By Barbara Linn Probst
Before I turned to fiction, I was a hybrid of academic and therapist. There was a truism in clinical practice that having been in therapy made you a better therapist—a complicated question, impossible to prove, although we always encouraged students to experience therapy themselves before attempting to offer it to others. I got curious and decided to ask the question in reverse: what was it like for people who entered therapy after having spent time as therapists? Could they leave their therapist-minds behind when they moved to “the other chair” and surrender to the client role? As you might guess, it wasn’t so easy.
Now that I’m a novelist, I’m interested in a similar question for writers. Most of us were readers before we became writers, and would probably agree that our reading experience influences our experience as writers. But what happens when a writer opens a book and shifts to her reader-identity? Can we leave our writer-minds behind and surrender to the “reader chair”—and should we?
Once again, I asked. More than fifty people on several writer groups I belong to responded to my question: “How do you read? Do you lose yourself in the story (as a reader might) or read to study how the author did it (as a writer might)?”
The responses can be summarized into three big ideas.
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