[Meet Jeff Somers and hear him speak at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018!]
One of the most innocuous-seeming pieces of advice that writers get is the simple admonition to write every day. The idea here is simple: Calling yourself a writer and having a desire to write stories and books or screenplays or poetry is one thing, but to actually be a writer, you have to actually, you know, write. Too many people have vague aspirations to write something but never get to it, or sit down once a year when the stars align and bang out a few lines before collapsing in exhaustion from the effort.
So, on the one hand this advice is pretty good, because of the two basic fundamental laws of writing professionally:
- Novels don’t write themselves.
- You can’t publish a novel unless you write it.
Writing every day means you’ll eventually have something novel-length to call your own—it’s inevitable. Which is a good thing, so write every day must be solid advice, right?
Yes and no.
Just Another Manic Monday
There are two fundamental problems with write every day as writing advice.
First and foremost is the simple fact that not everyone can write every day, and that’s not their fault. If you’re working, caring for a family, and doing six hundred other things before breakfast every day, finding time and space to write can be challenging to say the least. Impossible? Maybe not; there’s always a way to force some writing time into your schedule, I think, but that brings us to the second point: Forcing yourself to write “every day” doesn’t mean the writing you produce will be good.
The obsession with statistical performance in writing fiction is a huge mistake, in my opinion. You see this with word counts as well—forcing yourself to hit some kind of dumb metric isn’t helpful. I’d rather write 100 words of good material than 5,000 words I’m going to delete a few months down the line when I’m re-reading them with a mounting sense of horror. The same principle is at work when it comes to write every day: Forcing yourself to write when you have neither the energy or inclination to do so is not going to produce great prose. It’s going to produce sad, flat prose, or lazy, rushed prose.
Aspire to Write
I do, however, think that aspiring to write every day is a good idea. Writing every day certainly gives your creative glands a workout, keeps things flowing, and trains you to be able to produce material—which, again, is the only way your book will ever get written. So I should be clear: Getting into the habit of writing when it’s convenient is just as bad—if you write a grand total of three days every year, you won’t get much done.
So what it boils down to is that you should put some effort and thought into trying to write every day, but if it’s not working, don’t force it. If you don’t feel like writing today … don’t. If you don’t have time, skip it. Writing every day is generally a good idea, but it’s not an absolute necessity. Instead of taking write every day to be a commandment, think of it as a goal you can work towards. It might take you weeks, months, or years to get there—time spent getting your work/life balance situated, or simply finding the right approach—but that’s okay. Take your time. The key is to have writing and getting work done be a central part of your mental focus, not necessarily to force yourself to write.
And if you come to the conclusion that writing every day just doesn’t work for you, that okay too. Don’t let anyone shame you because you only write three days a week or something. Honestly, if my choice was to write every day but produce words that are 50% shit, or write once a week but produce pure gold, I’d go with option B. Because it’s the quality of your work that matters, not the quantity or the effort you put into it.
So, write every day, sure—if you want to, and if you can. And if you don’t or you can’t, that’s fine. The only thing that matter is that you write.