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Ask the Agony Editor: Stop procrastinating and get writing

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Dear Agony Editor,

Brian Francis

(illustration: Evan Munday)

I read a lot. I think being familiar with other writing and paying attention to their craft can benefit my own work, but sometimes I wonder if I read too much. When I have to choose between reading or writing, I frequently choose reading, because other writers’ plots always seem more compelling than mine. So, my question is, as a wannabe writer, is it possible to read too much?

Signed,
Lost in a Literary Landscape

Dear Lost,

It’s a fact that most writers find their own work more interesting than anyone else’s. So if you find other people’s writing more interesting than yours, that’s a problem. There’s an easy fix, though. Go to book launches and talk about your work as much as possible. Take your laptop to Starbucks and laugh as you type. Stop every now and then to dab your eyes. Sit back in your chair and shake your head like even you can’t believe you wrote something so profound.

To answer your question, yes, there is such a thing as reading too much. But I don’t blame you. Advice to emerging writers is usually to read, read, read in order to become a good writer. What many emerging authors don’t realize is that by the time a novel is published it’s been worked over by a team of people. I’m talking the editor, the copy editor, the sales team, the receptionist,
the intern, and the guy who delivers the Tassimo coffee pods. So what you’re seeing is the finely tuned result of a collaborative
effort. That said, it sounds like your reading habits have more to do with procrastination than inspiration. My advice? Read bad books. When I was struggling with my own writing, I’d purposely read terrible books. Like too-awful-to-line-the-birdcage-with books. My reason for reading them was that crappy books made me angry. I could write circles around these people. And if they found a way to become published authors, surely there was hope for me. There’s hope for you, too. Get angry. And then get writing.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.