Not all people who read books, write them - or even try to write them. But all writers must read. At some point before they became great novelists, playwrights, essayists or poets, even the most famous writers learned to read and were readers rather than writers.
So at what point do you stop being a reader who writes, and start being a writer who reads?
I've been thinking about this because as writing takes up more of my time and I learn more about the technical and creative aspects of it, I've found that the way I read has changed. I find it very hard to read now without editing sentences in my head as I go. It's almost as if I can see the thought-processes of the author.
I'll note the way a paragraph is built up and the particular choice of words a writer has used. I can see why they might describe something in a certain way or how they've played with sentence length. All those effects that we pick up subconsciously as we read - mood and charactersiation etc. - are suddenly appearing like stage directions in my head. I see how the author constructed them and manipulated us, the readers. It's almost as if I'm reading two books at once - the published one and the one written between the lines - the scaffolding behind the story,
Once I'm settled into a book I find gripping I can usually stop myself analysing, but it takes effort. As with a good film you shouldn't notice how it was shot, in a good book you shouldn't notice the writing*. It should appear effortless, not contrived or trying to be too clever. But when writers read other writers it's a bit different. You can't help analysing. (Just as I imagine somebody who knows the film industry can't help analysing camera angles when they watch a film).
Sometimes I get annoyed with myself. I want just to read and not edit sentences written by other authors decades earlier. But it has also enriched my reading experience. I appreciate those moment of brilliance that I may have never noticed if I hadn't started writing. And both ciriticism and amazement are making me a better writer. It's a positive circle - reading makes me a better writer; writing makes me a more engaged reader; more engaged reading make me a better writer, which makes me a better reader and so on...
So what are you? Reader, writer, reader who writes or writer who reads? I appear to have evolved into a writer who reads. But I'm OK with that. All readers should try writing sometime - it really enhances your appreciation of the art of literature.
If you don't write at all I'd be interested to know what sort of book you might like to write - if you could be brilliant at writing without any effort. I've always thought that I'd like to write thrilling 1930s crime novels, but I would have no idea where to start!
*This rule goes out of the window when you get to the great works of film/literature, or particularly stunning moments in them. I spend most of Steinbeck's or Marquez's books with my mouth open at how awesome the writing is. Similarly, while watching Downton Abbey at the weekend, I found myself exclaiming over how beautiful composed/lit a certain shot was (and I know nothing about TV or film!)