Reading is not writing – 4 things I learned writing fiction

Seems obvious that reading isn’t writing, no? But when I started on this journey three months ago, I had never really given it any thought.

The second week of March I just decided I would spend some time writing stories. It was something I always wanted to give a try, and as I’m taking a couple of months leave from work, it was the perfect moment for me.

I had this idea for a story, so I just sat down and started writing, and as I started to dig deeper in the world of fiction writing, it wasn’t long before I learned a couple of things, all of them obvious, in hindsight 🙂

A story requires a plot

Which is not the same as a general idea and not just some nice scenes stitched together either. Going from your story idea to an overall nice and consistent plot requires a lot more work than you’d think at first, and it’s something you run in to very quickly once you start writing.

In your mind everything makes sense and is easily connected, that changes once you put it down on paper and notice the “details”. I already ranted about my struggles with plot outlines and you can surely expect more posts about story plots in the future.

A story requires settings, characters, consistent world view

You don’t pay explicit attention to any of these as a reader (at least I don’t), but that’s probably because in most novels the author DID pay a lot of attention to it. Because as a writer, you have to.

It’s not because you think up an entirely fictional world that it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s not because you give a character a cute name that readers can identify with her. It’s not because you say it’s a smelly office that people can envision it.

You need to think it through in more detail. I have very unsharp images in my head about my characters and settings, I need to get them sharp so I can write them down more clearly. That’s a whole lot easier said then done, and after that I still have to “show, don’t tell” it to the reader, which brings me to the next thing I learned…

Dialogue is not descriptive writing

The best showing instead of telling has a good balance between dialogue and descriptive writing. Dialogues come pretty easy to me, I literally see them play out as I write them and I enjoy writing them.

Descriptive writing on the other hand… let’s just say I have a lot to learn in that department. I speak to people all the time but I don’t try to describe what I see everyday, let alone evoke emotions through words. My English is not too bad, but proactively finding the right vocabulary to describe a scene probably requires a different part of my brain. One I need to exercise a lot more.

Writing it does not mean anyone will read it

This was a real eye-opener for me.

I’ve never paid much attention to world of writing novels or self publishing. I don’t read all that much (unlike my wife) and I’m not very original in my reading either. When I go to a bookstore then yes, there’s a lot of books, but some twisted corner of my mind just assumed there were maybe a couple of hundreds or lower thousands of novel authors out there…

Yeah, that’s not really how it is, I had just never actually gave it any thought 🙂

Self-publishing a book is easy, you can even create your own paperbacks with Amazon, so a lot of people are doing it. And then there’s sites like Wattpad which contain thousands and thousands of freely available stories, most of which might never be published as a book (physical or ebook), but some of which are undoubtedly gold in their own right.

Just writing something, putting it out there and thinking anyone will read it is like playing the lottery. It’s not because you liked writing it that anyone will like reading it, not even if you invested years of your life. You are competing with thousands and thousands of other authors for the reader’s attention and if you really want to get your stories out, you’ll have to do more than just write them.

Just think of the largest bookstore you ever visited and do it times a hundred, a thousand even. Now imagine your thin little booklet of a story is somewhere in there… how are you going to help people find it? I’m not talking about becoming a huge success, I’m just talking about having a single person read it!

This is probably the most confronting and disheartening aspect for anyone starting to write and wanting to get read. It shouldn’t stop you, obviously, but if you have the ambition of writing as a profession (which – for the record – I don’t), you should really be aware of it.


I’m still at the start of my journey and these are just four things that spring to mind right now. Luckily there’s a lot of help for newbie authors as well, websites like novel-writing-help.com and writers helping writers, or social communities on Wattpad and Twitter, and many many more.

Ever since dabbling with writing stories it’s like I stepped into a new world I didn’t know existed… one I’m slowly getting to know a little better 🙂

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