Written by A Guest Author August 10th, 2023

It’s Time to Stop Reading and Start Writing

By Ratika Deshpande

Let me ask you a question: in the last week or month, how much time have you spent reading about writing? How many articles on how to open your novel? How many articles on the routines of famous writers? How many articles describing the success stories of those who’ve come before you?

I’m very guilty of doing this. I’ve spent ages reading about how to write well instead of actually writing. But here’s the thing—all the useful tips that magazines and authors provide us won’t benefit us if we don’t actually apply them. The only way to get better at writing is to write. This is not to say that all the stuff you read isn’t important. We do need to learn about our craft, but we also need to practice at the same time.

How do you do that? With the abundance of writing tips available in books and on the internet, it can feel overwhelming to determine when to start, or even how.

I’d like to suggest a mini-challenge you can give yourself to help you stop over preparing and start writing. You can try it for a week or a month and see how it works out for you.

  1. Get a calendar. (I suggest this simple one from Austin Kleon that you can print for free.)
  2. Every day, before you sit down to write, read some writing advice. This can be an article or book chapter you’ve already read or something from your inbox/bookmarks that you’ve been meaning to read.
  3. Once you’re done reading (and remember–just one article!), take that advice and apply it to your writing that day.

Here’s an example:

When I used to sit down to write short stories, I’d often have a vague concept in mind (“a queen married to the ocean” or “an aunt advising her niece not to fall in love”) but I won’t have a plot or even any characters. Because I didn’t know where to begin, I’d often give up and go read more about the craft of writing short stories or do something else and not write at all.

Then somewhere (I wish I could remember) I found this quote by the American writer, William Campbell Gault: “If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.”

The next time I sat down to write, I didn’t spend hours thinking about the plot or the characters. I just took an idea from my notebook and started typing. This didn’t automatically make me a great short story writer, but I got more stories written. And the more of them I wrote, the more I understood how to write them. I didn’t improve because of this particular quote per se, but because I gave the ideas a try. I saw a piece of advice and implemented it and it helped me learn—more than I had by simply reading advice on crafting good short stories.

At other times, I’ve watched a lecture on writing short stories and followed along, then later did the exercise again on my own.

Learning and practice can and should be done simultaneously. I hope this challenge will help you with that. It definitely helped me.

Bio: Ratika Deshpande writes the Intro Psych 2.0 newsletter. You can sign up here.


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