When Not Writing is Writing

Living as a Writer Series

This topic came up several times this week; probably as people get ready for #NaNoWriMo. A question like: if I go for a walk but think about my characters, can I count that as writing? Or: I’m reading about writing so that counts too, right?

Yes. Reading about writing, thinking about your characters, plot, or story while doing anything else is writing.

Writers get so hung up on counting words to judge how much work they’ve accomplished, perhaps because of #NaNoWriMo and its focus on words per day. But that only works for one phase of the writing process; the building/creating or additive phase which is the core of NaNo. Even then measuring how many chapters you have completed might be a better measure depending on the book you’re writing.

In the editing phase you could count how many words you removed, or sentences you edited.

But writing a story or a poem is not just about how many words. The process includes thinking about the story. You can’t measure that unless you’re counting how many hours you spend pondering. Writers need to think long and deeply about their stories—even when the story is not in front of them. Yes walking, jogging, showering, or sitting on a park bench deeply considering your story counts as writing.

Inspiration is the writer’s most important skill. Yes, it’s a skill to find, recognize, and form inspiration into story. Like all skills it takes practice. Reading, hiking, travel, whatever gets your creative juices going is part of writing.

Reading about craft, or attending a workshop or conference is also writing. As writers, the process consumes us. That may sound obsessive and unhealthy (and sometimes, like any demanding job, it can be) but so much of writing is internalizing what we experience or observe others experiencing. Then we can relate those experiences and emotions authentically through story.

Don’t feel guilty about time spent away from the computer or page. We write all the time. It’s all good.


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