Saturday, May 9, 2009

Is non-writing ever writing?

By "non-writing" I mean any activity that does not add to the word count of a work in progress.

I like daydreaming about my characters. I like to look things up on the internet, even if they are only marginally related to my story. I like to look for character names in my old baby name books. I like to take to take Google street-view tours of distant cities. (Hey, it's educational!) I like to make cloud diagrams in notebooks. I like to keep a pen and notebook nearby at all times, you know, just in case. I like to browse through books on Amazon, and authors' websites, even when I have not read their book. And I especially like to pretend that these activities further the progress my writing.

Yes, I like to think that they do, even though I know, in my heart of hearts, that they do not.

For me, planning is not writing. Research is not writing. Diagramming and scribbling notes are not writing. Dreaming is not writing. Blogging about writing is not writing. And thinking about writing is definitely not writing. The only thing that is writing is when I am sitting in front of my computer tying words in Word, and with my internet browser closed.

I don't know how it works for others, but for me, even writing with pen on paper is not really writing, either. To really and truly write, I have to use my computer. And the obvious problem with this, of course, is that internet is exactly one click away at all times. Real writing is hard work. And the constant siren-call of the internet is very tempting. Very, very. (The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak!)

Anyway, here is the imperfect and partial solution I use to keep myself focused on writing in the face of this enormous temptation.

I bargain with myself. Little things. I'll decide, for example, that today I have to write for one hour before I can check my email. Or maybe, I have to write for two hours before I can check any blogs, mine or anyone else's. Three hundred words might equal one coffee re-fill, or eight hundred words might mean lunch.

Oftentimes, just getting started is the hardest part of the writing day, and somehow, knowing these little rewards are coming makes it easier to begin the work. After getting started, if I've managed to establish some momentum, then I'll forget forget about the coffee, or the website I wanted to check out, or whatever it was that was so tempting initially.

It's silly, I know, but it works. Usually.

I'd like to hear from other writers. How do you keep yourself writing, when there are so many easier things you could be doing?


  1. I try to bargain with myself, but I've found I am very stubborn. I do try to to do things to get to a certain point in my WIP. Sometimes this consists of not being able to pick up a book I am reading until I've written two more pages. And other times I make myself complete an entire chapter. Often times, though, writing is just fun and I don't have to have to be so pushy.

    For the record, though, I consider daydreaming about my WIP as making progress in my novel. When I work through scenes in my mind, it is so much easier to get the words on paper and then I find I can sit down and just start writing instead of staring at a blank screen for twenty minutes wondering where to start.

  2. Many thanks for sharing the experience, which I really appreciated. I am new comer in this field, and I do agree to begin is the hardest part in any task, not only writing.

  3. If it's a hard start I'll offer myself some small reward every couple hundred words. But yes, I count outlining and researching all a part of the writing process.

  4. I love all the nonwriting things you do. I was thinking that you were going to say those all count for you, but then it turned out to be the opposite. Ouch, that really hurt, because I count all those types of things.

    To each their own, but here's why I count all those nonwriting things as valuable (as valuable as writing), whether or not I label them as writing.

    The bottom line is that I am incredibly busy. I can't keep up with all of my goals. I have so many that I truly care about. I think that I would get really depressed if I didn't count all the nonwriting writing things.

    But, I think there is more to it than just that. Pictures, research, talking writing, thinking about what makes a movie work, sketching ideas, thinking on a wondering walk ... all those things do something. If I was to approach a blank page without having done all those things, I might not have the mental momentum built up.

    At any rate, I admire how many short stories you have published. Your discipline must be paying off. I recently read a fantasy story of yours about a woman of little magic. I loved the ending and the imagery. People talk about liking or not liking fantasy. Well, I like it, at least that kind.

  5. I work with horses, which for anyone who doesn't know much about horses, is very much like herding eleven hundred pound three year old children around. They get into everything. Needless to say, my day might be sedate, or it might not end until the wee hours. It just depends.

    As far as writing goes, I daydream. A lot. I might write obsessively for days on end, but then I've got to get my wind back. Which usually involves daydreaming. Either about the book I'm working on, or other story ideas, or other stories I'm working on, even though they're stories that likely will never be public-worthy.

    I suppose because my life is so hectic, I don't have trouble buckling down to write. By the time I get the time, I'm so desperate to get what's in my head out on the paper that there's no stopping me. I do always have a little notebook on hand. I got tired of having notes written all over my hands and forearms. I will write on ANYTHING when I have something important to remember.

    Maybe when I'm published and able to write more as a job, it won't be so easy, so maybe I shouldn't crave success so much. But I'll gladly pay the price...

  6. I walk a fine line between the craft of writing and the creative process involved in many "non-writing" activities. While daydreaming, observing, wandering all contribute to my writing in essential ways, these activities are distinct from what happens when I actually sit down and put word to page. But I couldn't write without the dreaming and sometimes when I get stuck I little time gazing at the clouds or moon gets me back on track.


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