No, I won’t read your story (updated)

One of the hardest things I have to do is say no to the folks who write and ask me to read and comment on their work. In the last two weeks I’ve had five such requests. All for novels.

In the last week I finished reading exactly 0 novels. Let me repeat that: in the last week I finished reading no novels. Not a single one. Actually, it’s worse than that I haven’t finished a novel since January and it was a book I was asked to blurb.1

I get asked to read quite a few books every year. There’s the blurb books. Given that my career has been helped by other writers blurbing me, I always say yes to these requests. Yes, that is to reading the book. I won’t blurb a book unless I love it.

Then there’s all the novels I critique for friends. Right now I have six early draft novels on my hard drive. One of which I’ve had for seven months now. They are all wonderful writers whose work I adore reading. Not to mention that I owe them as they’ve all critiqued my own work. Yet here I sit with six unread mss, one unread blurb book, and dozens of unread 1930s novels.

Critiquing a novel requires a brain firing on all cylinders and lots of time.2 In its own way I find it every bit as challenging as writing. Given that I earn my living from writing, my own stuff gets top priority. At the end of the day if I have anything left over I start critiquing one of the backlog of novels. Though when a friend’s having a real emergency I’ll drop everything to critique for them. They’ve done the same for me often enough.

But lately I haven’t had anything left over. Rewriting the Liar novel has been the most challenging writing of my career.3 The research and writing of the 1930s novel takes up the rest of my time. Who knew trying to understand the Great Depression would be so hard? I guess my extremely sketchy knowledge of Economics has been a wee bit of a handicap.

And I have a life outside writing and reading. I know it sounds strange but sometime I go outside and, you know, do things. Often I do them with my friends and family. Also I cook, I clean, I buy groceries and pay bills. Life stuff.

That is why I say no to all outside critique requests. I simply don’t have the time or the energy. It’s also why there are so many posts about the writing process on this blog. I may not be able to help you directly, but maybe I can help indirectly.

Good luck with your writing!

Update: For those of you who’ve been asking how to go about getting critiqued I’ve written a few suggestions. Hopefully, there’ll be more in the comments thread as well.

  1. That is not usual. I’m a three-novels a week kind of a girl. But lately the majority of my reading has been non-fiction. This is what happens when you take on an historical project. []
  2. Depending on the length, it takes me a solid ten or more hours to read and critique a novel. []
  3. I took on an unreliable narrator and the unreliable narrator is kicking my arse. Mental note: never write an unreliable narrator EVER AGAIN. []


  1. Eric Luper on #

    Thank you for saying this, Justine. I get this request more often than I’d like. But how do you manage to have a life outside of writing and reading?

  2. Justine on #

    Eric: Occasionally I kidnap other writers and make them finish my books for me. Tell no one! And, um, what’s your address again? [whistles innocently]

  3. Patrick on #

    Will you read my comment?

  4. Justine on #

    Absolutely not, Patrick. I can’t believe your sense of entitlement!

  5. Patrick on #

    But I am such a big fan and I read all, well, most of your posts and I think you’ll really like my comment.

    p.s. I am frightened by Maureen’s poetry.

  6. Justine on #

    Maureen: OMG! GO AWAY!

    Patrick: But why should I read your comments if you can’t even be bothered to read all my posts?

    P.S. I think everyone’s frightened by Maureen’s poetry.

  7. E. Kristin Anderson on #

    Man, I think you deserve a pat on the back for all the giving back you do. Your writing posts are terribly helpful, and you suggest awesome unicorn books for us to read. (loved it, btw)

    More ego stroking: I love that you completely throw the “write what you know” motto under the bus. You’re innumerate and write about a math whiz, and now a great depression book? Hard core. Seriously.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on the Liar book, though. It sounds great, and I LOVE unreliable narrators. Good luck with the rewrites – I highly recommend a bowl of hershey’s kisses on the desk. Chocolate is the great motivator.

  8. Glenn on #

    Funny to read a writer doesn’t have enough time to read. Maybe I dont want to write after all… 🙂 ;-P

  9. Neal Asher on #

    Writers do have the time to read, usually books by authors they like or those they’ve been attracted to by recommendation, blurb or even cover picture – just like normal human beings really.

  10. Jennifer on #

    Hah, I get asked to critique mss and I’m ‘just’ a children’s librarian! Some people are really desperate.

  11. Diana Peterfreund on #

    EKA, it *is* great, I’ve read it. 😛

    I also enjoy watching people wallow in envy. Please do not disappoint me.

  12. Doug on #

    “Who knew trying to understand the Great Depression would be so hard?”

    FDR? Practically every economist since?

    And thank goodness for people willing to toss aside “write what you know.” If everyone did that, who would write the zombie stories?


  13. Tiffany Trent on #

    Hi, Justine –

    Hope you don’t mind my linking to this on my Web site. I think it’s one of the best answers to this question I’ve seen.

    Thanks for all these process posts; they’re great!


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