This is possibly one of the most confusing, conflicting, and frustrating pieces of writing advice you will find on the internet (and in books, podcasts, etc.).
Some “experts” will tell you that you aren’t a real writer if you don’t write every day. That only “everyday-ers” can write their way into a successful career.
Others will completely discard this advice, saying you should never force yourself to write. Claiming that the best way to practice writing is to only do it when you feel like it, whether that’s daily, once a week, a few times a month, or just … whenever.
I disagree with both of these philosophies.
And since I’m even more subject than usual to backlash if I don’t state this clearly upfront these days, this is, of course, my opinion. Neither of the above viewpoints are wrong. I just do not think either should be taken seriously. In case that wasn’t clear when I said “I disagree.”
While there are cases in which extremes work to our advantage in writing, I don’t believe that applies here. It’s not a matter of whether you write every day or not at all. And it’s not the kind of advice everyone can, or should, follow comfortably.
For many, writing every day becomes habitual after many weeks of maximum effort. NaNoWriMo, for example, motivates a lot of people to write for 30 days straight or more. It’s impressive. But not necessary.
Because there are many writers who join the game thinking that writing every day is this essential rite of passage they have to master before they can achieve anything else. And they aren’t built to make that happen, they don’t have the discipline, and when they can’t do it, they get discouraged. Many quit. And even those who do manage to do it burn out very quickly.
But this does not mean you can’t write every day. Or shouldn’t, if you’re struggling to get your work done for whatever reason.
See? It’s confusing! So let’s finally clear things up so we can all stop arguing about this and do what we’re all really here to do: write.
Do you have to write every day to be a successful writer? No.
Does it help some people write more/better/more consistently? Absolutely.
Is it bad if you DO write every day? Not always. You do need to give your brain a rest sometimes, but if you give yourself enough leisure (“brainless”) time throughout the week, you should be OK.
Who SHOULD write every day? New writers who want to make frequent writing a habit, who want to start building up a portfolio, who want to get a lot of practice time in or just want to start building up some discipline for when things get real. Also, more seasoned writers who are having a hard time getting their work done might benefit from short periods of daily writing sprints. It doesn’t have to be permanent.
Who SHOULDN’T write every day? Anyone who has a tendency to go too hard too fast, wear themselves down, and struggle to get back on their feet. It’s OK to take things slow. Also, if you’re trying to write more consistently, but you’re busy (like, you’re a student, or you work 3 jobs, or you have tiny humans/fur babies), start small.
If you write consistently for awhile but then miss a few days, are you a total failure? Should you just quit now while you still can? No! Just because your routine breaks doesn’t mean you can’t put it back together and/or reconstruct it. If you just had an abnormal few days, jump back in ASAP. If daily writing doesn’t work for you, try every other day, or a few set days every week.
What are the real advantages to daily writing schedules? I find it’s a great way to practice consistency and sticking to a commitment, especially for new writers. Saying “I’m going to get up tomorrow and write 1,000 words before lunch” is a lot different than actually getting up in the morning and writing 1,000 words before lunch. The more you can fulfill your own promises, the more reliable you become as a writer.
What are the disadvantages? Honestly, there’s the danger that you’re going to try this very tough thing (writing every day) and be tempted to give up when it gets hard. Some new writers just aren’t resilient enough yet to keep going when writing stops being fun. It’s OK if you can’t or don’t want to write daily. You’re not less of a writer just because you write less often.
If you don’t write every day, how often SHOULD you write? That’s really up to you. There is no set “schedule” that’s better or worse than another, and no magic number that’s going to give you any kind of advantage. If you only want to write during the week, write during the week. Weekends work best? Write on Saturdays and Sundays. Want to work one day, take the next day off, and repeat? Go for it. It’s OK to try different routines to figure out which one works best for you.
I know you probably came here for more straightforward answers, but the truth is, not all writing advice can or should be generalized to an entire population of writers. I can’t do it all for you. You have to make most of the decisions and do most of the work. Best of luck!
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.