The words on the page are the only things that count. (See “It’s the Writing, Stupid,” below.)
That’s all well and good. But novelist Debra Galant poses an interesting question: what about those non-writing writing days? Does it count, for example, if you’re sketching notes about a character, doing historical research at the library or online, or creating an outline for the story? Does it count if you’re mulling things over while washing the breakfast dishes (what if the secret the brother is hiding from the family involves the mysterious neighbor; what if it turns out, in fact, that he is intimately involved in the mystery…) or taking a brisk walk?
Deb says, “I always keep a process journal for whatever novel I’m working on. Today I did a tarot reading for my character Hugo. Took notes, thought about him, mused a bit, saw the need for new character to be developed. But no pages added to the manuscript. I’m at very early stages. What do you think? Does note-taking count as writing?”
Well — since you asked! — here’s what I think. For me, note-taking does not count. It’s a necessary part of the process, of course – like research and planning and ruminating in the shower. All of it is part of creating a novel. But it’s not writing.
In order to get those words on the page, I have to remind myself that I can fill notebooks with musings about my characters’ motivations; I can research the history of the orphan trains until the proverbial cows come home; I can plan and strategize and plot. But none of it actually means anything until it becomes part of the story.