“If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day.”
This is quite possibly the most controversial piece of writing advice out there. The reason it’s so widely debated is because many people fall into the “because it worked for me, it will work for everyone” trap.
Those highly inexperienced in the realm of giving advice assume that their methods are universal, and those with little experience in the activity or topic related to that advice don’t know any better than to take it to heart.
I personally write probably about 28 days out of every month, sometimes more depending on travel plans. I have found that I am at my best creatively and dare I say spiritually when I write. Writing, for me, is like exercise. It relieves anxiety and stress, improves my mood, and motivates me to accomplish more tasks. It also makes me feel like I’m making constant progress toward my writing goals, which steadies my confidence and just overall makes me a better person.
Because of my almost daily writing schedule, I have learned how to write despite surrounding chaos, push through the pain (yes, sometimes writing is painful), and have accomplished many things I am proud of in the past year alone.
However, I have never, and will never, tell people that they “must” write every day simply because it has worked for me. That wouldn’t just be irresponsible: It would be unfair. Whether they want to admit it or not, many aspiring writers are desperate, and they’re going to cling to any advice that “promises” them success. If someone tells them they can’t be a “real” writer unless they write every day, then gosh darn it, they’re going to commit to writing every day.
This would be fine if writing every day was feasible for the general population. But it isn’t. It can actually be dangerous and destructive for people who are not used to the mental, emotional, and physical toll writing takes on you. Burnout is a hot topic right now. Do you want to know why? Because people are told they have to do something daily to form a habit, they take it literally, they go all in for a week and they completely wear themselves out.
Some take a deep breath, center themselves, and keep going. But many don’t. Many are scarred by that experience and they don’t go back to it again.
It’s like someone who hasn’t done a workout in two years trying to run five miles every day for a month. You’re not going to make it. You might actually hurt yourself trying.
So no. Writing every day is not an effective strategy for everyone. If you do it and it works for you, great. If you don’t think you can handle it, then don’t force yourself. It’s not the frequency of writing that matters, but the consistency.
However, just because you don’t write every day doesn’t mean you should spend your off days with your book or blog or portfolio completely on the back burner. Here’s a fun fact: You can work on a story without actually “working” on it. Yes! I mean it!
After all, all stories begin with a thought. That’s also how they grow and develop, even when you aren’t actively sitting in front of your computer typing out the words.
I’m going to use last night as an example. I had just finished the minimum amount of writing I needed to do for the day. I could have written more, but I was tired — mostly tired of sitting at my desk hunched over my keyboard. I knew I would be much more productive in the morning if I called it quits for the night.
But after I’d gotten comfortable and entered full relaxation mode, my mind began to wander back to a story I’ve been chipping away at for the past month or so. I didn’t force it, but I also didn’t try to suppress it. I sort of just sat back and let the story consume my thoughts for a little while.
I did not technically “work” on that story yesterday. I did not contribute new words to it. But I did think about it. And because of that, I have a few ideas I can work with as soon as I sit down to work on it later today.
Even if you don’t write, you should allow yourself some time every day to “meditate” with your ideas.
Think about your story. Focus on it. Spend time with it. Get to know it.
This is the kind of thought and creativity that energizes instead of exhausts. There is a big difference between sitting alone with an idea and actively pursuing it. One technically isn’t “work” and the other is. But both are healthy and productive means of channeling your creativity into something purposeful.
Every day, make the time to at least think about your stories. When people suggest that writing every day is essential, I think what they mean is that you should have your head in your craft as much as possible — every single day, if possible, even if you don’t actually write.
Is actively writing an extremely important part of the process? Yes. If you do not write, you are not a writer.
But sometimes it’s okay to just sit back and fall into your stories for a while. Chances are, you’ll emerge more excited and motivated to work on them than you were before.
Excitement and motivation often lead to writing. And that’s not a bad thing at all, is it?
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.