Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why You Shouldn’t Write Every Day

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Last week, I jotted down the idea for this article about four hours before Jami Gold’s post on not writing every day appeared in my email. Obviously there was something in the air last week that made us both think about this particular piece of advice. I have a slightly different angle on this topic, but if you struggle with this, pop on over and read her thoughts after you’re done here.

As you can probably guess from the title, I’m not a write-every-day-writer. I’ve done it, and I’ll do it again when I’m on deadline or doing NaNoWriMo, but never taking a writing break turns writing into a chore for me. I need time off, and I need to walk away from the keyboard and have some fun.

But here’s the thing…

Writing is my job now. I spend a major chunk of my day working on manuscripts I intend to sell—either through my agent to a publisher, or self publish. To me, that means I write Monday through Friday and take the weekends off, just like I did when I was still working as a graphic designer. I might steal a few morning hours on a Saturday when the urge strikes me, but for the most part, I stay away from “work” on the weekends.

And I’ve noticed that many of the “write every day” advice givers are professional writers or publishing people (agents, editors). People who have the ability to spend their days writing and are getting paid to do it. When writing is your job, it’s a heck of a lot easier to write every day or spend a lot of time writing.

I think telling someone with a full-time job and a life full of responsibilities to basically take a part-time job they don’t have time or energy for or they’ll never “make it as a writer” is really asking a lot. It’s unfair to put professional-level pressures on someone who hasn’t reached that level yet.

However…(and this is the part that kinda sucks)

I get where these advice-givers are coming from. Writing is one of those weird professions where we have to be at pro level before we actually become pros. There is no on-the-job-training to learn the ropes and still get paid for our work. It’s important to develop the discipline needed to “write professionally” before we actually are professional.

When you’re under contract and on a deadline, you rarely have the luxury to “write when the muse hits you.” You have to deliver that manuscript by the due date, and there are a series of due dates between then and release date. If you don’t know how to deliver within a timeframe, you’ll very likely run into trouble and possibly hurt your career. In a nightmare case, you might even lose your book deal. When you take this into account, the “write every day” advice makes sense, right?

Except…no, it really doesn’t (at least, not to me).

I agree wholeheartedly that a writer who wants to be an author needs to develop professional writing habits. If you already have a schedule that lets you be productive and keeps you sane in place when you publish that first novel, it’ll be much easier to continue to be productive and sane going forward. But if your schedule is brutal and makes you miserable, and that’s the only way you’re going to get a manuscript done in time, then you’re setting yourself up for a career that makes you miserable on a daily basis. And that’s bad.

The sad truth is, most writers don’t make a living from writing, so odds are, you’re going to work and write at the same time. It’s critical to find a way to include writing into your life that doesn’t risk your health and well being. Because there will be times when you’ll have to push yourself to meet a deadline, and if you’re already pushing yourself just to get it done, you’ll have nothing left to give.

Daily writing can build momentum and keep you focused, but it can also wear you down and burn you out, because you never get a break from work. It’s more important to find the right balance than to follow arbitrary rules to write every day.

Before I was published, I got up early and wrote for an hour or two in the morning before work, then wrote for three or four hours over the weekend (usually Saturdays). When I really didn’t feel like writing, I didn’t. My schedule now is four to six hours of writing, Monday-Friday. I still take days off when I need them. I’ll even take a week off if I really need the downtime. I treat my writing like the job that it is—a fun job to be sure, but it’s still a job.

(Here’s more on balancing writing and work without losing your mind)

Here are some things to consider when deciding what the right amount of writing time for you is:

1. What are you comfortable with?

You know when you write best, and when you have time to write. Find a comfortable schedule that fits your life, because this is the schedule you’re probably going to live with for a long time.

(Here’s more on finding time to write)

2. What do you want to accomplish?

If you plan to write a book every two years, you have a lot more freedom in your schedule than someone who wants to put out three books a year. Your goals and plans for your career will tell you what you need to do to reach those goals, but be realistic about what you can accomplish.

(Here’s more on using goals to motivate us)

3. What do you need to do to reach that goal?

It’s unrealistic to write 500 words a week and expect to finish three 80,000-word novels a year. The math just doesn’t work—to hit that goal you’d need to write 4,600 words a week. Be honest with what you can consistently do. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to hit unobtainable goals. Aiming high is good as a motivator, but bad if it constantly makes you feel like a failure.

(Here’s more on challenging ourselves vs. setting ourselves up to fail)

If writing every day makes you feel productive and helps you achieve your writing goal, then of course go for it. Just as you shouldn’t write every day if you don’t want to, you shouldn’t not write every day if that makes you happy.

But if you find yourself dreading the keyboard, or putting off doing your daily words, or procrastinating because you really don’t want to write but feel you have to—don’t. There is nothing wrong with not writing every day, no matter how many people tell you there is.

Just like what you write about is up to you, when and how much you write is also up to you. It’s your life, and only you can gauge how much writing a week (or a month) you can handle without getting burned out.

How do you feel about the “write every day” advice? What’s your writing schedule like? Do you write every day? Why or why not?

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. There was a post on the website Dead Darlings about trying to write a few days each week or only on the weekends. Then there was the very funny "Confessions of a Chronic On-the-Job Writer." I've tried to write every day but I find it to be a chore. I do like writing a few days a week, but I feel guilt that I'm not tackling it every day like I imagine everyone else is.

