I used to write too much.
And I bet, at first glance, that seems like an odd problem for a writer to have.
You might be sitting here thinking, “What’s wrong with that? I’d love to have to try cutting back on how much I write. I can never seem to force myself to write ENOUGH!”
I know, I know. But writing “more” isn’t always better.
When I bring this up, I usually tell the story of my novel about bees. (It wasn’t really about bees. But sort of. You’d have to read it to get the metaphor.)
In July of 2012, I wrote an 130,000-word novel in 14 days. That’s all you really need to know. There were other things going on, my brain wasn’t in the best shape, neither was I. But I was so proud of that accomplishment, even though I barely ate or slept, barely talked to anyone, barely left my house.
Imagine what would happen to you if that’s the way you lived all the time. Not just for two weeks out of a year. But every single day.
I can almost guarantee that the majority of working writers spend too much time working and not enough time expressing their creativity in different ways. Or they exhaust themselves so much with responsibility that when they do get a chance to “relax,” they’re too tired to actually enjoy it.
No more of that nonsense. You deserve to do good work while also feeling good about things when you step away from your words.
Here’s how to write less … which might actually end up helping you write more, better, over time.
- Give yourself a goal — and a limit. When I worked on a novel during NaNoWriMo 2017, I set a goal to write 2,000 words each day in November. But, unless it was a weekend or I’d finished everything else on my to-do list, I wouldn’t let myself go more than 100 words or so past that point. This kept me writing consistently without completely overwhelming me. At the end of the month, I’d accomplished a lot, but didn’t feel burned out or sick of my book. A little at a time, with limits, is perfectly acceptable.
- Dedicate one day a week to “not writing.” For awhile earlier this year, Sundays were my “do nothing” days. I’d love to get back onto that schedule at some point. I’d work as hard as I needed to the other six days of the week to get everything done … but then I’d have one day that allowed me to rest and reset so I could start all over again on Monday. You don’t need to write every day. In fact, there are many writers who really shouldn’t.
- Remember that you can tell a story without actually writing it. Sometimes at the end of a long week, I get a new idea for a story I want to tell. But I know that if I try sitting down to write it, I’m only going to exhaust myself more and have a harder time getting things done tomorrow. So instead, I do a quick outline on my iPad about the story’s message or its characters. Or I sketch a scene with my terrible lack of drawing skills. Sometimes, I just do a quick character profile. I’ll either return to it later or just leave it alone. What matters is that I paid attention to an idea without stressing myself out too much.
Work is important. But it’s not everything.
And I’ve found, personally, that the less I write in a day, the more I open my mind up to the possibility of new ideas to tackle during my designated writing time.
Don’t wear yourself out. Writing should be about feeding off your creative projects and thriving as you work on them, not letting your projects feed off of you.
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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.