Blogmas #17: Real Writers (Don't) Write Every Day

If there's one thing I hate, it's writing advice ultimatums. "Serious writers write every day." "Real writers always work at the same time every day." "Proper writers never give up on their planned writing time, even if it just means staring at the screen all day." They treat creative writing like it's a very mechanical process that is always the same, no matter who or what is involved. Press button, book comes out. But that's not the case, and I think it puts people off writing, because it's incredibly difficult, and for many people, it's incredibly unhealthy.

Not only does every writer work in a different way, but every book works in a slightly different way. At this point, I have a rough process for how I write books, but even then, each book is different. How much I outline it, how much I ignore the outline, how rewriting or revision works, whether I write an hour first thing every weekday morning for months or throw out a draft by marathon writing over a couple of weeks. Whether I write slowly and carefully, or whether I use something like Write or Die to force the words out and worry about fine-tuning them later. Each book has its own unique challenges, and each writing period matches up to a unique moment in your life, so I think you always need to keep your approach to writing flexible. Even saying "I always do this" can get you stuck, never mind saying "all writers always do this."

I don't write every day. I try to write every work day, and I try to give myself weekends off, and both those plans fail sometimes. Unless I'm pushing towards a deadline, I write far more, and far better, if I only aim to do it for about 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, rather than every single day without fail. But even then, sometimes,I'm not feeling well, or I'm feeling low or anxious, or something bad has happened in the world that's distracted me, and because writing is so very reflective and "in your own head," it reaches a stage where there's no point even trying to get anything done. It's just a waste of time. But then sometimes, I get up on days that I have categorically told myself I'm supposed to be taking a break, and I really, really want to grab a pen, so I do, and it's far more fun than on those "I have to write" days.

I think this all this super common writing advice is trying to get at something important, which is that, if you want to write a book, you have to commit to it. You have to figure out how to push through the tricky parts and develop the discipline to work on the project for the long haul. For some people, that might mean writing every day. But that also sets up an almost impossible work standard that can be pretty unhealthy for some people, even if they do pull it off. Really, the goal is to do what you can do to keep writing long-term.

So if you're growing to really detest writing, maybe it's time to take a break. If you're totally stuck on a plot point, maybe the answer isn't to stare at a laptop screen until willpower delivers the answer. Maybe it's to do other stuff. Take a walk, read some new books, go to a museum. Give yourself some space to think. There have been so many times I've forced myself to stay in my writing space for hours, even though I wasn't writing, because I was stuck, then given up, and had the answer by the time I'd finished walking home.

Nobody else can tell you what your writing process is. You might not even know what your writing process should be for whatever you're working on. Try different things, cut yourself some slack, and figure out the best way to write happily and efficiently, rather than with robotic consistency.

And ignore anyone trying to tell you what "all real writers" do. Maybe that's what they do. More likely, it's what they aspire to do. But that doesn't mean it has to be what you aspire to do as well. Aspire to write the book. It doesn't matter how you get there.