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.