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It is ALL writing

I recently switched to typing my first drafts on Scrivener instead of writing them by hand, and the beautiful seductiveness of word counts lured me in straight away. So much of the writing process is maddeningly vague, but word counts are solid and sure. They are measurable, dammit.

If you end up overshooting your target and write a whole heap of extra words, you get to walk around for the rest of the day feeling like a superhero. If you just managed to hit your target, you might not be a superhero, but you get to feel reassured. Sure the house is a mess and you can’t find a matching pair of socks, but hey, you wrote the right number of words! You’re doing okay! If you’re having kind of a tortoise day and you write less than your target, you get to walk around feeling like you are a miserable failure at the whole writing thing and wondering if you should take up stamp collecting or curling instead, and then you get to cook dinner or do homework or something and it inevitably goes wrong, because you are obviously a failure at life in general. And if you write a lot less than your target, you don’t have to walk around because you get to lie on the floor wailing instead. It’s tidy, right?

Not long ago I was having a conversation with my other half about what I had done that day. It may or may not have been a day which fell into the ‘wailing on the floor’ category. I had done virtually nothing, I told him. Probably while waving my hands in the air. I was nowhere remotely near my target! I only got to write about ten words before the toddler woke up, and it was all because I’d spent far too long staring out the window like an idiot and realising that the story would actually be a whole heap more interesting if my main character and her best friend were actually worst enemies rather than best friends, and thinking of various other ways I could change the plot. And then I came up with an idea for a different project, one that I might get to write in ten years’ time once I'd written all the other novels that I've come up with instead of working on the one that I’m currently meant to be writing. Except that I was probably never even going to finish this book because I would most likely die of old age first. Etc.

At that point my long suffering other half turned to me and said, “But isn't that other stuff writing too?”

And then I remembered a conversation I once had with the first writer I ever knew, an old family friend. When I was a kid she read a few of my stories and told me to keep writing. Then she moved away to another part of the country, and when I saw her again for the first time in ages as a teenager, one of the first things she asked me was whether I was still writing. I told her sadly about how school ate up almost every minute of my day and that I was always coming with story ideas and daydreaming about them, but I hardly ever got to do any actual writing because I didn't have time.

She looked back at me, astonished. “But Leila,” she said, “it is all writing!”

Now, don't get me wrong, I think word counts are wonderful. I can't imagine ever going back to not knowing exactly how many words I have written. But I also think that sometimes it can be easy to forget that the vague stuff is just as valuable as the concrete stuff, all the time spent thinking about writing as opposed to actually writing, the random epiphanies which hit you while you’re on the bus or in the shower, the weird scrawled note to yourself written at midnight in the dark because you suddenly had a thought that might just fix almost everything that's wrong with the second half of the plot. None of these things are measurable. None of them show up at the end of the day as part of your word count.

You're a superhero when you write thousands of words in a day, but you're also a superhero when you stare into space and daydream about all the scenes still waiting to be written. Because without the daydreaming, novels wouldn't exist in the first place.

It is all writing.
Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. Bravo! This is just what I needed. =]

  2. I've come to realize that I NEED those staring-out-the-window-like-an-idiot times, otherwise I would never get any plot problems or character problems worked out and I would just be stuck forever. We definitely need to be thankful that it is ALL writing. :) Thanks for the great post.

  3. Thanks for this great post. I probably spend more time thinking about writing than actually writing. It's nice to know I'm not the only one! :)

  4. This is pretty much the best thing I've ever read. Ever. Like, coming out of the shadows to de-lurk, it is so spot on for me today. Lately I've been spending a lot of time brain-writing while I scrub my new floors cinderella style and hating these beautiful new floors for needing such scrubbing and taking me away from what I should be doing (writing). But this post puts it in good perspective. I'm actually doing two things at once during those marathon cleaning sessions! Thank you SO much for that!

  5. This is a constant issue for me; I continually feel as if I'm not pulling my (monetary) weight when I spend a day staring at my computer screen daydreaming about a book I haven't even conceptualized, even if I do so after a couple of hours of paid design work. I have this amazing opportunity to write every day, so I must automatically be failing if I don't put at least X AMOUNT of words to paper/screen each day.

    Thanks for reminding me that there's more to being a good writer than forcing words into the world. :)

  6. Man, I needed to read this. I use Scrivener, too, and every time I fall short of my word count I feel like I'm tumbling into a gaping black hole of despair and self-pity. It's wonderfully freeing to know that everything from daydreaming to tinkering with word placement is all part of writing, so THANK YOU for writing this post! I think I need to go scribble "IT IS ALL WRITING" on a Post-it note now in big, block letters and paste it to my laptop. So glad for the community of writers!

  7. This is exactly how I've been feeling lately. When I hit my word count for the day, and when I don't it's usually a bad day for me and anyone within five feet of me.
    I spent my work hours day dreaming of my current WIP, and find myself devoting most of my free time to creating as much as possible.
    As authors we spend so much time worrying about writing, we rarely just let things BE, withotu putting so much pressure on ourselves.

    By the way, my house is almost always a mess because of the first reasons stated above.

    I also feel kind of great just taking the time to write this response.


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Item Reviewed: It is ALL writing Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin