The downside of being your own harshest critic

I do not mean self-esteem issues, or personal frustrations related to writing.

I refer to the inability to enjoy a book.

This is a problem that’s cropped up since I made the decision, in early 2011, to become a self-publisher, and especially since I went through the epic feat of self-flagellation that was revising my first novel according to an editor’s feedback.

I have to be very selective about the books I read, as many of them provoke the line-editing reaction: I’d like to lose myself in the story, except I keep wanting to open up a word processor and tighten up that prose. This goes especially, though not exclusively, for indie books. I struggled through a perfectly decent paranormal erotica by a very popular small-press author, and ultimately gave up before the end, because its sentences were not as polished and tight as they could’ve been.

I took an inordinately long time to read most of an indie urban fantasy novel, and still didn’t finish, for similar reasons. At the time I thought it was depression tripping me up, and depression may have been a factor, but my constantly spotting mistakes and other weaknesses in the prose was definitely a factor.

Since then, I’ve become far more likely to start a book that I don’t finish, and less likely to start reading a book in the first place. The hesitance to begin a new book has a lot to do with guilt over how slowly I’m progressing at my own writing and revising, but it’s also because so many of the books on my Kindle make me feel more like a detail-obsessed line-editor and less like a voracious reader.

All this is not to say that I think I’m a better writer than the authors of the books I don’t finish. For all I know, they develop more compelling plots and create more interesting characters with more meaningful relationships, but I can’t get caught up in the substance of these novels because I keep tripping over the ways in which the sentences could be better constructed.

Yesterday, I started reading three different indie novels which I’d snagged for free due to being friends with the authors on Goodreads, and couldn’t get more than two chapters into any of them. I’m still reading the fourth one, as it’s sufficiently well-edited to keep my Inner Editor quiet.

I’m not even referring, necessarily, to mistakes, though mistakes are often an issue in indie novels. I once tried to read an erotic romance but gave up after a few (otherwise very promising!) chapters because it so desperately demanded proofreading. There was an apostrophe used in a plural on the very first page of narrative, I tell you. The three books I opened yesterday didn’t show any mistakes that I could see, but I kept wanting to do things like remove unnecessary commas and adjust their verb tenses. Life is too short to struggle through books like that.