    1. Don't feel guilty :) Tons of writers don't write every day and do just fine (I'm one of them). If you're meeting your goals and getting what you want done without it, still with what's working for you.

  2. This was timely, because I've been wrestling with this. It's the mantra, write every day, even if it's only a hundred or two hundred words, even if it's only for a half hour... But I get more total words when I block out and rearrange things to have a couple of longer blocks of time per week, like all day Saturday, or two half days. I've had many 6 or 7k weeks, or more, doing that, than when I try to write everyday.

    1. Sounds to me like you should keep doing what you're doing and write in large chunks of time. :) That's a solid first draft-sized manuscript in 3-4 months.

  3. I think it really is dependent on your own personal needs, as you mentioned in your post Janice. I have messed about with my scheduling quite a lot over the years. Right now, I am sort of like you, in that I don't do anything on the weekends, except daydream about the stories. Weekends are days set aside for more of what I call ‘the mental work’, instead of actually sitting and writing.
    The mental work is time set aside for contemplation, rolling the story around in my noggin while I manically chant under my breath about what is working and what could be improved. (It’s sort of like watching a squirrel eating a nut. You know how they nibble and then pause like they suddenly had a thought? Yeah. Just like that.)
    Granted, I do the mental work even during the weekdays when I also try to get actual writing done, but Monday through Friday are my writing days.
    I find I get into a rhythm during the week. Either the morning hours or the evening hours. I have done both, but when I find that rhythm, I try to stick to that routine. I have tried the word count method (didn't like that as it seemed kind of like a march to a mile marker where you are looking more toward the end than you are enjoying the route to get there) and I have tried setting aside X amount of time during the day. I do a combination of both now. I gave myself a minimum of 1000 plus words, and/or a minimum of two hours, but again I am not overly strict about it. If the words are there, then I write them. If they aren’t, then I switch focus onto another aspect of the story and do some mental work. If the words are flowing as I write, I keep it going and blow past my minimum, if I have more time to spend during my day, then I do it. If I don’t for whatever reason, then I don’t fret about it or lose any sleep. I just try to make it up during the next day or over the course of several days.
    I’ve rambled, haven’t I?
    To sum up. Everyone has gotta do what’s right for them. Fool around with it a little and find the right time, place, word count, whatever it is that fits to what you want to accomplish. I am sure everyone wants to realize the dream of writing full time and doing nothing else but write, but we only have so much time in a day, and how we use it is the greatest feat of magic anyone of us can perform.

    1. It really does. I like how you split that up--mental vs physical work. Good way of looking at it. we can be "writing" even if we aren't putting words down.

  4. If writing felt like a job, I couldn't do it. I write weekdays, not always a project on which I'm working. Having to write, outside of deadline pressure, is terrible!

    1. Then I hope it never feels like a job to you :)

  5. Writing full time in retirement seems to be no different than writing with a full time job. There are blocks of time to write and blocks of time for life things. I'd say be flexible, be balanced in your thinking (left-brain realistic). 🌺🌷🌸Christine

    1. I guess it would depend on how many responsibilities you have while in retirement, or how busy you were. I'd assume, though, that if you were retired, you wouldn't have the obligations of a full-time job preventing you from writing. But there could be other things.

  6. I have a full time job and write emails and memos all day long. So, in a way I am writing every day. But, my "true" (aka fun) writing for my children's books is squeezed into my time when I'm not at my 8-5 job. I don't write every day on those books. I write when the muse strikes. Then, I edit and re-write and then I write emails requesting people to review it and then I write blogs to promote it and then I write ads to sell it. So, the writing focus changes with what I'm doing but I can't write every day on the topic I most want to write (my children's books), but I think that's okay. I don't put myself under pressure. I do what works for me. I like Christine Robinson's reply about balance. That's important when you're balancing more than one career and family and pets and Ugh exercise! :)

    1. True, I was just referring to fiction, so it would be different for someone who writes for a living in another market. Balance is key in pretty much everything :)

  7. All good points. Janice. I believe in breaks though too. Giving my brain a rest usually means whatever I write IS better. When I was a mom with little kids and could find little time to write I remember reading in Writer's Digest that doing anything related to writing "counted." That was helpful. Meant reading was part of the process!

    1. That does work if you expand on what "writing" means. Thinking and brainstorming every day is certainly easier and more fun, and that could count :)

  8. I write most days. Occasionally, I don't feel like writing, so I don't. Most days, I do feel like writing. I have a goal of 1500 words per day while drafting. When editing, revising etc., my goal will be different of course.

    I read every day. Articles, short-stories, novels, essays.

    And I take courses, so of course, I have homework. Nothing like a little homework to get the creative juices flowing. I'll do my math as soon as... :)

    1. LOL sounds good to me! It also sounds like a nice balance to stay motivated and productive.

  9. I've written a blog on this as well.

  10. I have a lot of time on my hands but not in my head. The trouble with writing every day is that it's usually writing badly every day, and the more time, the more pain. Sometimes a good edit helps me imagine it might be OK. But when the daydream of success wears off, the pain returns. I can only see that there might be pleasure in success though that seems increasingly impossible. I suppose it's like wasting time trying to figure out how to increase the odds of having a winning lottery ticket -- dangerous in cost, and unlikely to succeed. The push of advice is like telling a three-foot tall person to keep trying to get into the regular professional basketball leagues (not the "special" ones). I suppose it might be worth walking across the desert if there is dessert at the oasis. Well, I'm not 3-foot tall but I have no camel.