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 Shifter, Blue 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 Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.