Writing Isn’t Always Writing

Like many writers, I have a daily word count tracker. This month so far, I’m at -1,174 words.

Yes, negative wordage. But that’s not a bad thing. 

It can be too easy to get hung up on the idea that you must be constantly cranking out new words, and that anything short of meeting a daily word count goal means you have failed as a writer in some way. But there’s more to writing than piling on new verbiage.

Sometimes stories get longer in revision, but sometimes they get shorter. Sometimes you realize you have sentences, paragraphs, or even whole scenes that aren’t carrying their weight. That was the case with a horror story I was revising earlier this month. I wrote it back in the summer/early fall, and after having set it aside for a while, I saw several spots that either weren’t moving the plot or the characters forward, or that were muddying the thematic waters. Oh, and there’s also the part where the original ending was kind of cliché and needed to be changed. So technically, new words were written, but at the end of the day, I cut more words than I wrote, bringing the story down from 6,800 words to 5,900.

Another story I worked on this month was in that nebulous 1,500-word zone, where it’s a bit too long to be flash fiction, but it’s also too short to feel like a fully fleshed out short story. I wrote the story several years ago and could never seem to get it out of that zone. But something prompted me to revisit it, and whatta ya know, this time I was able to knock it down to 1,000 words and turn it into a proper bit of flash fiction.

The other thing I’ve been working on is developing a novel idea that’s been simmering on the back burner. With short fiction, I often dive in with only a vague idea and write an exploratory draft to figure out what the hell the story wants to be. But with novel-length works, I do better when I have more of a clue what kind of waters I’m jumping into. So first there was some research I needed to do (and I’m sure there will be more), and today I started doing some worldbuilding—working out the magic system and the setting and all that fun stuff—and jotting down some preliminary ideas on how the story might unfold. And then I shall confront my nemesis: plotting.

So that’s been my February so far: writing that kind of isn’t writing even though it really is.