• Joanna Campbell

Beneath the trees



If you are walking through a beautiful forest, the chances are you won’t be counting the trees. You will feel their cool shade, hear birds disturb the leaves and squirrels rush through the undergrowth, smell the earthy scent, touch the rough bark, watch the sunlight change the patterns on the ground. But you won’t know how many trees you pass beneath.



In a similar way, I'm not sure you can apply a quantitative measure to creative output. Which is why, when I sit down to write, I never set a word target. I know how helpful it is for many writers, but for me it adds pressure and subtracts pleasure.


I believe that writing is a continuous process. And an enormous part of that process is not spent at your desk. After you walk away, progress is still being made in a subliminal way. Your intuitive mind is stimulated by the quality of the words you have written so far and is paying no heed to whether the total achieved was fifty, a hundred or a thousand. Nor does it care how many minutes or hours you sat there typing. It feeds on your creativity, not your numbers.


Likewise, when your watercolour painting is drying before the next wash is applied, or when your dough is proving, the work is still being done.


Similarly, I don’t use the phrase ‘writer’s block’. If sometimes the words are not flowing, it is because the subconscious mind is busy sorting and sifting. The creative output may not be apparent, but it is still happening. You might have to call upon all your reserves of patience until it pours out again, but it will be worth it. You’re anything but blocked. You’re full of ideas. They are being filtered for you.


While you wait, you can always revisit your plan, or set out the bones of an unconnected scene, or if you keep a rolling synopsis alongside your novel, you can check to make sure it's complete and up-to-date.


In the end, what matters most is the quality of the words. I would rather create a decent paragraph which develops the characters even a little, leaving them ready to advance in the next writing session, than write a pre-determined amount to fulfil a target. If I were keeping half an eye on a goal, I wouldn’t be fully immersed in the creative work. Number targets, whether words or hours, are not an incentive for me and fail to help me focus on whether I’m managing to tell the story.

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