The worst thing a writer can do

Never read a great book when you’re in the middle of writing a novel. I’ve read three books in the last month (Lone Wolf, The God of Animals and Little Bee). I hated the first and loved the last two.  I was angry the whole time I read Lone Wolf. I gripped the pages, my knuckles turning white, thinking “I can do so much better than this.” While I read that book I wrote a lot, and I loved all of it.

When I read The God of Animals and Little Bee, I felt completely incompetent while writing. I couldn’t believe that those amazing authors used the same tools as me, and yet, with their words they stung together beautiful descriptions and complex characters while I could only cobble together a few clunky, boring sentences. Needless to say, I had a lot of trouble writing while I read these great works.

I had to remind myself:

  1. A published novel went through many drafts and was critiqued by an agent, publisher, editors and friends. Many people helped polish and improve the final product that I’m unjustly comparing to my work in progress
  2. There’s a wide range of writing styles and talents, and the library would be a boring place if everyone wrote the same. Readers want variety.
  3. I am reading for pleasure, not for comparison.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy amazing writing. By all means, fill your life with beautiful, compelling works of fiction; however, I suggest saving that inspiration for between projects. If you’re feeling stuck with your own work, pick up a crappy book. The anger you feel when someone who is not as good as you is successful can be incredibly motivating. There’s only so much whining you can do before you actually need to prove that you’re better.


  1. I love reading beautifully written books– fiction or nonfiction. In some ways, you’re right, it can feel like a bar set way too high to achieve. On the other hand, it inspires me to keep working at the craft.


  2. I find my impatience trumps my ability. I tend to look at the last chapter to see if I want to read the book and therefore never do so because I know how it will end.


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