A Better Approach to “Write Every Day”

Two Cups of Tea by peppermint quartz on DeviantArt, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, http://fav.me/d4ahdt1

Two Cups of Tea by peppermint quartz on DeviantArt, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, http://fav.me/d4ahdt1

Happy New Year!

Happy … and yet.

Everywhere you look, it’s all about pushing ourselves, isn’t it? First came November’s NaNoWriMo, with all the tips for writing more, more, more, writing faster, faster, faster. Then came the holidays, with 12 days left to shop/plan/wrap/bake/revise that manuscript from last month, 11, 10, 9 … And now it’s on to who can make the biggest commitment to his or her writing in the coming year.

I should start by saying that I am a huge believer in having a writing discipline. When I’m in the midst of a writing project, I feel I have to work on it most days—often at odd hours, and for longer than I’d intended (much to the frustration of the non-writers around me)—to keep the momentum going.

And yet, it’s not always human to expect ourselves to maintain that intensity and speed and productivity indefinitely. So with all that said, I’ll also say this:

If it starts to become a drag, you’re doing it wrong.

Best in Class Writing Advice

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to start a series of blog posts here celebrating the best-in-class writing advice that we at Writer’s Digest have collected over the years. I’ve had the privilege of discussing the craft of writing with so many authors who I deeply admire for our WD Interview cover stories. You’d think all those conversations might run together in my mind after a while, but in fact the opposite happens: The best advice rises to the top.

I’d like to kick off 2015—and this Best in Class writing advice series—by spotlighting wise words from two famed writers who offer unique twists on the age-old writer’s advice that we must Write Every Day. Both of these interviews were “click” moments for my own writing discipline, and they just might be for yours, too.

You Don’t Have to Write Every Day, but You Should Do This

 “… Part of writing is not so much that you’re going to actually write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the space and the time set aside—as if you were going to have someone come to tea. If you are expecting someone to come to tea but you’re not going to be there, they may not come, and if I were them, I wouldn’t come. So, it’s about receptivity and being home when your guest is expected, or even when you hope that they will come.”

“Treat your writing like a relationship and not a job. Because if it’s a relationship, even if you only have one hour in a day, you might just sit down and open up your last chapter because it’s like visiting your friend. What do you do when you miss somebody? You pick up the phone. You keep that connection established. If you do that with your writing, then you tend to stay in that moment, and you don’t forget what you’re doing. Usually the last thing I do before I go to bed is sit at my computer and just take a look at the last thing I was writing. It’s almost like I tuck my characters in at night. I may not do much, but I’m reminding myself: This is the world I’m living in right now, and I’ll go to sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”

What they’re both saying, and what I myself believe to be true, is this: You don’t always have to force yourself to write every day, but you do need to make the time and space to spend with your writing as regularly as you can. If you do, it will come when it’s ready.

To my mind, that’s a lot less intimidating than writing every day. It’s a lot more zen, organic, intuitive, enjoyable—and effective, too.

How to Really Start the New Year Right

One of my favorite articles in our January 2015 Writer’s Digest—a comprehensive novel writing guide boldly proclaiming on its cover that “This Is the Year You Write That Novel!”—is an in-depth look from therapist-turned-writer Tracey Barnes Priestley on the real reasons so many writers give up on their writing resolutions, and how we can get out of our own ways and make real progress in the weeks and months ahead. That article, “Why So Many Writers Give Up Mid-Novel—and How Not to Be One of Them,” and the January issue as a whole, is a warm, encouraging companion for the writing year ahead. It’s on newsstands for only one more week, so I encourage you to get your copy while you can! Of course, it will also remain available for instant download in The Writer’s Digest Shop.

What’s your philosophy on your writing routine in this new year? What’s your own preferred approach to writing (or making room for writing) every day? Let’s continue the discussion in the comments thread below!

Wishing you and your writing a great year ahead.

Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser.

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3 thoughts on “A Better Approach to “Write Every Day”

  1. lynnjohnston

    So true about not burning yourself out by forcing yourself to write every day–one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

    The writers I know who succeed in writing every day tend to set the bar low and they don’t force themselves to stick with a particular project if they need more time to think before proceeding. Anyone can write 100 words per day (or 50, if you need to start lower), especially if you give yourself permission to journal or freewrite through problems when you’re stuck on a project meant for publication, or to switch to another project.

    I write 5 days per week, but I make a point to stay engaged with my main project on the days I don’t write, even if that’s just to review story notes or character sketches or research for 5 minutes on the off days. These quick check-ins keep my subconscious mulling over the story when I’m not writing, so that when I come back to it on Monday, I’ve got more to say.

    This is also great when you’re not sure what to write next–re-read what you’ve written before or contemplate your plot outline/character sketches for a few minutes every day, to let your subconscious know it’s supposed to be figuring this out for you while you’re dealing with your non-writing life.

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      Thanks so much for weighing in! Your approach to your process sounds similar to mine. My favorite time to “stay engaged with my main project on the days I don’t write” is right before bed. I always think back to what Stephen King famously said about letting “the boys in the basement” work out your story problems while you sleep. It really does work!

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