It’s familiar advice for anyone who mentions the word ‘writer’, given by almost everyone. You must write every day. Especially on the days you don’t want to. Especially when the words won’t come. Push through it. Make it happen. Write every day.
Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on my feelings about this advice. When I was younger, perhaps it was a general sense of rebellion that made me think the advice might not apply to me. During a more recent time, I thought maybe the reason I felt like a failure when it came to my writing was because I couldn’t muster the discipline to write every day. But now I’ve settled into more complex feelings about this advice.
Many writers, of varying levels of fame, will say that you can’t stop a writer from writing—that I agree with wholeheartedly. Even if nobody is reading, a writer will write. With that in mind, I don’t take the ‘write every day’ advice so literally anymore, and I’ll explain why in a moment. It can be summarized as: being a writer doesn’t mean you have to write constantly.
If you want to write, you will write. You will make time for it, or it will find ways to creep in anyway. At least, that’s my experience. However, there are times when the words won’t come. Sometimes it’s writer’s block, sometimes it’s just outside stress or other problems that dry up the proverbial creative well. With ‘write every day’ hovering over me, I used to feel guilty when those dry spells would strike, and I would sit down and try to force words out and then feel terrible when I couldn’t make it happen. In other words, I was taking something I normally enjoy doing and turning it into another source of stress in my life. Then I would go to bed and mentally berate myself for failing at the simplest advice—I mean, how hard could it be to put words on a page? Yet there were times I just couldn’t.
And that’s where the advice starts to crumble. I think it’s important to know yourself and know what you can and cannot handle. Even when you’re working at something you love, sometimes you need to take a break. Sometimes the break is a day or two; sometimes it will be a month or year or years. In the end, you have to know how to apply advice to your own life. For me, I found it’s important to designate time for writing and to give myself a little reward for accomplishing my goals. I try to write at least an hour a day. When I’m lucky, that hour will become two or three or more if I’m really into what I’m working on. If I hit that goal or exceed it, I put a sticker on my calendar for that day. Maybe that’s a silly reward, but it works for me.
When I’m unlucky, that hour will disintegrate into half an hour or ten minutes or no minutes, but I’ve been getting into the habit of not punishing myself or berating myself for those days. I don’t get a sticker, but I don’t have to tear myself down, either. When you’re trying to do something you love and something that, most of the time, you are compelled to do and enjoy doing, you have to be careful not to turn it into a chore or a source of stress. I find I have enough stress in my life; I didn’t want writing to become another source. I want to continue loving it and deriving joy from storytelling. If there are going to be some days I don’t write, I’m okay with that if it means I will be writing for the rest of my life instead of burning out by trying to force it to happen.
And there was a period about two years ago where I was close to that point, getting so stressed about trying to write every day that I was creating my own writer’s block. I would sit down to write and nothing would happen and then I’d berate myself and eventually couldn’t even sit down to try and write. It was a surprisingly easy cycle to fall into and one that was difficult to break. It’s still an effort to think You can try again tomorrow instead of You failed. It’s a work in progress.
What has helped me is having a schedule, but a flexible one. As some of my favorite writers have said, you have to go out and live your life. You should have experiences. I’ve combined that advice with ‘write every day’, landing on: commit to writing, but still live your life. This means sometimes I sacrifice my designated writing time in favor of going out and having an experience, an adventure. More often than not, I’ll happen upon some kind of inspiration while I’m out, and any writer at any level will tell you that inspiration is just as important as the writing itself. After all, if you want to write, you need something to write about. And while I also don’t rigidly ascribe to the ‘write what you know’ advice (that will be a future post), experiences are important in myriad ways—mostly the ways that aren’t obvious.
I’m sure there are writers out there who have no problem writing every day. I find the longer I’m able to stick to my schedule, the easier it becomes to write every day. I have no doubt that the people who can manage to write every day without stress get further faster, but I don’t think that means they’re more passionate, necessarily. Sure, there are times when I’m being lazy or procrastinating, but like I said: if you want to write, you will write. The stories, characters and worlds will form in your head with or without your help. Eventually no matter how lazy I’m feeling, I find myself with a pen in hand or sitting at my computer, writing and happy. And to me, that’s the most important thing—not to write every day, but to find yourself always coming back to it no matter how long you’ve been away.