We all know the routine, the advice, the universal cat o’nine tails writers flagellate themselves with, the guilt monster that chases us each time we shrug writing in favor of movie night. It’s like the knowledge that we should eat our veggies and sleep more, and while we’re at it say our prayers and floss and don’t rely on the sniff test to make sure our clothes are clean.
But there it is, everywhere, in every writing blog and most books, hovering like the words of some deity above each laptop, waiting to punish us with guilt when we do not obey, pointing accusingly like a Monty Python hand from the sky.
Write every day. No matter what.
I’ve never been a believer, myself. I tend to go with what works, what leads to the least guilt and the most results. Writing every day seems like Santa, something we all believed once, but no longer.
And yet, I see my dear fellow writers sigh and feel guilty and get all blocked up because they haven’t found a way to follow this fairy tale advice.
After six months of writing a novel each month, I finally feel I have some room to talk. And as anyone can see, I don’t write every day.
So, my lovelies, let’s break this one down.
To write every damn day means that we never fall ill, or have an impromptu date night, or sleep in, or have kids or family need our attention. To write every day, the rest of life must take a back seat, no matter how full and interesting it becomes.
And sleep happens whether we want it to or not, eventually. That end of the candle isn’t a good one to burn all the time just to fit in a few words.
Making the goal of writing every day means one thing for sure: you’re setting yourself up to fail.
I know, lots of people will argue with me. That is okay. If you are able to write every day, and that is how you get things done, then great. Keep doing that.
For the rest of us, I want to ask a different question:
What is writing every day supposed to achieve?
As far as I can tell, it’s probably advice that has been reverse-engineered from the habits of productive writers. These writers love their craft and stories, they know there are bad times and good. They enjoy the process of writing, and they do it most days.
But it probably looks like they write every day. So, to any wannabe writer, the advice goes: write every day.
Again, I ask, why? Why are we writing, what are we wishing to achieve?
If we merely are seeking to practice writing a’la Writing Down the Bones, then writing most days is good, without structure or specifics. The goal is to process our lives, to write, to learn who we are as we write. But then, practice can move into doing, into using the skills developed for stories and poems and novels.
If we are wanting to write a novel, or a short story, or a blog, then the goal changes.
But instead of a day to day account of what we ought to achieve, it is better to shift to a goal-specific mindset. Set a goal, set a deadline, work until that goal is achieved by your deadline.
Most likely, this will result in writing most days. And without the weird guilt of not writing, and wondering why it is so hard to get those fingers moving. And without that guilt, there is no extra resistance and good-for-nothing self talk to wade through to get to writing the next day.
And when something comes up, we go do that, have fun, then come back to writing.
Our minds are smart. They know that writing every day for the sake of it isn’t doing what we really want. We want to be authors and poets, we want to be producing, or editing, or to write the words “The end” at the finish of a shitty (but done!) first draft. We want to know we are writing toward something. If we aren’t, our mind will stop us and move to something else, something that feels productive.
We want to know that our writing is making us more of what we want to be.
It is how we function as humans. We need to accomplish, to finish, to start again. We need to feel that progression as we work, or else work becomes meaningless. Without the end goal of having most of our teeth as we age, we wouldn’t brush them every day either.
A goal is there to be conquered. Conquer it, then let out a long battle cry and dive in again.
Believe me, it will build us up. It will make us what we want to be, whther or not we even knew what that was when you we started.
So ask yourself what you want to do with writing.
Set big goals. Conquer them.
Or set small goals (just not so small that they seem meaningles). Conquer them.
Give yourself enough time to finish that you can make course corrections, in case some big stumbling block happens in the middle.
Write on, friends. I’ll be pulling another 30,000 word miracle this week, because life is interesting and full. But the goal is the same, and the result will be me prevailing.