Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You've Got 10 Minutes ... Impress Me!

Never judge a book by its cover … but can I judge a novel by the first 30 pages?

Lately, I’ve been doing just that. I love my iPad and its digital library. Hear about a novel? Just search, find, and download a sample.

However, I’m old enough to remember the days of searching books stores, used and new, trying to track down something highly recommended. There was a time (mainly during my late teens and early 20s) when I spent much of my weekend browsing and perusing and simply enjoying the feel and touch of the books. This is way back in the day when the only “search” available was to ask the bookstore help, who may or may not have a clue to what you’re talking about. Eventually, I’d come home with a bag full of paperbacks feeling somewhat superior to … well, everyone else.

And now, what took hours simply takes minutes. I love the convenience. I love the accessibility. And I love the downloadable sample … being able to get a feel for a book before opening my wallet is great.

Yet, at the same time, sampling means I’m no longer invested in a novel. The time it took decades ago to find a specific novel created a social contract, in a way. “I’ve tracked the damn thing down; I’m reading it from cover to cover goddammit.”

That’s no longer the case. If I don’t like the tone or writing or character voice or whatever in the first 30 pages, then poof! it’s deleted. Gone. Not a thought about it again. In many ways, that’s sad. I can’t help but think I’m missing out on something – yet at the same time, there are so many great novels out there, why waste my time on one that doesn’t grab me at the beginning?

This instant (well, almost instant) need-for-gratification affects my writing immensely. I fret over the beginning of my novels so much. I’m terrified that the first few pages will simply bore my read just enough so that the rest of my energy and ideas and creative endeavor are tossed away. I know how I’d feel if I saw that happening…but even this connected sympathy can’t stop me from doing the same.

Maybe that might make me a better writer?

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