It’s possibly the oldest piece of writerly advice: write every day.
If you want to be a great writer, you need to write every day, right? Just like if you want to be good at anything, you need to do it every day.
Except for when you don’t.
Let’s explore the positives and negatives of writing every day. Keep in mind that my goal here is not to convince you whether or not you should write every day. It’s to present you with both sides so you can make the right decision for yourself instead of just blindly following “age-old” wisdom.
Confession: I Don’t Write Every Day (Or Do I?)
Full disclosure before we go into all the hairy details: I don’t write every day. At least not fiction. As a content strategist at a web design company, I spend a good chunk of every workday writing website copy. On some days, this could be as much as eight straight hours of writing. On average, I probably write between three and four hours a day at work. As you can imagine, by the time I drive home from work, pick up kids, make dinner, play with kids, and put kids to bed, I don’t feel much like writing. Not even the fiction that I love so much to write.
But that isn’t too much different than every other writer’s schedule. Writers have busy lives. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to write. I suppose this post could just as easily be titled “How to write fiction when your dayjob requires you to write nonfiction almost all day.” That’s not what I want to focus on though. As a fiction writer, I’d say on average I write two days a week. I used to write a lot more back when I was a teacher, but a lot of things have changed in my life since then. I’ll spare you the details so we can focus on the topic at hand: should you write every single day?
The Case for Writing Every Day, Or, 10ish Reasons to Write Every Day
Of course you should write every day. If you don’t write every day, you’ll get rusty. If you don’t write every day, you’ll fall into the habit of not writing, and pretty soon weeks or even months will go by and you won’t have written a single page. If you don’t write every day, you can’t get better at your craft. If you don’t write every day, you can’t gain enough traction on any particular project to be successful. How could you ever finish a novel unless you write every single day?
Stop making excuses. There’s really no reason you can’t write every day. No one is so busy that they can’t set aside five or ten minutes to write. Although that’s not ideal (you should be shooting for at least an hour a day), even five to ten minutes will keep you in the habit of writing. It will ensure that you never take a day off (which, as we established before, can turn into many days off).
If you don’t write every day, especially while you’re working on a novel, you’ll forget where you are and you’ll have to spend so much time reminding yourself what you’ve done that you won’t make any progress the next time you start writing.
If you don’t write every day, then it’s going to take forever to finish that novel. Remember, you have goals. You want that book published by the time you turn 22 or 32 or 42 or at least before you die. Besides, the longer you put it off, the more likely it is that someone is going to steal your idea. Then what? No book deal, all because you didn’t write every day.
If you don’t write every day then you’re just a hobbyist, not a writer. Writers write. It’s as simple as that. If you want to be a writer, you must write. If you want to be a great writer, you must write every day.
The Case for Not Writing Every Day, Or, 10ish Reasons Not to Write Every Day
The notion of writing every single day no matter what is ineffective at best and harmful at worst. Of course you need to take some time off. Forcing yourself to write no matter what is counterproductive. It’s often a waste of time–instead of creating any work that’s worthwhile, you just scribble something down to fulfill an obligation. You gain nothing from it. It’s just an act of going through the motions. Instead of wasting that time writing garbage, you could be reading or spending time with family or enjoying the outdoors or living your life to the fullest in any other number of ways.
The best case scenario is that writing every day leads to wasted time and lost opportunities. Writing every day can actually be harmful, both mentally and physically. It can wear you down. It can sour you on writing for a long time. It can convince you that you aren’t meant to be a writer. It can leave you depressed. Imagine if you go a month straight writing nothing but garbage. You’ll get into such a funk that you may never recover as a writer.
Sure, you can try to write through a slump, and you might be able to shake it off eventually, but you’ll be doing it at the expense of your life. You’ll miss out on social events. You’ll lose precious moments with your kids. You’ll become a hermit who does nothing but write and still has nothing to show for it. You want something to show for your life other than a manuscript that will never be published, right?
You need a break. You need to recharge. Writing every day doesn’t allow for your brain to recover. It doesn’t allow for you to take a step back and gain some perspective on your life and your work. It forces you to become a mindless writing machine–and not a very efficient or effective one.
Everyone needs breaks. Athletes take days off for their bodies to recover. Doctors don’t work on patients on their days off. Lawyers don’t practice law when they’re on vacation. You have to take a break or you will burn out.
If you write every day, you’ll get sick of it. You’ll grow to loathe the very idea of writing. It will cease to be a pleasure and become a pain. Consequently, you will become bad at it because no one can excel at something they hate doing for very long.
Hate to use the old cliche here, but just like you never forget to ride a bike, you never forget how to write. Yes, it might take a bit of extra effort to get back into the groove if you take a lot of time off. But the next time you sit at the computer or pick up the pen or however you choose to write, the words will eventually come whether you wrote the day before or not. And whatever masterpiece you’re working on isn’t going to disappear if you take tomorrow off.
Write According to Your Own Schedule
Okay, so a lot of the examples above are pretty extreme, but so are these absolutist statements that writers must write a minimum of X number of words or X number of hours every day. Sometimes you just can’t. You have other responsibilities. Other priorities. Life can’t be lived solely through your writing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write every day. It’s all about what works for you. Don’t force yourself to stick to some rigid plan that has never proven effective for anyone.
So there are the two sides of the coin. Which side do you fall on? Do you write every day? Share your tips and your strategies in the comments.