Pick up a writing book – any writing book – and I’ll bet you that somewhere in there, it says something to the effect of: “If you want to be a writer, you have to write every single day. Even if it’s crap. Write.”
Or it’s “Set a goal of x number of words per day. If you write 500 words per day, in a year you’ll have a novel!” Or whatever the magical number is supposed to be.
I hate this advice. And here’s why:
1.) It assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality. News flash: no one is the same. Painters do not paint in the same style as everyone else. That’s how art historians can tell whether it was really Rembrandt who painted this particular work, or one of the many assistants he kept on staff – or even a forger two hundred years later. Writers do not write the same, either. Yes, there are some who write every single day because if they don’t, they lose the rhythm, or the plot, or (like a friend of mine) turn into raving lunatics. But not everyone is like that.
2.) How much pressure is that to put on new writers? “Write every day OR ELSE!” Or else what, exactly? The world won’t end. You may take longer to get better at writing, is all.
2.) Sometimes, I literally don’t have the time to write. We all have busy lives. Some have kids and spouses; others, pets. Most writers have other jobs (maybe even 2 or 3 jobs) to pay the bills. Real jobs that require us to shower and go out into the world and interact with people that care whether we brushed our teeth this morning or not.
3.) Sometimes, I don’t feel like it. We all need breaks from everything in our lives. That’s why people take vacations. If I’m stressed and frustrated about other things in my life, it’s impossible to get my writing mojo in gear. My writing needs to be something I come to when I’m fresh and excited to be there. Like sex! Ever have sex when you really didn’t want to? It’s like that. Take the past two weeks, for example: I had graduate tests to oversee, just found out my hours are getting cut at work much more severely than I originally thought, and I still hadn’t done my taxes. It wasn’t until the tests were done, taxes were done, and the job search was underway, that I felt like going back to my manuscript.
4.) I need to have something in mind when I sit down to write, a scene that must be written. If the characters aren’t in my head chattering away, I don’t write. All the times I’ve sat down at the computer and forced myself to type something out because I felt like I had to, it’s all been absolute crap. I’ve learned over the years not to force it. A lot of people will say “Write it anyway! You can revise it later!” But there’s revision, and then there’s I have to toss the five pages of dribble that I forced myself to write the other day, because there’s nothing here worth salvaging.
5.) It makes writing into a chore – and you resent it. You get home from a long day at work, the kids are screaming, the cat’s throwing up, you’re getting a headache . . . and then you think, ‘I’ve got to write 500 words tonight before I can go to bed!’ How good do you think those 500 words are going to be? And more importantly, how much are you going to resent every single one of those words?
6.) But the thing I hate most about this advice is that I believe it stops people from writing. New writers who read this advice and think ‘Holy crap, I can’t write 500 words a day, every day! There’s no point in even starting!” So they go do something else instead, and that dream they had? Of writing? It never gets fulfilled. Because of this advice.
Now, I admit that when I’m in the middle of drafting a novel, writing every day, or nearly every day, does help me stay connected with my characters and my story. But if all I’m doing is typing out cold dribbles of pudding that will never, ever end up in the finished version, what am I accomplishing? Nothing. I may as well be photographing in the dark without a flash.
The idea that all writers write every single bloody day is a MYTH. If you’re trying to get into the writing habit, then yes, a word count per week is a good idea – but for some of us, it just doesn’t work. We’re wired differently. I can go days – even weeks – without actually putting fingers to keyboard. But I’m mulling over ideas. Letting the story evolve in my subconscious. And then, when I do sit down, I write in spurts, doing two or three hours a day, every day, for a week or two, or even six or seven, depending on the project. It’s just how I roll. It’s neither right or wrong. It just IS.
If you’re a slow writer, or you need to do research, or life simply gets in the way and you think you can’t write because of that – of course you can! It’s a different path, is all. It takes longer to get there. But you CAN get there.
Writing should be a joy, not a chore. It should be the place we go to express ourselves, to find an outlet for our creativity, to give our characters voices and lives and beating hearts.
So just do this for me.
Write when you can.