Ask Jenna: Isn’t reading a “real” book more important than writing my own?

I received an intriguing question from a reader the other day and asked for his permission to share my response on my blog. Who knows, “Ask Jenna” may become a “thing”! If you have a question you’d like to ask for the blog, feel free to submit it to my team via our contact form and I’ll put it into the hopper.

Here goes:

Ask Jenna: Isn’t reading a “real” book more important than writing my own?

Hi Jenna,

I just bought and watched your “10 Practical Tips for More Consistent, Productive Writing,” and since I was way too late to pose a question, I’ll ask it now.

In response to the question about what interferes with my writing, my first thought was, “Reading!”

Writers need to read; I know that.

But I love reading; I usually have 5 or 6 books going at once because I can’t wait to finish one before I start another. My list grows faster than I can keep up with it.

But it also interferes with my writing. It always seems to me that a “real” book is more important, more worth my time, than my own work-in-progress which may never appear outside my critique group.

How do I overcome THIS negative thought?

~ Michael

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Dear Michael,

That’s a great question — and you’ve also raised a good point. Writers do benefit tremendously from reading (I have a big stack of books I’m reading through myself!) — it’s a critical part of learning about writing. But so is actually putting words on the page and struggling through the process of laboring over our own work.

Part of what I hear in your question is the notion that other people’s writing has more value than your own. Why is that? Yes, as a society we have agreed that published works are generally more of an accomplishment than unpublished works, and yet we’ve all heard tales of languishing but high caliber projects that one day get discovered.

But even underneath that, I suspect, lurks a deeper truth or deeper fear. And it reads to me like a combination of fear and self-doubt. The self-doubt is more obvious, “What if my project never lives up to the quality of this one?” and “What if this is never published, i.e. what’s the point of even working on it when there’s no guarantee of it appearing outside my critique group?”

When we ask ourselves questions like this, our subconscious minds love to get busy answering them and providing evidence that they are likely to come true. “See, there’s someone else’s project, it’s so much better than mine. And there’s another one,” and so on. Or in the case of the second question, it’s, “That’s right, I’ll never get anywhere. I heard that so-and-so never got their book published after years of working on it.”

We have to learn to ask better questions.

Here’s the thing. If we want better answers, we have to learn to ask better questions, like “How can I raise the bar on this project to get to the level of quality I want to see?” Or, “I wonder how I can increase the chances of this book being published?”

Then we start getting new, better answers and evidence.

We have to believe in our own value.

Just because you haven’t yet published a book doesn’t mean you don’t have something of value to say. In fact, your readers are waiting for your work and on some level, they’re suffering for the lack of it right now. It may take a while for you to clear the greasy sludge out of the writing gears and get going, but that’s all part of the process and completely normal.

I have a strong belief that if you’re called to write, you have something to say that’s important to get out there, even if you aren’t 100% clear on what it is yet. And it’s important to note that figuring it out happens through the writing of it, not the other way around.

We have to remember the practice of writing has intrinsic value.

Writing, as a practice, not an only an outcome, has its own intrinsic value. Writing teaches us how to write. Writing teaches how to live. Struggling to make it through the mid-point of a project, pressing on to the bitter end, seeing it through to completion — these are life skills that have lasting value. Through writing we learn that we do have what it takes to finish a project. We learn to trust ourselves. We find our voices and make them stronger, and clearer. We learn how far we’re willing to go into the depths of our work and what we can bring out of it. And we learn to go deeper, even when we’re afraid.

We have to learn to write through the fear.

And yes, let’s talk about the fear. Because underneath most reasons for why we can’t write is fear. Whether it looks like indecision about picking a project, boredom just when we get to the end, confusion when we struggle through the midpoint, or other books to read that are so much more enticing, usually what’s going on is that deep down, we are afraid to commit, afraid we’ll get it “wrong”, and afraid to face the demons and doubts that will come up along the way.

Writing is a tricky business. Our inner critics will do everything and anything they can to sabotage us at every step of the game — start to finish, beginning to end, and everywhere in between.

The answer?

Don’t listen.

It doesn’t matter what it’s saying, that voice of fear, but if it’s stopping you from writing, say, “Thank you for sharing” and get back to doing the work.

Let’s not stop here.

Because I always like to tackle the deeper underlying stuff AND integrate it with real, practical, take-action steps, here is something very simple and practical you can do to honor your love for reading and use it to help you get your writing done too:

  1. Designate a time for writing and a time for reading. Writing first, then reading.
  2. Make reading your reward for doing the writing.
  3. Rinse and repeat: Do it again the next day.

Your turn

What does this spark for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

Thanks for reading.
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

 

 

Comments

  1. Love the reading as reward bit. I also realized my writing is worthy after reading a really bad self published book. Once you notice that all kinds of things get published, it’s easier to realize that you can be too.

  2. Arani Yogadeva says:

    What a great question and what a wonderful response. Thank you Jenna! Arani X

  3. Roxanne Darling sent me this link and I’m intrigued by your program. Writing is a lot easier for me than doing art, possibly because I have gotten to the point where I don’t care if it’s “bad writing.” I have really come to terms w/ “bad writing,” whereas I still care if I make “bad art.” I like your three step process. Write, then give yourself a reward. Great idea!

    • Jenna says:

      Courtney, we’d love to have you join us — feel free to email my team at support@jennaavery.com if you have questions or you’d like to talk about how the program works. I adore it and would be happy to talk with you about it.

      Rewards are very enticing, aren’t they? Glad you like that tip. :)

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