Not Writing - And How That's a Form of Writing

Wait, what?

No, it's true. And it isn't even just crazy bullshit I'm making up. There are legitimate and talented authors who've said something similar to the title. First up is one of my favorite quotes, this one from John Steinbeck.

I write many thousands of words a day and some of them go on paper.
— John Steinbeck

I read that in Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, which details how Steinbeck was just as self-conscious and pissed off while staring at the blank page as the rest of us are. I don't think I'd ever had anyone tell me before then how important thinking about the story can be--I know, what a strange thing to never encounter.

Sometimes your "writing" session might be you, a quiet space, and thought experiments with characters, plots, phrases, themes...just a bunch of thinkin'.

More recently I read a LitHub interview with Patty Yumi Cottrell, who won a 2018 Whiting Award for her novel Sorry to Disrupt the Peace. In that interview Cottrell said:

The period in which I’m not writing anything is the most important part of my writing process. That’s when I’m mustering up the courage and will to write. I try to read a lot of books. I try not to think about myself too much. Life dictates when and how I write.

Similarly, over on the Powell's blog, author Gabe Habash talked about his writing process and how it related to his novel Stephen Florida.

The way that I write -- I have big spaces between when I'll start something. I have to get all of my ducks in a row before I will step out and start the first draft. That's all to say that I had [the main character's] voice in my head and ready to go when I sat down and typed the first page. From there, I wrote the book, the first draft, in 15 months or so.

Walking around and thinking; talking out loud to yourself; literally just sitting and staring into the distance, maybe (or maybe not) in the vicinity of your blank page - I've seen authors discuss all of those things as constituting part of their writing process.  Complex thinking is required for writing. Here's where someone reading this thinks and/or says "Hah! I don't do that," or "This person I know..." etc. etc. - guess what? You do. They do.

Through all the advice columns I've read, the books, tweets, newsletters and every type of writing in between, one thing I've learned is that the entire process is never exactly the same. But a lot of it is. And people who sit down and write a novel, beginning to end, and then edit it and publish it with no struggle, then saunter on to the next--those people are called Freaks (or incredibly gifted, depending on how mad you are at your writing that day).

Writing takes a lot of thinking, a lot of planning, and a lot of work. Turns out some of it can even happen when you're not looking, like if you're walking for the afternoon and just sort of daydreaming. Your characters might be there. Maybe they're going through the motions of something you'll be writing later.

Holy shit. You were writing. That whole time you walked downtown and kicked a rock along the sidewalk until it hit a bump and skittered away--you were writing.