Monday, July 25, 2005

The myth of writing every day

Rhino head from Ashfall, Nebraska

Anyone can write every day. It's not difficult. You just have to sit down and do it. A few hundred words -- it's easy. There is no reason why anyone here can't find that much time to work on material.

But it's not what everyone should do. There is no rule that says you can't be a published writer if you don't work every single day. I know many published authors who take time off, either in huge chunks or a month or so, or a few days a week. Writing every day is not the sign of a successful author. It's a choice, and there are other choices that will work just as well.

Some of you may find that you work best if you think about your story for a week, work up everything in your mind, and then sit down on Saturday night and write a few thousand words. Others may find that they work best if they can get away from everything distracting for a day, and that may not always be possible, so their work is sporadic. Writing the rest of the time is dull, annoying work interrupted too often by other people, which can cause them to lose their enthusiasm for the novel.

Writing everyday is fun for those who think writing is more important and exciting than anything else they could be doing. It means giving up something else in life -- an hour of TV, gardening, knitting, or maybe even family time. Maybe you can write for a little while during your lunch break at work -- but that might mean cutting yourself off from time with your co-workers, and that's not always good or wise. Some people get up an hour earlier each day and write before they get ready for work or before the rest of the family is up.

If you want to write every day, don't let anything stop you. If you aren't used to writing often, start with a small word count and work your way up. You don't have to leap into 2000 word days. The truth is that your brain probably isn't going to be able to supply you with enough writing ideas to keep you going. Start small. I started at 250 words and my goal now is only 1k a day, though I usually do much more.

It is far better to give yourself a lower word count goal and exceed it than to give yourself a high count and often fail. Continual failure doesn't help you write your novel. In fact, few people will keep coming back to the work if they have this idea in their mind that they keep failing in some way. In this case the failure would have nothing to do with your actual writing, but only in an unrealistic goal you set for yourself.

This is just a game you are playing and there are no other people in it with you. It doesn't matter if someone in your critique group is writing 2k a day or if I am writing 5k a day. We are not you; we do not have your ideas, your free time or your mind. You don't have to worry about what any other writer is doing. You are giving yourself goals just to keep yourself moving forward. Those goals can be daily, weekly or monthly. Yearly goals only work if you keep a short term goal that will build up to that yearly goal.

But the real goal is to finish your work. It doesn't matter how long it takes you as long as you do the best you can with it. Some of us write more than others; that is not a sign of talent, just that we have more time to write and really don't want to do other things. (grin)


Melly said...

Couldn't agree with you more.
Most important thing is to finish the work.
But do you really write 5k words a day?

Jolene said...

I needed to see this post now. I keep wanting to do the 1k words a day rule, but I know from experience, too, that I work best in spurts. I need to lower the daily word count, and generally just adapt it to my own life and wants. A timely reminder. Thank you for that :)

Carter said...

I have had to give up daily word counts, at least for now. I was putting so much pressure on myself to write every day, that I wound up writing very little at all.

For me the key is to relax. If I don't worry and just have fun, I find I'm writing more and better than I ever have.

Thanks for posting this. Us aspirants often feel like we're under a lot of pressure to "write like a professional" and "do it right". It's much better to keep Natalie Goldberg's advice in mind (from Writing Down the Bones):

In the midst of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write.

Linda Adams said...

Thank you for saying this. I always thought the "write every day" advice set an unrealistic expection for me. If I want to write today, I'm going to do more and write better than if I try to force myself to write on a day when I don't feel like it to meet some kind of goal just because.

Kayla said...

I can write every day... but after awhile, unless I'm having fun, there's no point to it. I needed hear this. Thanks. :)