Thursday, January 28, 2010

What is Writing?

This might sound like a rather obvious question, but for someone who tortures themselves trying to squeeze some writing time out of life between all the various other fires that need putting out, it’s a pretty important question.

Is staring into space while musing over the plot of your latest bestseller writing? Is editing writing? Is proof-reading writing?

Australian author Louise Cusack describes editing as ‘creative bookkeeping’, and views it separately to ‘writing’ – at least in so far as the personal resources required to achieve it.

If you give yourself a daily word target of say – 500 or 1000 words – what happens to that target when you have to spend your precious writing time editing your latest piece to send out?

Personally I think its all valid. Everything from daydreaming a weird characteristic of you latest pet character to scribbling notes about a key plot point on the back of the nearest piece of cardboard. There is a famous story about Red Dwarf; how the original writers came up with the idea in a pub. They kept the original beer-coaster that they scribbled their ideas on and there was actually a picture of it in the back of one of the Red Dwarf books I read.

I think its dangerous to rate the creative process. Who knows when that five minutes of daydreaming will actually provide the core of the next best thing since Stephanie Meyer/JK Rowling?

Having said that, I think new writing – where its just you and the blank page and you are dragging words out of nowhere to create something new – uses a unique psychic muscle. Editing, where you are not just proof reading but actually concentrating on the writing craft and structure, also uses something close, but its like a light warm up Vs bench training. If you really want to build that writing muscle, you have to spend time first drafting.

So what you think? What is writing? Do you change your goals and targets when you switch from first drafting to editing?


Anonymous said...

It's all writing, even though it uses at least three different mental attitudes.

The staring into space, mummbling to oneself, doodling part is in many ways to only one that is essential. I mean, you could always hire someone to do the editing.

One of my more frustrating jobs involved a Boss who didn't understand that staring into space, or doodling really was working. I think he's the entire reason it was so easy for me to quit when the first kid arrived. So I shouldn't complain too badly.

I suppose one could get technical about it, and count only the words being put on paper as "writing" but the story starts in your head, as do characters and the problem they've got to solve. And if you call writing a craft, well, crafts turn out finished and usable products, and without the editing, all those words are greenware on the shelf, waiting for the kiln, several critical steps away from being useful to anyone.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, I don't think you can hire someone to edit.

You can hire them to proof read or to give you feedback. But to me, the edit is when you take a look at your 'gem' and do some more polish, chipping back things, shining other bits, adding layers for depth, etc. It is a refined level of writing and uses different parts of the brain.

Editing is easier for me, because I already know the characters and the world.

First draft is much harder, especially with a lot of interruptions. It is hard to keep the momentum up, creating new all the time, when you have to slip back into world and characters that aren't there yet.

I'm in the middle of first draft right now and I did 10 pages today. Pat on back.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. That's a nice way of dissecting the issue - focussing on what is essential for you to do. In that way I guess the core ideas - and the daydreaming - are vital.

Hey - that makes me feel so much better:)

Chris McMahon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Rowena. Ten pages is pretty good.

On some level its all pretty academic, since every part of the process does need to be done.

Some authors are happy to pass editing to others (I have heard comments at panels like 'that's what editors are for'. Always sends a shiver down my spine). I am a little uncomfortable with that. I like to do my own edits.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah. I do my own editing, and as much of the proof reading as I can stand.

But in theory, someone else could fix all that.

Mind you, it might not bear a whole lot of resemblance to what you had in mind at the start, if the whole plot and story need massive editing (Looks in Mirror). But I'm sure the story I eventually flounder around writing will be better than theirs.;)

Ten pages, Rowena, excellent! I just had a conceptual break through and can now stop beating my head on the wall. Not many words on paper, but the ones already there are in for a massive bashing, now. [Oh, of course! Duh! All those early battles are Learning Experiences, so they have to lose them, and build up to the Big Battle. I feel like I need to go back to kindergarten on this one.]

Amanda said...

Great post, Chris. Writing, to me, is the entire creative process. It includes when I'm outside repairing the fence or working on the sprinkler system because I'm also thinking about whatever plot problem is currently hanging me up. It's the actual pounding of the keys -- yes, I'm convinced that the harder I pound, the better the words will be, much to the terror of any keyboard unfortunate enough to land on my desk. And, much as I hate editing and feel it is nothing short of torture, that is also writing because you still have to have the creative hat on even as you try to look at what's been written with a critical eye.

I've tried the write X-number of words a day and have failed miserably. Either that or the words are so bad they need to find their way to the waste bin posthaste. What I've settled on is trying to write every day, even if it's only a few hundred words. That seems to take one additional stress off. That said, when I put on my editor's hat, I do give myself a deadline. Otherwise, I either over-edit or procrastinate to the point it never gets done.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. I go give myself overall deadlines, although I inevitably slip as real life pushes me sideways.

Strangely, I have never worked to a word target. I tend to give myself an aim to work a certain amount of time a day, and I might say at least half an hour of this might be new writing. That's tough to achiev though, since I need to do a lot of thinking about what I am going to write before I write it! Like trying to empty the sea with a bucket with a hole in it.

Kate said...

I think to some extent for writers everything is writing. There's always what could be called research in the form of observation and experience (how often have you thought 'That's interesting. I must remember this for the next book'),

Then there's the more focused daydreaming of playing plot options and character scenarios through in your head, a lot of it nailing down the plot and characters along the way.

The actual commit wordage to page/file is essential, since without that bit, the rest of it ceases to be writing and becomes just daydreaming, futzing around, or whatever.

When I'm in the idea consolidation phase, there's a lot of targeted daydreaming (the targets don't like it very much). That usually ends up interleaving with the writing during the draft phase, as I'm mentally playing out a chapter or so ahead of where I'm writing when I'm not actually generating wordage.

Editing is also part of the whole - when I'm in that phase, I'm usually even more focused, mostly on what a section needs to accomplish and making the adjustments to point things that way. I've actually had a short story change subtly - but significantly - because I changed one word.

I guess these days marketing and the like count too, since all of it goes to the business of writing. Although I've got to say, I'd really rather let someone else do that part. There might be people out there who are worse at promotion and marketing than I am, but there can't be many of them.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. It sounds like you also tend to focus on one thing. I know I should be doing all of it all the time, but I tend to like to plot, then write, then edit etc.

Does anyone actually like marketing? It seems the personality required is the opposite of that required for a writer. Trying to marry the two is certainly a challenge!

I would certainly not say no to someone doing the marketing side for me. As it is I haven't updated my website for almost a year ... dang. Now I've gone and remided myself.

All the best, mate.

D. Antone said...

Chris, perhaps I am one of the few who likes marketing. It doesn't hurt that I do freelance marketing and web design for a living. I had a great time creating my website and other promotional materials for my books. I find that if they look professional enough, people actually think I'm already published.

It hasn't gotten me a book deal yet, but I don't think it's hurting.

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you "What is Writing," but I can tell you "What is Love":

Baby don't hurt me
Don't hurt me
no more