A while back, I posted a blog titled Everything is Writing which broke down how most writes fall into one of two camps when it comes to what constitutes as writing.
Some people think that the only thing that counts as writing is words on the page. They believe that writing is writing, so don’t kid yourself into thinking anything different.
For a long time, I agreed with this perspective, but as I shared in the previously mentioned video, I’ve jumped camps.
Now, I see how my writing is very much impacted by what is going on in my life, both in a practical sense and in a reflect sense. For example, if I have a bunch of teaching deadlines, this will impact how much time I have for writing. Similarly, the books I read or the conversation I have with other people may spark a new idea for the work.
You can actively find ways to connect all of these aspects of your life to writing, but we also need to acknowledged how important it’s for our brains to have legitimate downtime.
Obsessively thinking about writing or your manuscript isn’t helpful.
Our subconscious is startling good at coming up with creative solutions and new idea and how we do that is by giving our conscious mind a rest by swapping tasks or giving ourselves permission to relax.
This reframe of what counts as writing is infinitely more helpful then the punitive belief that only writing is writing, however, even this reframe has a few potential problems.
When you’re first getting into writing, you will mostly likely consume a lot of content as a way to improve and develop your writing ability, your understanding of craft, how to be consistent, as well as how the industry, both traditional and indie publishing works.
You may join a writing group, sign-up for courses online, become a member of your state’s writing centre, attend book launches, volunteer at festivals, and follow other writers on social media.
All of this stuff is great and becoming an active member in your local and digital writing network can be really supportive, but we also need to balance all these external activities with our actual practise.
Don’t let them replace writing.
Let me explain…
Talking for hours with a writing buddy about your latest idea for a manuscript is a lot of fun and deeply satisfying.
We write because our ideas comes with a certain about of tension: we aren’t certain what the story is, who is in it, or what they will do.
Remember, our brains are hardwired to solve problems, and stories are one giant problem, but by talking through your story with a buddy, you’ve largely solved the problem and thus eliminated the tension that would have propelled you into writing.
Every writer is different. Some writers can talk about their ideas before they have fully developed them and it doesn’t affect their progress.
Famously, the collaborative duo Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman develop their stories ideas together and outline the first one hundred pages of their co-written novels — but note that this is an example of a writing team not a solo writer sharing their ideas with another writer or friend.
In this case, Jay and Amie are also acting as accountability partners and they are both invested in working on their story together, plus they only draft one hundred pages at a time, so that the story contains some mystery and flexibility.
Maybe talking with other writers is supportive to your process, maybe it isn’t. But if you talk about writing more than you actually write, then we have a problem.
Similarly, reading craft books, completing online courses, obsessively listening to writing podcasts, attending festivals, book launches, and events are a great way to become a part of the community and to meet like-minded people, but these too can quickly become a trap.
Firstly, you may fall into the habit of constantly learning but never doing. You understand the fundamentals of craft, you’ve studies the writing routines of classic and contemporary writers, you’ve given your inner critic a persona, created multiple Pinterest boards that reflect your novel’s aesthetic, bought a bunch of notebooks, and read Writing Down the Bones four times and On Writing six times.
But you haven’t created an outline. Or written a chapter. Or played around with character profiles.
The internet is wonderful. Seriously. But sometimes knowing so much can actually become a hindrance.
We worry that we’re going to get it wrong.
Let me reassure you here, you probably (see: totally) do suck because all first drafts suck and that’s okay. That’s why we edit books.
These external activities can hinder you in other strange ways, by getting to know people and building connections, you feel like a part of the tribe. You got accepted even though you haven’t finished (or started?) your novel.
That’s the wonderful thing about the writing community, we accept people of all different levels, experience, and motivations. Beginners, professionals, hobbyists, and devotees – everyone is welcomed.
Of course, these activity help build your knowledge and being around other writers can inspire you to take writing more seriously, but you can’t rely on the community as a whole to make you accountable.
If you need accountability to reach your goals, then find a writing buddy, a mentor, or group to support you.
The final problem with all these writing related activities is that they take time: a writer’s most precious resource.
Depending on where you’re at with writing, you need to assess how your time is best spent.
Will a weekend attending a writers festival refill your creative well, provide important industry insight, and forge new connections or should you finish the final round of edits on your novel?
Will signing up for a writing course give you the permission you need to be creative, or should you just get to work on your outline?
While I am presenting these scenarios as ‘this’ or ‘that’, sometimes it is possible to do both. For example, spend one day at a writers festival and one day editing or create your outline (and more!) while doing the course.
Writing related activities can give us the satisfaction we expect to get from writing, only without the hard work, wonder, tears, and joy that is creative practise.
Everything is writing, provided that you are actually writing.
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