Stephen King says you should aim for 1,000 words a day, six days a week. Julia Cameron suggests three pages in your journal every morning. Anne Lamott advocates for writing something — anything — every day. After all, you’ll never get your novel finished if you don’t work on it.
Behind this advice lies the principle of training your brain through repetition and making progress because you are consistent in the work. Think about it, if you write 1,667 words every day for thirty days, you’ll have 50,000 words (and you’ll have won NaNoWriMo if you do it in November). If you only write Stephen King’s recommended thousand, you’ll have a draft of a fantasy-length work in under four months.
It sounds intimidating but rewarding, right? You cultivate the discipline to sit down with a pen every day and in return you get a book out of it, why would anyone object to that?
Most writing advice is subjective and it’s important to bear that in mind. Though there is plenty of great advice out there with good reasoning behind it, we are all very different people and writing is a very personal activity. What works for one person may not work for another. If there was a correct formula for how to write books, more people would do it.
Writing every day is not a bad piece of advice but the question is whether it is helpful to you.
A CASE FOR DAILY WRITING
There is a reason why this advice is so widespread: it can be incredibly effective. First, it is an excellent way to cultivate discipline in our writing. Anyone who wants to be more than a hobby writer needs to actually produce some writing and the best way to do that is by sitting down and getting on with it. Writing every day (or at least most days) helps us train ourselves to produce content whether we feel like it or not, and to get over the fact that sometimes our writing is terrible and sometimes it’s halfway decent. It works off of the principle that you can’t edit a blank page.
This discipline also arms us in the fight against procrastination and prevents us lounging on our fainting couches, waiting for our muse to show up (hint: she’s not coming).
Second, constant practice helps you to keep up your skills and develop them to new levels. Like with music, you can’t tinker at a piano for a little while every now and then and still maintain and improve your technique. All skills need to be practised, and the more consistent we are, the better they will grow. Learning any craft takes time and practice.
And then, third (and bear with me on this one, I will present the other side in a moment), everyone has some time in their day that they could set aside. Think how much time you spend on your phone or watching TV, you wouldn’t miss ten minutes of that a day to hammer out a few more words on your WIP. So often we allow ourselves to be distracted by trivia or we procrastinate because we don’t feel like doing things. Writing every day sounds daunting until you work out how much time you spend on other, less important things.
Writing each day is, in fact, a case of productivity and priorities. If you were serious about your writing, you’d fit it in and you’d do so almost every day.
A CASE AGAINST WRITING EVERY DAY
The truth is that not everyone had an organised, structured schedule. In regards to training ourselves, not all minds work to a rigid way of doing things and some of us need more flexibility in our lives to keep us creative.
When I first started my job, I wrote out a list of what I needed to get done each day before I started. These days, I have a list of things that need to get done during the week and although it’s longer, it’s far less stressful. As strange as it sounds, it’s more stressful to have to fit a list into an eight-hour workday than to look at it and know that I can get the less important stuff done tomorrow and I won’t have failed in my goals. It’s particularly helpful when unexpected things come up and I have to push everything else aside. What’s my point? The point is that not hitting daily goals can make some of us feel like failures and it stresses us out. But having weekly or monthly goals grants flexibility and relieves some of the stress. We’re getting the same amount done, just differently.
Though there are those who use this as an excuse for procrastination, it isn’t the case for everybody. For some, there genuinely aren’t enough hours in the day for everything and we need to be able to go to bed, having left things undone, knowing we can pick them up again later when we’re rested.
In reference to developing skills, there is something to be said for regular practice. It’s proven to be the case that regularly working at something is more effective than doing it in massive chunks at irregular intervals. That said, missing a day or two (or even a week, holidays are a real thing!), it not going to result in you becoming completely non-verbal.
Lastly, in regard to everyone having time, this argument has always bothered me because it’s simply not true. There are periods in school and university life when there is no time for anything but eating, sleeping, studying, and taking exams. Young families are lucky to get much sleep with babies and even as they get older, children can take up so much of your day. Later in life, we can end up caring for aging relatives and anyone who does that will tell you it makes a pretty big claim on your time. Yes, writing is a priority but people come first every time.
Even those of us who are neither at school nor looking after young/old people can have valid reasons for not having time, one of which is illness. There are times when I struggle to read never mind trying to string together a coherent sentence of my own.
In all these situations, even if there is time that could be stolen back from watching TV or sitting in the bath staring at the wall, because of the weight of all the other demands on our time, we may be too wiped out to be able to conjure up any words and that’s ok. It mustn’t be used as an excuse for laziness but genuine busyness and fatigue are valid reasons for not being able to write every day.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
The case is made both ways. Now the question is, what about you? Is it right for you personally to write every day or not? Only you can answer that question.
If you are someone with a lot of physical and mental demands on your time, you may need to think about what you can do to try to fit writing in but you mustn’t feel guilty when you don’t manage every day. That’s just how it is for you right now and your other responsibilities are more important than finishing this book.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who has a fair bit of spare time, it’s worth evaluating what you use it for and whether you could be writing more. Spare time is a luxury that we don’t often have in our lives and if you’re blessed with it, make use of it while you can! In the end, you know your own situation and whether writing every day is right for you.
Here are a few questions to help you think it through:
- Do I have spare time that I could be making better use of?
- If I’m finding that I’m tired, do I genuinely need to rest or can I push through?
- Are daily goals helpful or would it be less stressful to have a weekly/monthly goal instead?
- Where are good slots in my day/week where I could be trying to get some writing done?
- Is there anywhere in my day/week where I could be more efficient and free up a little time?
- Would dictation be a more efficient writing method for me? (more on this another time)
Don’t feel bad if it’s not possible for you to write every day, and don’t be getting smug if it is. Everyone is different and progress is progress.
- Do you write every day?
- What do you think about this famous piece of writing advice?