If you google “write every day,” you get over a million results. I mean, it’s Google, so there are usually tons of responses, but … it’s common advice. I don’t know if it’s the most common, exactly, but it’s out there enough that people who don’t write everyday are worried, or even convinced, that they’re doing it wrong. To the point where someone I know, who is in no way a slacker, asked me this question: do you ever get into a writing funk where you just can’t summon the energy to write? Because maybe she assumed that, being a “real” writer, my answer would be “no.”
How accepted is this idea? I wrote back “YES” and she responded “THANK GOD.” (We proceeded without shouting after that.)
The thing is, we get people like Stephen King telling us to write every day. And you’d think he knows what he’s talking about, right? World-famous bestselling author, and he says:
Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop, and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind … I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.Stephen King
So … write every day. Right?
I’d like to pick apart King’s quote, because even though it often gets repeated as the simple “Write every day,” he actually tells us more than that. In fact, he reveals a bit about his own writing pitfalls. Once he starts a project (so presumably not 365 days a year), he feels that he, personally, has to write everyday because otherwise he sees issues in characters, plotting, and pacing.
Remember how not all writing advice is universal? How there are so many books about writing out there, and they all have different advice? We call come from different backgrounds and have our own potential pitfalls. Not all advice is for every writer, and not all advice is shared in a way that’s actually helpful.
That’s why we need the full quote: to see what, exactly, “write every day” means to King, and why he stands by it. He’s noticed, in his own many decades of experience, that he, personally, has to write every day once he starts a project, or else these issues arise. He’s not “writing every day” because it’s been repeated so often, but because he knows what’s likely to happen if he doesn’t. For King, writing every day is the solution.
I’d say I more or less align with King here: once I get started on a project, I’m likely to write something in it every day until I hit my goal. Sometimes the goal is a completed draft; other times it’s a completed section of a draft. If I’m at the very beginning and I’m excited, then “every day” means 7 days a week. Other times it means 5 days a week, because even people with “real” jobs get weekends. (Mine aren’t always Saturday and Sunday, or two days in a row, but they’re still days when I don’t expect myself to write.)
The biggest argument I hear for “writing every day” is that writing is a job. If you’re serious about it, then of course you’ll do it every day.
Think for a moment about what you do every single day of your life. Breathe, eat, sleep. Take care of other humans or pets in our household. But even exercise plans have rest days built in. Work limits your hours if only because they don’t want to pay you overtime. We recognize the need for rest, recovery, and making space for other things when it’s not writing, so …
If writing every day burns you out, then it’s bad advice for you. Like all other writing advice, it’s something you need to consider for both practicality and personal adaptation. If you’ve never tried it, maybe it’s time to pick a project and adhere to the advice for a set amount of time – say, a month. Give yourself long enough to figure out if it’s working, and maybe long enough to become a habit. Maybe you’re a big don’t break the chain kind of person. But even then, remember that the true test of your chain is missing a day … and getting right back into it on the next.
You might mess around with expectations. Are you trying to write a specific number of words each day, or carve out a specific amount of time for writing? When you say “writing,” do you mean “putting words on the page” or will you count research, plotting, daydreaming, and so on? Are you willing to switch up your goals and your schedule to better match your actual daily output? Is this a 24/7/365 sort of goal, or a project-based goal?
So no, I don’t put words on the page every day. I don’t sit in front of my laptop for a set amount of time every day, either. When I’m working toward a deadline, it’s far more likely – but even then I remember that weekends are a thing. And, like King, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I have a pretty good idea of what works for me and how to avoid my worst pitfalls. But that doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what I do.
Sometimes I get into a funk and can’t summon the energy to write. It happens. I’ve barely worked on my book projects all month because so many other things have come up. Stress is real, and burnout is real. If writing every day adds to either of those, then it’s probably not your best solution right now. Because that’s what writing advice should be: a solution, not stress or shame.
How was your January? Were you more productive, word-wise, then I was?