The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.
It is a misconception that you can’t succeed as a writer if you don’t write every day.
I’ve encountered far too many writing “experts” over the years who claim that daily writing is the “only” way it can be done. There’s nothing wrong with the idea that writing every day can provide major benefits to those who put it into practice. It’s just that implying there is only one way to do it “right” is pretty silly.
Here’s the thing about writing advice: It’s complicated. Sites and blogs like mine put a lot of effort into catering their tips and suggestions to the masses when a writing or productivity strategy is really up to personal preference. Every individual finds success in writing in very different ways.
I, for example, spent the past year writing almost every single day — I think I may have taken the equivalent of a week’s worth of days off, but not all in a row, and sometimes not on purpose. I accomplished a lot, writing-wise, in 2019. I couldn’t have done what I did without a(n almost) daily writing strategy.
But I would never tell someone they HAD to do what I did if they wanted to find success with their own words.
However … that doesn’t mean I won’t suggest that some people — beginning writers in particular — can’t benefit from this practice in a big way.
Let me break it down for you.
At the beginning of 2020, I started learning how to play the violin. I know this doesn’t have much to do with writing, but it does have everything to do with starting something new. Which is why this series (welcome!) exists. Or maybe it’s the other way around?
In the beginning, I told myself I was going to practice for at least 15 minutes every single day. It was a manageable form of consistency I figured I could handle without too much trouble. I also knew that even though it was going to be rough in the beginning, if I just kept plucking away at it (pun intended), eventually I would start to see some improvement. This is, after all, typically how practice works.
I’m not a professional violinist by any means, but I think it’s safe to assume that the general recommendation is, at the very least, consistent practice. For some this might mean picking up the violin every day and playing through some of their repertoire. For others it might mean playing the violin most days, but taking days off here and there — maybe to watch others perform instead as a more passive form of practice.
However — even though it’s only been about three weeks — I’m confident in my claim that daily practice has, as a beginner, significantly improved my chances of continuing to play past my first month. Why? Mostly because of the one day I didn’t do it.
It was a Friday evening. After a stressful week at my day job and an equally frustrating week personally (sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned and it’s rough, am I right?). I knew I should pull out my violin and at least practice holding it correctly for a few minutes. Anything — it didn’t have to be “fancy.”
But I didn’t. I just let it sit in its case on its shelf and I proceeded to do absolutely nothing in an attempt to recover from, well, whatever it was that had left me feeling so drained and discouraged at the end of that week.
Every day since the beginning of January up to this point, I had done something to further my study — if it wasn’t actual playing (it took a while for me to learn how to tune the instrument properly — long story) then it was listening, or memorizing finger positions. It was the first day in an almost two-week streak that I just said “forget it,” even though I’d had no trouble making time for it any day before.
And guess what happened the day after I didn’t practice? I really, really did not want to practice that day either.
I already missed one day, I thought. What’s one more? What’s it going to hurt? I’m not going to forget everything I’ve learned in just two days. Right?
Do you know what happens when one day becomes two? Two days become three, three become four, and suddenly you realize an entire year has gone by and you haven’t touched the hobby you swore you weren’t going to abandon two weeks in.
Thankfully, I did practice the day after missing my session, and have continued to do so ever since. But I used the discipline and resilience I’ve developed as a writer for over a decade and a half to force myself to pick up my violin when I least wanted to do so. A lot of people — maybe even you — don’t have that. Not because you aren’t capable or smart or “good enough” but because you’re a beginner! You haven’t had time to build up the endurance necessary to keep pushing yourself forward when you’d rather do just about anything else.
And this, my friends, is why I recommend beginning writers — at least when they are first starting out — write at least a little bit every single day. Not because it’s going to guarantee your future success or that people who daily write are somehow “better” than everyone else, but because writing, like many other things, is a habit. If you don’t get into the habit of doing it, almost to the point of doing it on autopilot, you won’t stick with it.
This is why so many beginning writers don’t reach their goals. They don’t treat their writing like a habit that needs consistent attention — in the beginning more so than at any other point along the way. They forget that even though writing is difficult to break into, the only way to get better at it is to keep doing it.
The second you take a break from your new habit, the temptation to keep extending that break … again and again … just might throw you completely out of sync. What’s missing one day? One week? One month?
No, you don’t “have” to write every day, especially not for the rest of your life. But I highly recommend you put together a writing schedule that forces you to spend the first months of your time as a writer actually writing quite often. Until it becomes second nature (not in ease but in the habit of practice), getting yourself to sit down and do it is going to be a struggle every single time.
Once you train yourself to just do it regularly without complaint, you’ll have fewer days of “I don’t want to do this” and plenty more days of “It’s going to be rough today but I’m going to do my best anyway.”
That, as you will soon learn, is how the most successful writers are born.
Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.