Here it is. The piece of writing advice that really pisses me off: Write every single day.
Lots of people give this writing advice, or some variation of it. Author Jeff Goins suggests writing for at least 30 minutes every day. In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King tells fiction writers to aim for 1,000 words a day, six days a week.
And Ray Bradbury once said, “just write every day of your life.”
Oh, okay. Easy enough.
I mean, it’s certainly straightforward, and I completely understand why people suggest it. But there are several reasons why this piece of writing advice pisses me off.
#1 It can set up unrealistic expectations
The “write every day” advice can make a person feel like a failure — like if they don’t write every single day then they aren’t a “real” writer. I know because I’ve felt this way before. And there’s enough guilt and self-doubt swirling around in writers’ heads – why give them even more to worry about?
Of course, to be a writer you need to actually write. And waiting for “the muse to strike” isn’t a viable option for most of us. If we want to finish things and possibly get them published, we do need to write even when it’s hard, even when we don’t feel like it.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean writing every day. Writing every day isn’t going to work for everyone. Or it might not work for your schedule at this particular time in your life. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you can’t get to the writing desk every day. Just try to write as often as you can, and give yourself a break when you can’t.
#2 Sometimes you just don’t have time/energy to write
Which brings me to the second reason this “write every day” writing advice annoys me. Recently, I barely have time to write once a week, much less once a day.
I realize this might sound whiney or lazy. And I know what’s you’re going to say: that if writing is so important to me, I can make the time. And maybe you’re right. We all have excuses to not write, whether it’s a demanding job or a difficult family situation. Sometimes they’re just that: excuses. But sometimes they’re valid reasons why you can’t write right now.
Here are my excuses: I have a toddler daughter, and though I have a flexible work schedule that allows me to stay home with her in the mornings, I still work what ends up being a forty hour week. Then there’s never-ending laundry and grocery shopping and cleaning and cooking. Plus doctor appointments and researching preschools and managing house repairs. Just today I ended up talking on the phone to the parent of one of the kids I tutor for an hour — the hour when my daughter was napping and I was planning to write.
I know what you’re saying: “so wake up early and write.” Well, my daughter’s been waking up at 5am. So yes, I suppose I could wake up at 3:30 in the morning, if I want to write a bunch of slop and be a zombie for the rest of the day. But I don’t.
“So write after your daughter goes to sleep,” you suggest. She goes to sleep between 7 and 7:30pm. After that I clean up from dinner and sometimes I tutor from 8 to 9. I try to be in bed by 10 (because I’ll be up at five the next day.) So yes, I suppose I could write from 9 to 10 every night. But by then, I’m tired and used-up. Plus, that’s often the only time I have to relax and spend time with my husband. A person needs some downtime, and I’m pretty sure spending QT with your spouse is one of the keys to a healthy marriage.
“So stop writing these whiney blog posts and get to work on your fiction.” You’re probably right about that one, but I like writing blog posts. And hey, at least it’s writing, you know?
Some people with more kids and more jobs and more responsibilities than I have seem to be able to make the time to write every day, and I raise my mug of coffee to them. Seriously. I wish I had more energy.
I do make the time to write, though. I carve out a few hours most weekends, and every day I cross my fingers that my daughter will take a long nap. So I am writing — just not every day.
I know my life won’t always be this hectic. And that’s another thing. My daughter is only going to be a toddler once. I’d rather enjoy this precious time with her than resent her because she makes it difficult for me to write every day.
In a couple of years, I’ll (probably) have more time/energy to write and be able to do it more regularly, but for now, I refuse to feel bad about my sporadic writing schedule.
#3 Writing every day isn’t always enough
The “write every day” writing advice seems to suggest that simply sitting down to write every day is all you need to do to become a brilliant, successful writer. And that’s just not true.
It’s like telling me if I strum a guitar for an hour every day, I will become an amazing guitar player. Definitely not the case, believe me. If I wanted to become an amazing guitar player, I would need to take lessons, learn about chords and frets, study musical theory. I would need deliberate practice instead of random noise-making, and even then there would be no guarantee that’d I’d ever become an amazing player.
In the same way, simply writing every day is not necessarily going to make you a better writer or get you published. What’s more important than writing every day is to be deliberate about improving your skills. Take a writing class. Read books and study how they are written. Force yourself to finish writing a story, or a novel. Then take a good, hard look at it and figure out how to make it better. Get feedback from other writers and learn how to revise your own work.
Some days are writing days. Other days are thinking days, planning days, reading days, researching days, revising days.
