Essential writing skills: writing as a whole concept

It has long seemed to me that one of the pitfalls of writing is the idea that ‘writing’ is finished when the last word goes on the draft. After that it’s ‘editing’, which I know some authors view not merely as a separate process, but also boring. After all, the book’s really finished… isn’t it?

Photo I took of some essential writing fuel I was about to consume...
Photo I took of some essential writing fuel I was about to consume…

It’s an issue because, really, a book isn’t ‘finished’ until it’s out there on the store shelves. Everything that comes before that is part of the process – of which the assembly of the first draft is a part. But it is not the only part, and it certainly isn’t an ‘end’. On my experience it isn’t necessarily even the most time-consuming part. The reality, if we look at hours spent, is that the time required to actually draft the words – to have something to start working on – is about half the total.

So where does the notion that ‘writing’ and ‘editing are separate come from? I think part of the issue is the way results in writing are defined by word count – witness the proliferation of ‘word counters’ that even show progress bars. It gives the illusion of completion when a certain number of words are reached.

The reality is that word-count is a tool. In the profession it’s a specific device for defining scale. Editors use it. Word count provides a measure of the space a piece will take up – allowing them to determine costs. For authors, that same scale also means they can plan structure and produce work with proper pace, balance of content, and flow within the requisite length. It is not an end-goal of itself.

There is also the issue of motive. A lot of the people who decide to pick up writing produce fiction, drawn by the appeal of free-flow creativity – of being able to tell a story rather than receive somebody else’s. But once that draft’s been written, the entertainment aspect goes away and it turns into a grind. The professional reality is that yes, writing does need to engage you as author; but it also isn’t a pastime.

If we go back to first principles, what is ‘writing’, really?

To me, the reality of ‘writing’ is a process of conveying an author’s thoughts and emotion to a reader, and perhaps triggering a different emotion in the reader. If we look on writing in that sense, all parts of the process become part of a broader whole.

Actually writing words down is a part of it, but so too is the planning, research, editing, the typeset-check, even the marketing. All these things are essential parts of an author’s work – part of that broader concept we call ‘writing’.

Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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17 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: writing as a whole concept

  1. It’s much like cooking the perfect meal. I scour cookbooks and Pinterest looking for something amazing to catch my fancy. I end up with 12 desserts, 3 entrees and 4 appetizers, so I edit — playing flavors against one another to come up with the perfect combination. After picking out the recipes, then comes the editing of the ingredients; adding a bit more cinnamon than the recipe calls for or leaving out nutmeg altogether, . . . . We edit all the time in little every day ways. Why should putting together the perfect novel be any different?

  2. Absolutely yes to all you say in this post, Matthew. Perhaps to take it one step further, I don’t think writing is ever done. As your lovely post says so succinctly it is a process, there are parameters, and ultimately, a deadline to meet so that a piece of writing finds it way into publishing. I am always mystified at the moans and groans about editing “now that the story is finished.” The comparison to cooking and recipes in the comment above is my approach to writing. It’s a creation and until that moment of publication all that goes into creating is in constant use. But then, as you know, there are opportunities in publications that allow one to write another edition. Spot-on post, Matthew. Thank you!

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Even though, for me, typing the story takes the most time (slow typist), The planning and editing is where the story really takes shape as I clean out the mess and take a polished stone from the rubblle.

  4. I agree wholly. 🙂 I wrote a post about this last week, about 10 things you can do instead of “writing” that actually are…well, writing! Being a writer means plotting, editing, researching, planning, sketching, firing up the muse, and of course, reading. It’s all part of the process.

  5. Editing is never done. Each time I read my novel I want to change, delete or embellish something. It is an ongoing process until I am too exhausted to do any more.

    Thanks for another wonderful post.

  6. I’m glad you mentioned research and creative planning in your description of the process of writing. For me, that part is as essential as the editorial revisions that follow the first draft phase. As always, an insightful and though provoking post. 🙂

  7. I agree, it’s all writing. Sometimes the research and planning is my favorite part because my mind is firing at will. Sometimes actually getting the words on the page is the toughest part for me, and then while I’m editing, I’m free to work like a sculptor as I mold the mass of words into something beautiful.

    1. It’s definitely all part of the process. And the net outcome of all tbe different elements and disparate activities that comprise ‘writing’ is, indeed, something amazing.

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