I don’t always set the best example when it comes to my go-to piece of writing advice.
Here’s what I believe: You do not have to write 24/7 to become a successful writer.
Due to … I don’t know, things? … I’m writing 12 hours a day right now. I’m working a full-time writing job (oops, did I forget to tell you that? SURPRISE) on top of freelancing, on top of blogging, and hey, to fill in the empty spaces, I’m also trying to finish writing a gosh darn book.
Don’t do what I do. Don’t be like me. Because a beginner cannot, and should not, do this. A beginner should not spend half their day writing. Sounds crazy, right? Don’t you have to write in order to get better at writing?
Of course you do. But not constantly, all the time.
Let me explain.
It took a very long time for me to figure out how to install a “writing mode” in my brain – kind of like a switch I can turn on and off as needed. When I need to write – like now, for example – the switch flips on. I block everything else out. I see the very rough outline (or, let’s be honest, sometimes a blank page) in front of me, and before I know it, I’m writing.
But “writing mode” also works like a phone battery. If you spend the majority of the day in writing mode, by a certain point, you’re going to have to stop writing so it can recharge.
(Just imagine you have a very short phone charging cord and one outlet, very far away from whatever place you need to be in that’s not near the outlet.)
“Writing mode” wouldn’t matter if I drained the battery and then didn’t charge it. I work – a lot. It’s the hustle; it’s what I do. But at a certain point, I stop. I do other things. Read. Watch movies. Spend time with family, with friends. Anything and everything that does not involve writing.
I do this so that when it’s time to write again, I’m prepared. Charged and ready to go.
I’ve built up a lot of creative stamina, let’s call it. The more time I spend in writing mode, the more productive I am in that mode. I can get a lot done in a day. I don’t struggle with the things beginners struggle with because I’ve been doing this for … oh God … eight years, or whatever.
Please don’t sprint straight into your first month blogging, freelancing or whatever kind of writing you’re doing thinking you can write 12 hours a day and be fine. It’s a great idea in theory – think how far ahead you can get, compared to all the other new starters. But trust me – TRUST ME – you have to start small, and you have to go slow. You will get overwhelmed, you will get tired, you will burn out, and who knows … you might consider never trying to get back into writing again after that.
You might never get back into it at all.
Burnout is discouraging and it hurts. I don’t want you to come into this thinking that’s not going to happen to you if you push yourself too hard in the beginning. It will. It does. It’s why so many beginners never make it past that stage. They have it in their heads that if they go too far, they’ll be able to step back immediately and still come out ahead.
Hard work is necessary. Dedication is essential. Consistency is key. But you do not have to try to be a superwriter. We train years for this. We go to school, we get certifications, we do internships, we learn and grow slowly until we can handle this pressure. You might not be quite there yet.
But you’ll get there. Eventually.
What is the right balance? How do you work hard – but not too hard … just hard enough?
Look out for a new post on this topic later this week … wink, wink.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.