One of the lies that is often told to writers is that to write, you must have lots and lots of time. The reality is that pretty much nobody has lots and lots of time, so wannabe writers have to make do with 5- or 10-minute intervals here and there. If you are on a time crunch, sometimes the best thing you can do is freewrite, or just write whatever comes to mind, whether it’s good or bad or just a rant about how little time you have to actually do “real writing.”

Good ideas can come from freewriting. Many wannabe writers believe that good ideas will strike out of nowhere, and that does sometimes happen, but to attract more ideas, a writer actually has to, well, write. Then the muse is fully awakened and your subconscious (is that the same as the muse?) can work on more interesting ideas behind the scenes. So when you get a chance to freewrite, you may find that your stream of consciousness holds something valuable.

So don’t discredit freewriting as “not real writing.” Anything that can help you arrive at the next great idea is worth the time spent, even though that time may not be the idyllic (and envied) 2-hour stretch that many “real” writers claim to have.

Meaningless Word Counts

This post was Freshly Pressed awhile back, and I just got around to reading it now. It’s geared to academic writing, but I can’t help but feel that it relates to any kind of writing. The point of the post is that when writing a thesis or some other kind of academic paper, getting a high word count doesn’t mean anything because if you’re just getting words on the page and not focusing on what you’re actually writing, then you’re not helping yourself.

I’ve said before on this blog that I am excellent at getting extremely high word counts, but I’m bad at editing my own stuff. That’s mostly because I tell myself that I’ll go back and edit “later,” but “later” never comes because I find something else to write. So a lot of my stuff never gets past the first draft stage, and because it is all written very hastily, I will in all likelihood end up trashing 95% of it once (if?) I do actually get around to editing.

That’s not to say that NaNoWriMo and other incentives to rack up huge word counts are bad. As the author of this post says, writing just to write can get you into the habit of writing and can break your fear of the blank page. That’s a valuable thing, especially for new or young writers.

So that made me think of why many writers start out with short stories. They gives them practice with getting the words down and with editing and polishing something short and more manageable than a novel. My excuse for not writing short stories is that I don’t have enough ideas, and I don’t like developing a character in the space of a short story when I could have used that same character in a novel. So on the rare occasions when I do write a short story, I use “pre-existing” characters, so I know who they are when I sit down to write.

Anyway, I think what the author of the original post wanted to say was that writing is basically thinking about your subject matter and condensing your thoughts so they can be easily understood and shared. In the end, that has very little to do with a word count. It all goes back to this common saying: “All writing is rewriting.” The first draft is just the tip of the iceberg of revision, rewriting, and rework.

(By the way, the word count of this post is 417, but who’s counting?) 🙂

The Thursday Three #15

  1. I’m reading Encountering Truth, a compilation of excerpts from Pope Francis’s homilies. One of them (actually several of them, but I can’t talk about them all in a short blog post) struck me because it discussed “nostalgia for sin” in relation to the Israelites complaining in the desert. They were starving and believed that they would have been better off in Egypt, still enslaved. Sometimes we give up a sin and feel as though we should go back to it, perhaps because life now feels empty without the “excitement.” But God tells us not to look back because better things are in store. I need to remember that.
  2. Somewhat related to #1, Catholicism doesn’t fall neatly into the “Republican” or “Democratic” sides of the American political spectrum, no matter how hard people try to pin it somewhere. People are always debating about whether Jesus would have been a Republican or a Democrat, but I’ve always found that to be silly. If he was a rebel in his time (and he was), he would be a rebel now.
  3. I kicked my short story out the door today, so it should be on its way to the contest tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of it, if anything. No matter what happens, it was a lot of fun to write and get to know my characters a bit better. I used to seriously dislike writing short stories, but over the past couple years, it’s gotten more and more fun. So I may do some more in the future. 🙂

How is everyone’s week going?