I have always had this problem.
It used to manifest itself in a different way than it does now, but it still happens to me.
I confuse writing-related activity with actually WRITING new words.
But, the two things are NOT the same, and the reason that I make such a distinction between the two categories is that I know that if I don’t, I will procrastinate writing in favor of things that are similar to writing, but not really writing.
The Good Ol’ Days
Back in the “olden times” of my 20s and 30s—when I was a classroom teacher, a political campaign manager, a local government civil servant, a church business manager, an insurance salesman, and a private tutor and substitute teacher—I didn’t have a writing-related business, so that part of life was not immediately wrapped up in my creative work. Yes, in all of those jobs, I was asked to write creatively, and was soon expected to produce high-quality writing for various projects on a regular basis. But those things were not so close to my side-life as a fiction writer that they were confused with my creative output. (The one exception to that was when I wrote a creative nonfiction book about the economic upheaval of 2007 & 2008, but that’s another story.)
During those years, I had limited time to write fiction.
What I found was this: I would spend more time planning to write, researching facts, and thinking about writing than I would making progress on the story. And even when I had some progress made—the first chapters of a novel or the first 1/3 of a short story—I would get lost in the writing-related activity of editing and revising, at the expense of finishing the piece.
This went on for many years, before I realized just what was happening.
I often tell the story of my first—unfinished, and therefore, unpublished—novel as a sort of cautionary tale to other would-be writers or writers who find themselves not making the sort of progress they want to make. I started the novel while in college. I wrote what I thought was the first half of the book, and had, mostly, mapped out the rest of the plot. But I wrote and re-wrote the first chapter so many times, and I never did get around to writing the rest of the book. Eventually, I got so tired of the characters and the story, that I put the book away. For good.
For me, I have to find a way to push on through a piece until I have a finished draft, and then I can allow myself the freedom to re-write and revise, as much as necessary to make it better.
Even then, I have to be careful about not spending more time planning to write than writing. I am a big believer in journaling ABOUT my writing; it is a way of working out problems in the story as I go along. The problem comes when I spend more time journaling about the story than writing it. Or when I spend more time tracking down facts and details than I do making progress with the text.
All of these things are important, but they aren’t writing. Over the years, I’ve become sensitive to this fact, and I’m able to keep it in mind as I’m planning my days, and evaluating my progress.
These Days Are Different
Now, things are a little less…clear cut.
I expend a lot of creative energy in writing-related activity that is much harder to quantify and keep corralled.
In any given week, my creative mind is focused on: a blog post, a podcast, planning new videos or tutorials, responding to questions and requests from other writers, editing and critiquing the work of other writers, teaching writing classes, planning lessons and seminars and talks about writing, helping other writers self-publish, submitting my writing to magazines and journals, reading about the craft of writing to deepen my own understanding, and more.
But none of these things is writing. Or, it is better to say this: None of these things help me make progress on finishing a novel or short story.
In addition to my normal writing-related activities (journaling, researching, planning, ruminating) I have a whole host of writing-business-related activities that are sort of the same, but not.
So, I can go through a week like last week, where I feel like I’ve run my creative well dry, and evaluate my progress and say, “Oh crap! I only wrote 2,000 new words last week, and I’d planned on 3,500!” (Or, to be more fair, I said, “It’s the last day of the week and I’ve not written anything new, I’d better see if I can at least get 2,000 words written…”)
No matter where we are in our writing careers, there are many things related to our creative work that are very important, but they must be kept in balance with actually writing. You may find this to be easier than I do, but I know it is a struggle for many writers. Often, it is a bigger struggle because they do not recognize that these are two different categories of tasks, and that expending a ton of energy in one, does not always produce progress in the other.
Recognizing this doesn’t always keep me from falling into that same old trap, but it does help me climb back out of it more quickly. I hope it does the same for you.
Have a great week, and Happy Writing!
P.S. If you haven’t yet taken a look at the short video and website for my new program, Florida Wild Writers, you can check it out at FloridaWildWriters.com. The first one-day retreat is coming up on March 25th.