How to Read Your Own Book
I spent my 4th of July break going over the layout proof for my debut novel, E.J. Lee and The Golden Door. As excited as I was to get the PDF proof, I had a hard time sitting down and going through it.
I was tremendously excited to print it out. Beyond tickled to show it off to people. Truly blown away to sit down and stare at the cover page.
But read it? Again? And look for more errors?
It was like steeling myself for a mental colonoscopy.
I stared at the book for a solid day and half before I actually started reading it, simply because I was afraid of being disappointed. I’m frequently my own worst critic — I know what I’m capable of, and I know I haven’t reached my full potential. So when I go back and re-read something I’ve written, I get this powerful urge to start fixing.
I get an urge to start messing up good work because it isn’t perfect.
Candidly, that’s a crappy default setting, and I’m working on changing that mentality. I was never one for the power of positive thinking when I was younger, but now that I’m 40, I wholeheartedly believe in that crap. And not just believe in it, I swallow it hook, line and sinker.
That’s because the positive thoughts in my head are my own personal support group. They choose to see the best, to look past the flaws and find the good. When I’m tempted to tear down my own work, the positive thoughts in my brain go to work.
“That’s actually a good phrase.”
“Strong character development there.”
“Hey — that plot turn is great!”
And perhaps the most powerful of all, “You’re holding this proof because a publisher believed in you.”
Having voices in your head that cheer you on is powerful, and looking for the good in your creation is liberating. I was able to carefully and clearly review my work simply because I was giving myself the grace to be a good writer.
I read my book and laughed in places where there were jokes I’d forgotten. I found my heart racing in places where I’d made the tension mount. Sure, I knew each plot turn like the back of my hand, but what I’d forgotten about was how each character had achieved their own life, their own way of being within the story.
Even though I was reading my own words, I was discovering my story for the first time.
In the years that I’ve been writing professionally, I forget that part sometimes — the joy of discovering a story, or of learning something new. I even find myself cheating other authors when I read their works: I look for the patterns, the beats, the necessary form that every work must have.
I let the critic out too often, and keep the reader locked away too much.
But for the three days that I pored over my layout proof, I allowed myself to enjoy reading again, and became my own cheerleader. And it was awesome.
I highly recommend you do the same. Give up the harsh voice in your head that says you aren’t good enough. Let the reader in you come out to cheer you on.
Reading your own book doesn’t have to be hard. It’s probably way better than you think.