Writing Is Writing

Greta Christina posted recently about an E.L. Doctorow quote that says “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
-E. L. Doctorow

There are of course some things wrong with this, many of which Greta points out. There is a great deal of preparation and thought and research that makes writing possible, that is part of the process, that leads to the actual moment of sitting down and typing something. Of course there is more to writing than just sitting down and magically pooping out words.

But there is something about the quote that gets at an important piece of writing, and that’s that until you’ve sat down and gotten words out somehow, you haven’t written. You can plan and think and research and prepare for fifty years, but you will not have written a god damn thing if that’s all you do.

For people who actually are writers and do the work of writing, it sucks to have all the extra work besides putting things on paper discounted or pushed away as unimportant. But for those people looking in, those people who are striving to be writers or who fancy themselves writers, it’s important to be honest: writing doesn’t happen unless writing happens. Giving some importance to the sitting down and making yourself write is useful because it can help shape priorities, it can motivate people to practice that, and it puts the focus on the thing that changes all the other bits from “not writing” into “writing”.

The typing or the setting pen to paper is the magic step that transforms all the previous steps into writing. So while all the previous steps are part of writing, the end step is the defining feature of “writing”. And yes, it is a tautology that writing is the definitive feature of writing, but sometimes tautologies are helpful for focusing us on the important elements of an activity.

So no, writing is not the only part of writing. But only writing is writing.

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