Do you have to write every day to succeed as a writer?
No. Absolutely not.
Anyone who tells you that you aren’t a “real” writer because you don’t write every day has issues. When, how, and how often you write is completely up to you, and writing every day does not give you any sort of advantage over someone who writes a few times a week or only one out of every seven days.
What DOES help to determine your success in writing, however, is whether or not you write on a consistent basis.
Writing is a lot like training for a marathon. If you don’t start running and work your way up to longer and longer distances, you will never be able to run a full marathon. You have to run consistently. You actually have a schedule that tells you how much to run each day of your training to help you prepare for the race.
If you want to improve your writing while working on projects and ideally publishing some of them (fingers crossed!), you have to write. You have to train. You have to practice.
Maybe for you this means writing once a day. Once a week. Once a month.
All that matters is that you make a plan and stick to it. Here’s why.
You have to learn to write when you don’t want to write
Hey. You know what makes absolutely no sense about writing, even to people who do it (or try to do it) on a regular basis?
Sometimes, you just don’t feel like writing! BUT WHY?!
Writing is hard. Being a writer is hard. It’s time-consuming and totally zaps your energy. Sometimes you think about a story even when you aren’t actively writing it, meaning your brain is working in overdrive even when you’re doing something completely unrelated.
When you don’t “feel like” writing, it’s not always because you don’t have any interest in it — it’s that you’re just tired. Stressed. You need a break!
And while breaks are ESSENTIAL — let me repeat that: breaks are essential, you must take them or you will fall apart and you can’t write when you’re in pieces — there are going to be moments throughout your life as a writer where you will need to do the work even when you don’t want to.
“But Meg! What if my work is garbage because I do it when I’m not motivated?!”
SOMETIMES it doesn’t matter — first drafts are called first drafts for a reason. Other times you simply have to train yourself to do your best work when it’s least convenient. I’m writing a blog post at 9PM right now. Will it be the best post I’ve ever written? No way. But I’m putting all the energy and effort I have into it. I think it’s going to turn out just fine.
If you want to learn to write even when you would rather do anything other than write, you have to practice. And this means that, for you, the best and most important time to write is exactly when you feel the least motivated to do it.
This is how you come to develop strategies to overcome the “I would rather yank out all my teeth individually one by one than sit down and work on my book” feeling we have all experienced at least once.
In writing, practice makes better
“I want to be a writer but I’m not good at it.”
“I want to write better but I just don’t have time.”
“I want to write a book/start a blog/launch a business but I don’t know how.”
How do you get better at writing and learn how to write things that seem too big or too complicated or too scary? You practice. You write. You learn by doing.
Writing is not a skill you can learn by reading a book, taking a class, or listening to a podcast. It is something you must actively learn as you go. And there is no exception to the rule here.
Everyone starts out not knowing how to write. Everyone struggles to find the time and refine their craft. But the only way you’re going to improve is by writing consistently and watch yourself improve little by little over many years. Yes, I said YEARS. It takes time to get good at something! But it also takes regularly scheduled practice sessions.
Let’s face reality here: These days, when it comes to online publishing, much of an early writer’s success depends largely on “the algorithm.”
We don’t like talking about this. We don’t like thinking about writing to please the machines. And it’s true that if we dwell on this too much, our chances of burning out and walking away increase significantly.
But whether or not you appear in a Google or YouTube or any other online search really does depend at least in part on how consistently you publish. There are too many factors that go into search engine optimization to get into everything here. The point is that you are much more likely to “be seen” if you’re setting and sticking to a schedule.
This applies, of course, only if you’re publishing what you write — some people prefer not to, or aren’t working on anything that they plan on publishing right now. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to worry about algorithms when it’s just you and your word processor of choice.
But in the same way algorithms choose what sits at the top of those search results, consistent writing often determines what stays at the forefront of your mind — and the minds of potential readers.
So does staying relevant
I’m subscribed to an embarrassing number of YouTube channels. It often happens that one or two of those channels go a significant amount of time without publishing anything new — just long enough to not show up in my subscription box enough days in a row to prompt me to forget they exist.
I don’t like this about myself. I wish I were the kind of person who doesn’t forget about content simply because it doesn’t appear in front of my eyes. But I’m just like a significant number of people who spend a lot of time on the internet. There is too much content out there. If I’m not reminded of how much I enjoy reading or watching a particular thing, I usually don’t go out of my way to seek it out.
If you want to increase your chances of more people seeing what you’re publishing, the logical solution is to publish as often as possible.
There are downsides to this, of course. This is where people over-share in hopes of gaining more impressions, or “eyes” on their work. Think of the Twitter account that promotes the same book or writing service or blog post five times a day every day, or the writer who constantly sends updates to their mailing list. There is such thing as too much when it comes to promotion — and to production.
Consistency doesn’t necessarily mean more. Consistency means “regularly scheduled activity.” Can you write every day? Yes — if it benefits you. But you might be better off writing twice a week, the same day and time every week. That’s consistency. You’re showing up and doing it when you promise yourself you’re going to do it. That counts. And it means you’re on the right track.
Consistency increases your likelihood of staying relevant. Of showing up in people’s literal or figurative subscription boxes, reminding them you’re here, making content and entertaining and/or informing them in some way about a topic they might be interested in. It isn’t just algorithms that favor regularly scheduled programming. People prefer it, too. Even you.
Think about how much harder it is to jump back into a writing project when you haven’t touched it in four months than when you just worked on it yesterday. The barrier to entry isn’t nearly as fluid. In writing consistently, you’re keeping your own work “relevant” to yourself by reviewing and working on it regularly, little by little.
Consistency is challenging for writers. It isn’t something you’re necessarily going to be able to handle right away. But hopefully this quick guide to writing consistently can help you start down the path to better, more regular writing sessions down the road. Good 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.