Our biggest problem, as avid readers, is our inability to stop reading. From dinner conversations to classroom lessons to social gatherings, the one thing that gives us solace is the book concealed under the table. Nights turn to mornings as we desperately repeat to ourselves, like a mantra, “Just one more chapter.”
We are afraid to put our books down because we are afraid to face reality. We are afraid to be reminded of looming deadlines, of stories that lay abandoned halfway through, of poems crossed out and ultimately forgotten.
We’re afraid to stop reading the stories of others because we’re afraid to start writing our own.
We know the grammar; we know what readers want from a book (because we are readers ourselves); we have our characters in our heads, their quirks and their flaws mapped out thoroughly; we have our fictional world built with intricate details—but our story is yet to be written. What, then, is stopping us? What’s the missing piece?
Lack of confidence often stops us. We never think of ourselves as capable of creating masterpieces like those of our favorite authors. With every chapter we begin, we pause, doubtful of our skills. Perhaps this other book will help me think of a better plot. Perhaps I should try reading that author; I might polish up my writing. And so the cycle continues.
What we often forget is that those same accomplished authors were nobodies once, and must have had their own share of self-doubts. One day they plowed on, regardless of that snide, insulting voice at the back of their heads. One day they decided they were going to start writing, even if they didn’t truly believe they were good enough.
As Neil Gaiman says, “Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.”
Better to write a terrible story with a terrible plotline, than to write nothing at all. For all we know, this terrible story could lead to something far greater than anything we could’ve imagined. A terrible story will still help us explore our characters’ strengths and weaknesses. We could figure out what would work with our plot, and what won’t.
“You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success,” Gaiman said.
As writers, while it is essential we read as many books as possible to improve our writing skills and polish our vocabulary, it is even more important to know just when to stop. But how do we know when to stop, you ask?
Close that book when you start seeing the plot-holes and think: this plot would work better, this character should have done this, that storyline makes little sense…
Close that book when you realize reading has become more of an excuse than an escape: an excuse to procrastinate on your own writing.