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#4 Writing is about more than just writing
When I haven’t written creatively for a while, I feel it in my bones. A craving. A deficiency. I don’t quite feel like myself. But then, a funny thing starts to happen. I’ll be driving to work, and, out of nowhere, the first line of a novel will come into my head. Then the second. The story will spool out of me as I merge onto the Beltway. Maybe I’ll go home and write this idea down – or maybe I won’t. I’ve learned not to worry too much, because even if I let this story go, another one will come to me in time.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe I need the time away to let my brain recharge. And once it has, the stories come rolling in. Maybe I need to walk away from the writing desk (even if it’s not quite by choice) in order to prove to myself that no matter what, I’ll always be a storyteller. Writing is like riding a bike. I don’t have to do it every day. When I’m ready to sit down and write again, I’ll still know how to turn the pedals. I might be rusty, but the stories will come.
And the thing is, there are ways I can improve my writing, even when I don’t have the time or energy to write. As I go through my busy days, I can turn on my writer brain and notice things: the yellow leaves fluttering off the tree outside my window, the cheesy smell of my daughter’s post-nap breath. I can listen to the way people talk around me, and make up stories in my mind about the girl who’s always standing on the street corner near the grocery store. In the evenings, when I’m exhausted and can’t muster the energy to write, I can sit on the couch next to my husband and read a book. Because, honestly, one of the best pieces of writing advice I know is this: be a reader.
I’m not going to tell you to read every day — again, we don’t need more reason to beat ourselves up. But if you want to become a better writer, you should, in my opinion, read at least as much as you write, and read the sorts of things you’d like to write one day. I’m pretty sure that’s more important than whether or not you write every day.
I do hope to one day get back to writing five days a week. But I’m still a writer, even if I don’t write every single day.
For more on this topic, see my post 10 Things to Do When You Worry You Might Never Write Again as well as this article from The Writing Cooperative. which explains why writing everyday won’t necessarily make you a better writer.
What about you? What’s your favorite piece of writing advice? What’s a piece of writing advice that really annoys you?
…interms of the consumate writer, I see this in ray bradbury. The two quotes most often attributed him are “Try to write a little everyday”, and/or “Write a little bit everyday”. Somewhere must be the truth, or he said it different ways. In essence, bakers bake; writers write. My greatest peeve in this, or any other advice, centers on the unqualified suggestion that this is a must. I don’t write everyday. I do write with purpose. I do write seriously. I look forward to writing, I write for reasons unknown. I do not write everyday. I leave it to my critics to decide which days where better than others and which I perhaps should have missed altogether.
You hit on precisely what annoys me: the insinuation that you “must” do something, or that you must do it THIS way. There’s more than one way to skin a cat; there’s more than one way to be a writer (though all ways do involve writing). I probably could have just said that instead of blathering on, huh? 🙂 Thanks for the comment.
I can SO RELATE to all of this. I was thinking about this just yesterday, about how people will say, if you were really a writer, or meant to write, you wouldn’t be able to help but write every day. I journal almost every morning, and yeah, life gets in the way when you are raising children and trying to pay bills, and work on a relationship. I also think the exact same thing about my energy level. I need my own personal time and my sleep, or I honestly just can’t write. I find it interesting that all the quotes about ‘writing every day’ come from men. Hmmmm. Thank you for the blog! It’s nice to know that others go through the same thing!
You bring up a verrrry interesting point about the quotes coming from men. I’m going to think on that one for a bit…
Most men don’t take on the amount of things that women take on, whether that is physical responsibilities or mental/emotional ones, including those responsibilities that are not even our own personal ones, such as those of kids, parents, partners, friends. Even just the way women think is different. I often find that a walk or meditation is needed to clear my head before I can disconnect from everything else I am responsible for, and focus on writing. I also, often, jump out of the shower and race to my computer because something will come to me in the shower and I want to make sure I don’t forget it. It might be all the writing I do that day, but it counts lol
I agree with this one, about writing each day. I read some young woman’s post about the same thing a few weeks ago. I wish I could find it now. Her solution was “if you’re awake, write.” In short, things like sleep and nutrition were secondary to writing. There are so many things wrong with that statement.
I would say the best advice for any artistic type is to live. Have a life. Go kayaking in the Arctic. Go on a Safari. Camp out in your own back yard with your four-year-old. Learn a new instrument. Listen to your grandmother’s friend tell stories. Whatever you do, do something. Otherwise, you really don’t have much to write about.
Thanks for this. You’re absolutely right — you have to live to have something to write about.
Love this comment, “you have to live to have something to write about” So true!
I am not saying you are wrong but personally, there has never been a better advice for my writing than to write every day. It makes me calm and satisfied to write every day even if just a little. And it is so easy now to begin writing, no procrastionation, nothing. I treat writing like work and suddenly, I no longer experience those times when I do not feel like it or when I feel intimidated by writing. I always think to myself – if I managed that yesterday, why not today as well? I do not think this kind of attitude can be adopted by everyone… but for me, creating that habit was a miracle.
Thanks for your comment! I agree that it can work for some people. I think I’m actually really jealous of people who write every day. I’d like to, but I’m just not able to right now with the way my life is. I don’t want to feel bad about something that feels like it’s out of my control. But if you’ve made a good habit of writing every day, that’s wonderful! Enjoy it! 🙂