Why writing is not writing

Writing is never just writing. And yet, that’s all it is.

Once, a few years back, I tweeted this:

“bare bones – writing is use of symbols to express thought.”

But even in that primitive description, other tasks are implied, such as:

  • Determine surface for inscription of expressed thought (cave wall, paper, furniture, sky, computer, refrigerator).
  • Acquire instruments for inscription (chisel, pen/ink, pencil, finger/dust, smoke, keyboard, magnets).
  • Think (produce thoughts to be expressed).
  • Learn enough about symbols (alphabet, vocabulary) and structure/coding of symbols (grammar, spelling, sentence structure) to produce comprehensible thought.

And assuming the intent is to express thought to someone other than self, or that you wish to reach an extended group of readers, there are further implied tasks that fall under the categories of research, review/editing/manuscript preparation, marketing/promotion, platform development, and networking.

As I develop a greater sense of myself as a “working writer” and do more of the work of writing that is both bare-bones and not-writing, I have gained a greater appreciation for these not-writing-things that make up a fruitful writing life. In other words, what I used to see as keeping me from the real work of writing, I accept more as part of that real work.

Recently a friend of mine asked me to help her high school senior daughter (let’s call her “Jill”) with her writing. Jill was loving science and math classes in school, and intended to apply to colleges within their environmental studies programs. But she hated her English classes and was dreading the essays required for college applications.

When I sat down to talk with her, I could tell that she was bright and could definitely string together thought expressions with no problem. And yet for some reason, she was getting borderline grades in writing.

I asked her to tell me about her approach to writing assignments. Blank stare.

Me: “Tell me what your writing process looks like from the time you get an assignment to the time to hand it in to the teacher as complete.”

Jill: “Oh, right. Well, on the day it’s due, I get up at 6:00 a.m. and write it. Then I hand it in that day.”

Me: “When do you think about how you’re going to respond to the assignment topic?”

Jill: “At 6:00 a.m. For a few minutes. Then I write it.”

Me: “When do you review what you’ve written?” Blank stare.

Me: “When do you rework your draft?” Blank stare. Uncomfortable smirk.”

Me: “How’s this working for you?”

Jill: “OK, I get it. I need to leave time for all of those things. I need to take it more seriously.”


I’m happy to report that Jill did end up taking her writing more seriously, she did nail her college entrance essays, and she did get into the college of her choice.

And I am happy to have this story to remind myself that all of this is writing.


Kelly Belmonte is a published poet, blogger (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com), and management consultant with expertise in non-profit organizational development and youth mentoring. She currently serves on the board of directors for Exeter Fine Crafts in Exeter, New Hampshire. Her published book of poetry, Three Ways of Searching, is available through Finishing Line Press.


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