really, truly LOVE it, I might reread the same page or chapter 3 or 4 times before moving on, because the work is breathtaking and touches me on some level I won’t be able to revisit the same way again once the page turns.
This is not a flaw of story telling; this is its magic.
Some books take me foooooreeeeeveeer to read because I don’t want to fly through and miss nuance. OR THE HEALING. Healing isn’t streamlined and fast forwarded; it’s bumpy and scattered, and there’s a lot of looking backward to gain balance and clarity for the present.
Books are the one medium that give me this power to truly pause and reflect, to become a new me by The End. I can’t be alone in this. I imagine people, like editors and agents, who’ve made books their business, came to this industry because of that same power. Product, yes and good, but still: POWER.
My irl bestie is still reading the project I’m querying, Moon Dust In My Hairnet. No lie, I was annoyed and hurt at first; I wanted feedback fast, to know if she “liked” it and if it resonated. Two months later, I’m still waiting for her to finish.
But, look, she’s STILL reading. Because it’s so personal and cathartic for her, she has to take time to approach the pages and let them Work, so she reads in sips. I’ve learned to take that as a compliment, now that I understand. (Just like it took time from me, sitting with my own feelings and working on how to share them in a way to help the story do exactly that for people with her experiences.) See, she lost her big sister at a critical age, so that’s a major personal issue she’s processing THROUGH my story. That’s colossal to me.
She says, “It’s changing my life,” and I can witness that happening for her. And I think, “This. This is why I write!”
But if she slurped this story of mine in one sitting, it could catapult her into feelings she can’t process that fast. Feelings that could set off her emotional balance in destructive ways. I GET IT. I didn’t write this story to do harm, but to help heal, and I’m not in charge of the dosage on the way; I simply deliver medicine.
So, to people who draft a story in a few weeks, good on you! I’m not in your race.
To those who pump out 10+ books a year, holy crap, you’re incredible! That could literally kill me.
And to those who read 100+ books a year, I’m in awe of you. Still not racing.
Books are my lifeline, my passion, and my heart’s food, but each takes the time it takes.
If I don’t finish your book in a day or even a week, this is not an insult to you or your craft but a testament to my appreciation. And if you’re writing about difficult emotional and social issues, please know I am ready for the whole ride you’re bringing me on, no matter how long that takes me, because I want that change to happen inside me en route. I need it like air, and I’ll love you forever unconditionally for providing it.
The point of all this is: let’s dowse the judgment from these conversations and from our expectations. It’s curiosity and our story addiction that drive the one-sitting read of any book. While that’s a marvelous, thrilling experience, it is not, by far, the only worthwhile reading experience to value or chase.
Books are magic, and writers are wizards, and some spells do their work over time and space and inside readers’ beings, and none of this is easily or tritely quantifiable.
I’d love to hear about your favorite books to reread! Please tell me in the comments?
I’ve re-read The Alchemist at least four times now, and I find something new in the words every time!