What counts as writing?

Oregon Hiking 2 - Copy (480x640)I think, to a certain extent, the answer to this question is very personal.  And it ties back to what your goals are and where you are on your journey.

Why are you writing?  Why do you, personally, want to put words on “paper”?

And how easy is it for you to write?

Can you immediately start writing the types of things you want to write?

Or do you need to build up to that?

I don’t count anything as writing that doesn’t physically involve recording your words in some way or another.  That means that all of the craft books and blogs that I read don’t count as writing.  Neither would six months spent researching the Renaissance.

So, to me, you have to write something to be writing.  (Not a universal definition, surprisingly.)

Reading about something is not writing about it.  Until you put words down you just happen to be someone with a particular interest in a given subject matter, even if that subject matter is writing.

In the same way that reading books on cooking is not the same as cooking–just because you can talk about how to flambé something doesn’t mean you can actually do it.

Once you start writing there are so many types of writing–do all those count?

Not for me.  But this is where we get into the part about where you are on your writing journey.

On a regular basis I engage in the following types of writing: journal writing, long-winded e-mails to friends, professional writing, blogging, and fiction writing.

The only one that I count towards my writing goals is the fiction writing.  I do cheat to a certain extent on this one and give myself credit for editing time as well.  But I only count increases in word count when I’m editing.

So, if I work on a new story for an hour and write 1,200 words and then edit another story for an hour and the total word count for that story increases by 150 words (even though this involved cutting 500 words and adding 650), I give myself credit for two hours of writing and 1,350 words for the day.

On that same day it’s possible that I wrote a three-page journal entry, a few lengthy e-mails to friends, a thousand word blog post, and a five-page memo for work.  But none of that counts.

For me.


Because I’m not trying to be a professional blogger.  And the randomness I spew in my journal or e-mails to friends is not meant for anything other than recording life or communicating with people I don’t see often.

The memo for work earns me money.  But the type of writing I do for work has nothing to do with fiction writing.  It’s not good practice for being creative or inventive in a way that’s useful to my fiction writing.  Often times, I define a word in the first paragraph (i.e., “…this bull shit (“BS”)”) and then I have to use that specific term (BS) for the next five pages even if it appears in a paragraph over and over again.  (As it so often does.)

Blogging is a bit of a gray area.  I write about writing most of the time.  But, again, it’s not the same skill set as fiction writing.  This blog is me talking.  (Literally, I’m mumbling to myself as I type this.  Hence the overuse of but, and, anyway, alas, etc. in this blog)  Writing in a character voice is NOT the same (even first person).  Immersing myself in an alternate world is not the same.

Now, some might argue that I should write the blog in the same style as my writing.  Fair enough.  But that’s not really how I approach this blog.  My blog is me the writer letting you see behind the curtain and see how that story actually happened.  My blog is not the story.

(Of course, going back to the cooking analogy, people seem to really enjoy the food I cook, but I’m not sure anyone would eat anything I cook if they had the privilege of watching me prepare the food.)

(Hm.  Perhaps this letting you see behind the curtain thing is a bad idea…eh, well.  I’d rather be me.  Too exhausting to be someone else for millions of words.)

Some people also use their blog to post stories they’ve written.  If I did that, then, yes, I’d probably count that toward my writing goals.  (But I won’t do that because I’m mercenary and if I can sell it to a magazine who will pay me and still let you read it for free, then that’s what I’m going to do.  And if someone won’t publish it and I still want it out there then I will self-pub it and offer you a code so you can read it for free while people who don’t know me pay for it.)

So, back to the point.  For me, only fiction writing counts towards my goals.

That doesn’t mean that blogging isn’t useful.  I’ve written 326 posts to-date, so that’s about 326,000 words.  It’s helped me think about the craft of writing and also motivates me to keep reading writing blogs and stay in touch with developments in publishing.  All of that is valuable.

But if all I did was blog, I’d never reach my goal of having a published novel.  (And my new, secondary goal of publishing short stories.)  It’s easy to read about things.  And it’s easy (for me) to blab about what I think about things.  It’s hard to craft a good story.

That’s me.  But I went to schools that required me to write things all the time (that 35-page paper on macaques I wrote in high school somehow comes to mind) and then I went into a job that required me to write on a regular basis.  And, as my friends can attest, even before e-mail I used to send lengthy, crazy letters to my friends.  So writing words isn’t my issue.

But if someone wants to be a writer and they never write, then they’re at a different starting place.  In that instance, you have to just start with putting words down.  Send e-mails.  Post in forums.  (Maybe not writing forums at first.)  Journal.  Blog.  Do whatever it takes to get in the habit of taking the thoughts in your head and recording them.

It’s an easily learned skill, but it’s still a skill to take what you’re thinking and record it in a way that conveys what you meant.  So, if you don’t have that down yet, start there.

And the more you write anything (by hand or typing), the better you will get at it.  I type some ridiculous number of words per minute, not because of my fiction writing, but because of the need to write long-winded reports for work.  All of that experience with typing (of any sort) benefits my fiction writing.

At some point, though, you will have to do the writing that counts for what you want to achieve.  And if that’s fiction writing, that means writing fiction.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
This entry was posted in General Musings, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What counts as writing?

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    I used to have a similar, quite strict, definition of writing as only adding words. However, over time I have moved to a more holistic view of writing as producing written work.

    The first step on this path was realising that turning 1000 words of mediocre prose into 756 words of good prose is more worthwhile than turning it into 1256 words of mediocre prose, so editing is writing – whether or not it produces an overall increase in word count. I wrote a more detailed post on moving beyond a straight word count a few months ago.

    Actually putting words on paper is definitely the core of writing, but it does not work for me as the only meaning.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Fair enough. I really do think it’s a personal definition based on what you want to accomplish and how you need to define things to get it to work for you. For me the place where I bog down is in the writing new words stage. I can happily procrastinate from creating new stories by reviewing something I already wrote, which eventually leads me to not having enough new material in the pipeline.

      Plus I’m still tracking towards that million word magical mark and the only way for me to reach it is to put new words down on paper.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        Definitely, each person’s method must match where they are.

        My separation of writing from word counts comes after a period of training myself to write frequently, when tracking actual words was very useful as a proof of progress; however, now I write almost daily but do not have a corpus of published work I need to turn my material into something I am not too panicked to submit, so need to move the value barometer from pure quantity to quality.

Comments are closed.