On Writing Every Day

One piece of advice that gets thrown around a lot is this:

Write every day.

I’ve tried that. A lot of people have, I suspect. And yet I don’t write daily. Sure, I have done this last week as I’ve been taking part in the One Hour Story challenge, but that’s been a short run, just seven days of which two remain. Most of the time, my writing comes in fits and bursts, a thousand words here, a couple of hundred there, the odd day with several thousand words, several days with none and a few where a sentence is all I can manage.

Write every day. Writers write, so write or you’re not a writer.

The thing is, that doesn’t ring true. For a start, one of the big things that gets repeated a lot, in forum posts and published books about writing, is that every writer is different. Some outline in detail, others construct a framework and write with it in mind, some others still just start typing and see where the story takes them. Some are good at characters, others at descriptions of action, others have great turns of phrase. All writers are different.

Yet still, all writers are told to write every day. Here no difference is allowed. Here taking a day off, or spending a week working out the magic system, or a few days to just read a good book, is wrong and makes you not a writer.

Yet there are “real” writers who do just that – Mark Lawrence (who in case you’d not noticed from the grand total of 5 blog posts I’ve made about his three currently available novels, I am a fan of) posted on his blog recently that he just doesn’t work like that:

I don’t write every day, or even every week. I don’t keep track on my word-count.

He adds:

My approach may seem unprofessional (it is) and sloppy (it is) and before I was published I was told quite regularly that I was ‘doing it wrong’. But here’s the thing: there is no ‘doing it right’.

So there we are, a real author, a traditionally published author, doesn’t write every day. So why should those of us who aren’t making any money of it yet? Why is this “write every day” thing such a rule that must never be broken, if actually, you can break it and still be successful?

I’m sick of people telling me I have to write every day or I’ll never get anywhere. As Mark points out, it might be unprofessional and sloppy not to write daily, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I don’t even agree it’s unprofessional and sloppy.

Here’s why: there are lots of things that aren’t writing which still contribute to being able to tell a good story, including:

  1. Reading. Everyone agrees: a writer must read. But not all of us can transition seamlessly from reading a book to writing one, especially not when we’ve not finished reading the book first. If I’m actively reading something (as in, reading it every day whenever I can, rather than reading it intermittently when I’ve not got anything else to do) then I can’t write something at the same time.
  2. Making notes. I can’t write anything of significant length without knowing where I’m going; I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work for me. So I spend a lot of time, and many thousands of words, working out what I’m going to write. Some would call this writing, but it’s not writing fiction, it’s brainstorming and working through things. I don’t count these notes in my wordcounts, so why should I count it under “writing every day?”
  3. Living life. Life is complicated. It involves day jobs and friends and family. Things happen and sometimes there isn’t the chance to write on a day, or you have to work overtime and get stressed and don’t have the energy for writing. But living life is still an aspect of writing, because observing what people do and say and want can help flesh out characters. Making note of strange or silly or previously unnoticed things can help with your writing.

So there are plenty of reasons not to write daily.

That’s not to say the sentiment of the “write every day” advice isn’t useful. The idea behind it is that if you don’t write anything, you don’t make progress. A book written 100 words here and 700 words there, with days long gaps in between, will take a very long time to finish. If you wrote 500 words every day, an 80,000 word novel will take 160 days to complete. If you don’t write every day, it could take much longer – years even.

Or it could be faster – you might write 10,000 words over the first weekend, then nothing for a week and a half, then 350 words on a Thursday, then 4,200 the following Monday and an average of 1,000 words a day for the following week, then take another two weeks off before churning out days of 3,000 words, 4,000 words, interspersed with days of zero of 50 or 120 words until it is completed, nine weeks after it was begun.

The book gets written, what does it matter the schedule it was written on?

A writer writes; but not necessarily every day.

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4 thoughts on “On Writing Every Day

  1. It’s true that everybody’s methods are different. But you cherry-pick from various methods until you find your style. To that end, I’d like to offer some thoughts:

    Writing every day, and at the same time everyday, was an important step for me. It’s how I learned to parse good work from bad. Right now I hope that putting aside writing for a week or two when life gets in the way won’t hurt me, but I went about a year writing daily (using the ‘Sienfeld’ calendar method) and improved immeasurably.

    One thought if you try the calendar method (and this may apply even without a calendar): the obsession with word count eventually proves unhealthy. Quality is indescribably more important than quality, so I suggest measuring time spent writing instead of words written, whatever your process. A lot of ‘writing’ consists of staring at the ceiling, letting your mind wander a bit. It’s okay to do that, and it may be a necessary part of the process, even if it’s all you do for your allotted writing time. Give yourself at least an hour wherein you don’t have to write, but you cannot do anything else. This eases the pressure of the word count method which often results in bad prose.

    Whatever you choose to do, good luck!

    1. I can certainly see the value in writing every day – the routine, making writing part of your day. But I think making it a rule, as if failing to write every day means you fail as a writer (and sometimes this is implied by bloggers and forumites) is counter-productive because of the negative emotions that follow skipping a day.

      But good point on time spent writing over words written. Again, making rules about how many words must be written can harm morale when word targets aren’t met, and quality shouldn’t be sacrificed for quantity.

  2. I couldn’t have agreed more.

    I guess it is not we who pick the writing habits (or schedules). It’s the habits that pick us and that means so many things at the same time. It’s the mood, the provocation, the environment and the detriments or the absence thereof.

  3. I am one of those writers that just sits down and lets the story take me where it wants to go. No plan. I write when I know what happens next and stop when I don’t know. I don’t sit, write and think about what needs to happen, I just walk away and come back when it pops into my head. If I wrote everyday I don’t think my subconscious would have time to let the stories happen. My wife always asks me “what’s going to happen next?” when reading my progress and the only way I can respond is “I don’t know but, I can’t wait to find out”

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