What Counts as Writing?

25 08 2012

Lovely handwriting!

I wrote a grocery list and a list for personal care items I should pick up at Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer. Does this count as writing?

Uh…no.

I wrote three emails. I took notes on U.S. History while studying for my upcoming CLEP exam. I just wrote 390 words that I’ll post on my blog at a date sometime in the future. Should I count any of these as writing?

In order to truly answer this question, we need to uncover our true heart and soul as far as writing goes. If you’re trying to improve your handwriting, the grocery list and history notes will help you reach your goal. Let’s say your writing is all about expressing yourself; maybe you’re keeping a journal for posterity once you’ve passed on. Okay, writing in your journal (or for a blog) would certainly count as writing. On the other hand, when you’re trying to write a novel (like me) or have some short stories published, the blog entry counts if you’re using it to build your author platform (See my earlier post about Kristen Lamb’s awesome book on this subject).

I’ve taken several writing workshop classes and read some terrific books on inspiring creativity – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, for one. All of these sources suggest using stream of consciousness writing as soon as you awaken in the morning. Many suggest setting a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and writing for the entire time – whatever pops into your head. I’ve done this, and I’d love to say it counts as writing.

Unfortunately, if you’ve set goals (which I highly recommend) to write a certain number of words per week or for a certain amount of time, this sort of writing can’t count toward those numbers.

Why, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment!

Probably true, but let’s revisit our goals. I want to get a publishing credit so that agents and editors will take me more seriously when I pitch my book idea to them. While I’ve seen the early morning journaling lead to a story or two, it isn’t moving me directly toward my goal. I need to write words that will be published – on my blog, at least.

When the goal of writing a novel looms before us like Mt. Everest, can we really claim that scribbling words in a spiral notebook that we will probably never read again is building the muscles we need to climb to the Top of the World? No. We’d make more progress doing pushups on our fingertips. (Really. It strengthens the muscles we use while typing on the keyboard.)

I’d do way more pushups, if they made me look like this!

If doing those journal activities help you to get words down for your novel or other work in progress, do them. Just don’t tell yourself that you’ve accomplished your writing goal for the day once you’ve done the journaling. Until you’ve sat behind your computer and pounded out 500 or 1000 words that advance the plot in your novel, you haven’t been writing. Even if you cut, slash and edit out much of this writing when you’re revising your first draft, you’re moving toward the completion of that draft. That counts as writing.

Do you think I’m being too harsh? What is your best advice for setting and reaching writing goals (or any goal)?

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