It's the Writing, Stupid

Christina Baker Kline is sharing brief capsule pieces exclusively with the She Writes community. Each piece is part of the larger series she's sharing with us. This is her fourth piece. See the rest of the series here.

Even if you waste the entire day running errands and responding to "fire drills," as my husband calls last-minute, drop-everything requests (which for me might range from picking a sick kid up from school to reading page proofs), you can redeem the day if, at some point — for fifteen minutes or an hour — you write.

Nothing else counts when you're writing a novel. Shopping for groceries. Going to the dentist. Doing laundry. Carpooling to a baseball game. Making dinner. Answering important emails. Getting much-needed exercise.

Of course these other things matter. It's all real life. But if you don't put the words on the page, you have wasted a day. Because every minute you spend writing brings you a small step closer to finishing your draft.

When you're working on a novel, the words on the page are the only things that count.

But what about those non-writing writing days? Does it count, for example, if you're sketching notes about a character, doing historical research at the library or online, or creating an outline for the story? Does it count if you're mulling things over while washing the breakfast dishes (what if the secret the brother is hiding from the family involves the mysterious neighbor; what if it turns out, in fact, that he is intimately involved in the mystery…) or taking a brisk walk? Does note-taking count as writing?

No. Note-taking does not count. It's a necessary part of the process, of course — like research and planning and ruminating in the shower. All of it is part of creating a novel. But it's not writing.

To get those words on the page, I have to remind myself that I can fill notebooks with musings about my characters' motivations; I can research the history of the convict ships until the proverbial cows come home; I can plan and strategize and plot. But none of it means anything until it becomes part of my story.

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