Monday, May 21, 2012


What activities count as part of writing a story or novel?

It's not such a silly question. I often spent all day, every day, in my office and not get any actual writing done that week. But not anymore. I recently decided to reserve 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week to actual writing.

After only a couple of days, I realized I needed to define "writing." Does revising a draft count? (Yes, I decided.) Does reading a general writing book not specifically related to any current works? (No.) What about everything in-between, which I named "parawriting" because it's related to current projects but doesn't involve doing something with an actual manuscript?

To keep myself honest and make sure I put in at least 20 hours of  working on a manuscript, I defined the following as "writing" when keeping track of my 20+ writing hours per week:
  • writing, rewriting, revising, or polishing a manuscript
  • submitting stories to markets
  • researching subjects directly related to a manuscript
  • blogging at the book-related blog "Meal Times"
  • designing book covers, bookmarks, and postcards
  • brainstorming
  • preparing manuscripts for self-publication
  • uploading manuscripts for publication

The following, however, got defined as "parawriting" and don't count toward my minimum of 20 hours a week:
  • booksignings
  • nagging magazines that published my stories but didn't pay me for them
  • critiquing other people
  • attending critique groups
  • attending professional conferences
  • reading background for a actual or potential book or story
  • reading books about becoming a better writer
  • blogging at my personal blog, "For Love of Words," or here at "Novel Spaces"
  • preparing a schedule for my writing week and writing month
  • updating my account book
  • writing reviews at GoodReads or
  • all marketing and promotion (except for designing bookmarks and postcards)
  • straightening my office

Now I'm moving my drafts forward, and I'm getting new words down. Best of all, I'm no longer baffled by not knowing where the time I spend in my office goes. I was devoting too much time to parawriting and not enough to writing.

Parawriting tasks are essential and they are legitimate to do during working hours. But they shouldn't squeeze out actual writing. And now they no longer are for me. Goodbye, frustration! Hello, high productivity!

What is your relationship with parawriting? Are you able to balance parawriting and writing? Or does one squeeze out the other, leaving you unable to proceed?

In my next "Novel Spaces" post, I'll tell you about Conquest, the science fiction and fantasy convention held yearly in Kansas City, which I'm attending this week and weekend. See you on June 6!

—Shauna Roberts


William Doonan said...

Great post, Shauna. I found myself checking off your list to see what counts for me and what doesn't. For me, it's the research that eats away time. If unchecked, it takes over, so I no longer count research as writing time. I can read book after book and then start in on the documentary shows, and pretty soon, I'm not getting anything done.

MrsTDJ said...

Wow, great post here. I'm definitely guilty of more parawriting than writing. Your list helps put things into perspective.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm going to try your separation method, Shauna. I tend to start off trying to get the 'other stuff' out of the way and usually end up getting little or no actual writing work done.

Shauna Roberts said...

WILLIAM, I debated about whether to count research or not because I tend to overresearch. In the end I chose to include it because my historical novels take a lot of research. Some of it needs to get done before I start writing, so if I didn't count it in writing time, it would take a long time and delay the writing.

MRS. TDJ, glad my post gave you some food for thought.

LIANE, that's exactly my problem, trying to "get things out of the way" and then never getting to the important stuff. I hope my comments help you be more productive.

Cherlisa said...

Very good post Shauna. Just what I needed to read at rhia time because I've been assessing how I manage my writing time. Thanks for sharing.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHERLISA, isn't it amazing how often as a writer one must reassess one's writing time and figure out how to get more writing done?

Charles Gramlich said...

Now that summer is here I'm going to try to set myself a clear writing schedule.

Jewel Amethyst said...

great post Shauna. Now that I've separated writing from para-writing I realize I spend too much of my time parawriting and too little writing.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, the best of luck with your summer writing schedule. I hope you have lots of fun and get much written.

JEWEL, I guess spending too much time on parawriting is a common problem. Good luck getting back to doing more writing.