When is it time to stop reading about writing and just write?

These are interesting times to be a budding writer. Thanks to the boom of self-publishing and the Internet, it is more than easy to research how to write, how to get published, how to self-market, etc. There is barely a writing-related topic that doesn’t have a good few articles written about it.

The wisest of new writers and aspiring authors will take advantage of this and allocate some time for reading about writing, reading about publishing--basically just learning about their craft and how to sell it. 

But is reading about writing always beneficial? Should we ever just close the browser and stop? And when should we do that?

Here are two examples of times you should stop reading about writing and just start writing:

1. When you're reading so much about writing that you're not actually writing.

Internet articles are like a virus: one breeds another, breeds another. You can follow them around in a merry little twist, trying to inform yourself. But beware--lurking under this guise of becoming informed is an unwelcome bugger: procrastination! There is little point to spending all your available reading about how to be a writer, and no time writing, because in order to be a writer, you need to have actually written stuff. A 60/40 split of time in favour of writing is a good guideline if you actually have stories to be working on. Remember, the articles aren’t going anywhere, and it's easier to go back and change what you have written after reading some good advice than to apply advice to a story that doesn’t exist. 

2. When reading about writing makes you afraid you will get it wrong.

Years ago, I read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and it put me off writing for at least a year. “What”? I hear you cry, “but it is so useful and true!” Yes, it is, but getting so much advice from someone so successful did the opposite of what was intended; it didn’t inspire me, it daunted me. And reading article upon on article about writing can do that too.

Imagine this is your first day at scary writers' school, and in the first lesson you get 45 books plus a massive reading list piled upon you. You get told, “do this,” “don’t do that,” “doing it like that is stupid,” “you will never be successful unless you do this!” Soon your eyes are wide and you are wishing you never came. You are overwhelmed. 

If you find this happening, just stop reading and get writing. Good stories come from the heart. Writing is a craft that can be learned, of course, but if you don’t have passion for what you are writing and are just sticking to a set of rules, then what’s the point? No article can really pinpoint what makes a story stay with you forever. Sure, they can offer useful tips, but if they are scaring you to the point that you’re not writing, they are not serving their purpose. Articles about writing are an optional tool, not required reading. 

Obviously, I am not saying that you should not learn your craft, improve, learn new skills, and learn from others. You should. Just don’t let it become all you do, and don’t let the fear of doing it wrong keep you from doing it at all. 

(And yes, I am aware of the irony of telling you not to read too much about writing in an article about writing! :-))

If you do want to read more, a great resource for articles is the Twitter account of my friend and writer, Andrew Burdon https://twitter.com/AndrewBurdon

See more at http://www.glogray.com

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Comment by Kim Ivie on May 2, 2014 at 4:36pm

I love that..."Write. Publish. Repeat." I will have to look for that, also! Thanks!

Comment by RUTH K HUTCHINGS on May 2, 2014 at 4:33pm

Hi Kim et al

In Stephen's book he tells us that we should let our novel rest before editing, so that is the time I take to learn something about what should come next. I keep his book on my desk so I can continue to refer to it as needed. I do not consider studying what he has to say as a way out of writing because it has encourage me so much. So keep on reading!!  The next big study is one that Glo's husband recommended - "Write. Publish. Repeat" by Sean Platt. New way of looking at writing. Hope to make the transition. keep writing first then read.

Comment by Kim Ivie on May 2, 2014 at 4:03pm

Great advice! Thank you. As I sit here looking at my Stephen King "On Writing" book. :)

Comment by Cassandra Black on May 1, 2014 at 3:59pm

I must admit, I am not a big reader ... In fact, that was one of the things on my New Years resolution list:  read more. I tend to read when I'm stumped in my writing... and it's almost like "a massage" when I take a quick reading break... One day, after all the writing is done, I hope to hold up in a beach cabin somewhere and read until my eyes bug out! 

Comment by Salimah Dhanani on April 27, 2014 at 3:32pm

I completely agree. I decided one morning 18 months ago that I wanted to write a novel. So first, I went to the library and borrowed about 12 "How to" books on writing, plotting, submitting et cetera. After a while, instead of helping, the books made me nervous. I had this story in my head and a lot of oomph that went along with it. But the books were making the whole process seem daunting. That's when I stopped and just wrote!

Comment by RUTH K HUTCHINGS on April 27, 2014 at 12:03pm

Hi Glo

Productive is the key word. I am encouraged by the exchanges I am reading here, but once again, I must not allow myself to constantly check to see what has been commented upon. Today, I wrote the final line to the story of my novel. Yeaaa. Now I have to convert it to a novel. Next thing to check after that is the plotting on Excel I heard someone mention. There is always more. I checked out that book your significant other recommended and will probably purchase it--- again -- more reading, not writing. It goes on and on. Nice chatting.

Comment by Glo Gray on April 27, 2014 at 11:15am

Ha! :-) In seriousness though, this isn't about the quality of any of the articles or books on writing *. Its more about finding what works for you to be the most productive you can, and sometimes you can get bogged down with tips and advice, no matter how good the tips and advice are. It's not right or wrong to feel daunted or overwhelmed or even aggravated by articles on writing, the important thing is recognising what works for you.  So at one time in my writing life, a recommendation for "On Writing" or any swathe of writing articles, would not have been the right advice, but another time, it would. 

*I'm a huge King fan! 

Comment by RUTH K HUTCHINGS on April 27, 2014 at 6:04am

I am so happy that you reconsidered "On Writing". I guess the "Uh oh" for you is that your spouse was right. :)

I am now using it as one of my go to textbooks and am trying not to force others to appreciate all he has to offer. There are those in my writing group who do not read anything about construction and that frustrates me. How can a critique be useful if one doesn't know construction. Oh well, I guess I must only police myself. But I am now happy to have discovered the support from this site and am not so thin skinned anymore. Keep writing.

Comment by Glo Gray on April 27, 2014 at 5:40am

Thanks for the replies, guys. Ruth-its great to hear your very different reaction to "On Writing"; my other half felt exactly the same and couldn't understand why it made me feel so daunted! I've since read again and loved it! I guess a lot of it is about doing things at the right time. At the first reading, I was deep into a huge first novel and feeling a bit (a lot) out of my depth with it all. The second time, I was writing a set of manageable, easily to brand short stories, feeling more on top of things, and I had pretty much the opposite reaction. Funny how you can have different experiences depending on where you are at personally and professionally. 

Comment by RUTH K HUTCHINGS on April 26, 2014 at 6:45am

thanks for this post, Glo.

I have been trapped by this before and have been able to extricate myself numerous times. Reading so much about writing would create such a doubt in my own writing that I would stop. Where you and I disagree is on the Stephen King's "On Writing."  His teachings freed me from the rules and allowed me to create and then go back and edit. I had been trying to be perfect in construction right from the first word and it was not working. So, I must give him credit for my freedom. Not that anything I am writing will be earth shattering, but at least I might be able to cross "writing a novel"  off my bucket list. I do not even have a blog or a website. I decided that all that would do, would be to take me away from writing what I truly wanted to write and instead have to constantly monitor a site. He also recommends allowing your work to rest and this is when I find the freedom to read about construction so that when I do my rewrites I will be prepared. Hopefully the periods of being overwhelmed with advice will be less now. Of course, when it comes time to start learning about publishing that may be a different story.

Thanks for reminding me that there are others who also struggle and I am not sitting all alone in my office at my mac.


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