What Happens When You Talk About Writing Instead of Doing It

This was smoke from the Gila fire drifting our way Friday evening. Fortunately the cooler air over the weekend subdued the fire quite a bit.

When I was in college, I imagined sometimes that a TV or movie camera was following me around. For a long time I thought this was a weird thing about me, weird enough that I never told anyone. Later I discovered it has a lot to do with my personality type and a tendency to view my actions from a certain remove. I’d especially do this when I was trying to learn something new.

For example: studying.

In high school, I never really learned to study. Memorization felt pretty much effortless. If I heard or read something once, I retained it. With the possible exception of calculus, but I had a bad attitude there. In college, however, the sheer volume of information meant I had to work at learning and memorizing – and I had no idea how to go about it.

So, I kind of did it like in the movies. I went to the prettiest libraries on campus. I set out my books and supplies. I did everything I could think of to look like I was studying – perhaps a romanticized version of it, but still – and hoped that would do it.

Of course, this was silly. Creating an external appearance does not create an internal process. That took a different level of effort. One that had nothing to do with how I looked from the outside. It’s akin to the temptation to talk about a thing instead of doing it.

This has been on my mind because I notice writers doing this, especially newer ones. Social media creates the venue for the “look at me!” moments. And the support network is great for staying motivated and not feeling like you’re working in a vacuum. However, writers are especially prone to talking about writing instead of doing it. Ostensibly, waxing on about your plot and characters is giving you a chance to think about the story, but every moment you’re talking about it instead of doing it, you’ve lost time. That includes tweeting about it.

I’m kind of amused by the #amwriting hashtag on twitter. Not that it isn’t a useful way for writers to connect. It’s just that, every time I see it, I want to reply “really, you’re #amtweeting.”

My point is, all of these internal processes – writing, studying, learning – occur where no one else can see, deep inside the locked box of our skulls. What someone else sees when they look at you is totally irrelevant.

Magic occurs in the dark, without witnesses.


17 Replies to “What Happens When You Talk About Writing Instead of Doing It”

  1. I agree with Eleri above. Great line!

    And you’re absolutely right. You know when I’m being the most productive with my writing? When you can’t see me online.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I wrote Sharing Hailey in a vacuum. Only my family knew I was writing. No writers’ groups, no writing books, no FB, no twitter, no nothing. I just wrote. After six months of this I had a novel. A year and a half later, after getting caught up in all the writing support groups and telling everyone what I’m doing, I can’t seem to do it anymore. I don’t know if it’s the distractions or the story. I do know it’s making me crazy!

    1. I think this happens a lot with second books, Samantha. On the first, you have infinite time to noodle around. On the second, you’re trying to develop a real method. Often that means not listening to what anyone else tells you.

      1. Oh, I agree with this comment in so many ways I cannot possibly describe. Because it ABSOLUTELY happened to me. Wrote one book for the personal indulgence of a friend (irony, is it taught me how to stick to a deadline.), wrote and edited the second in an utter vacuum (another mistake of not having someone at least look at before shipping it off), wrote the third not exactly by committee but sent chapters to friends as I finished them (of course the friends said it was awesome and not what was wrong with it).

        The fourth book I found a happy medium of write in a vacuum, blog about wordcount status because it keeps me accountable to myself if no one else, tweet when I have time, and have a small trio of critique partners who’s opinion I greatly value when it comes to editing. I realize in doing my current book– the fifth one– when I blog about my status on it I can’t natter about how much I love the people that live in my head, the awesome things they did today, and other typical overzealous oversharing writer things because I realize I’d be verging into accidental spoiler territory due to this book being a sequel. I used to, hey, I was newbie at the time. But now I try to vary it a bit, with author interviews, tips and tricks, and generally being inspired how other people do things. Like you for instance. 😀 And try and adapt in my own way.

        Speaking of author interviews, would you be up for an email interview sometime? 😀

        1. What a great comment, Lex! Isn’t it funny, how its seems we refine our process with each book? I’m writing a sequel now, too, and it’s hard. I’m flattered that my blogs have something to offer! I’d love to do an interview – anytime!

  3. I usually use the hashtag #amwriting either before I start or when I’m taking a quicky break to rest my brains/hands. But anyone following my tweets hasn’t seen much of the hashtag lately because I haven’t been writing and I feel like a fraud talking about it when I’m not doing it. Probably why the ol’ blog posts have been sparse this year. #wasnotwriting ;o)

    1. That sounds like a reasonable way to do it, B.E. Sorry that the writing isn’t happening for you – let us know if we can help!

  4. Then there’s the whole wrinkle about talking about writing in marriage counseling. My advice? Don’t. Remind all who surround you that it’s not just magic that can happen in the dark when no witnesses are around.

  5. Yes…I find that the more I’m talking about writing, the less I’m doing. 🙁

    And this is such a solitary process. I think, in many ways, it’s meant to be. It’s very easy to get distracted and words slip away.

  6. I usually use #amwriting after I’ve already met my daily goals, and it feels rewarding to catch up with other people who might be doing the same thing. So maybe I should use #justwrote instead, but I don’t think I’d find much company there.

    And then of course, sometimes it’s nice to “check in” to twitter with #amwriting before you begin. It creates a sense of accountability, which can be motivating, as I’m not about to tell my peeps I #amwriting and then go make a sandwich.

    1. I like your idea of #justwrote, Christine! We should totally start a trend.

      But you’re right about the sense of accountability – that’s the best aspect of the community.

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