I normally enjoy reading while I am writing. (Not at the same time, because I only have two eyes and one of those doesn’t work super well.) But while working on a project, it can be great seeing how another writer has arranged their words or how they use point of view. I never actively glean anything from the books, but I think reading triggers some of the creative processes that help me to write.
But I recently re-read “In the Name of the Wind” and read for the first time “Wise Man’s Fear,” by Patrick Rothfuss and I’ve stopped writing entirely. It’s not just that his prose is infuriatingly good, or that his plot is meticulously crafted. Through a narrative device, he also has a cunning way of controlling narrative voice while adding an unreliable narrator aspect to the story. (The trade-off is that, as beautifully written as the book was, it seemed like not a lot happened. Just like Dance With Dragons, readers want more of the destination and less of the journey). Though not perfect books, they are as good as anything in the genre written in the last 30 years. And they killed me.
The thing that got me is that Rothfuss is one of the very few spec writers to create societies with different norms. I’ve always thought it weird that people who lived in fantastical lands still had our 21st century largely Judeo-Christian ethics. Many writers create fantastical monsters or magical artifacts, but far fewer have explored varying ethics and mores. This never takes the forefront (it’s not Stranger in a Strange Land) but it adds a depth and an intelligence much needed in the genre.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop writing. Intellectually, I understand that it’s not fair to compare my half-finished work to books that he has spent years on, and after writing the books he revised them with a zeal that many of his contemporaries would do well to take note of. But the craftsmanship is so blatantly brilliant that it’s quite discouraging. I’m not breaking up with my book, but if our relationship were on facebook, our relationship would certainly be “it’s complicated.”