When I first began writing and exploring my interests in historical romance, I spent quite a lot of time looking for an instruction manual of sorts. My high school didn’t have any writing classes apart from the required Language Arts classes. I honestly don’t remember any creative writing assignments past second grade, which were part of an assessment to see how well we understood concepts like having a beginning, middle, and end of a story and following the instructions laid out by a prompt; the focus of these tests shifted to persuasive essays around third grade to prepare us for the statewide CMTs. It wouldn’t be until college that I got to take any classes focused on writing fiction, but that was a long way off when I was fourteen and just starting out.
This led me to browse through books on writing and scour the internet in the hopes of finding some tips. Plenty of the tricks I found then are ones I rely on to this day, but there are some that weren’t necessarily right for me.
Writing practices are rarely one-size-fits-all. Strategies helpful for horror writers may not benefit writers of inspirational fiction. A Pantser’s methods of drafting may not suit a Planner. One Planner’s favorite plotting method might not work as well for another Planner.
And then there are some pieces of writing advice that will evolve alongside your skills or that you need to adjust to fit your life.
Among the most frequent pieces of advice that I saw in my early days of experimenting in creative writing falls into this third zone, and that’s the one we’re breaking down in this post.
Fledgling writers are often told to write every day. It’s the piece of advice I remember seeing most frequently and continue to see floating around.
Writing every day is a good idea in theory. But in reality, it’s not a hard and fast rule like starting a sentence with a capital letter or knowing the difference between to, too, and two, and can be a bit difficult to make happen.
It’s time we reworked the idea of needing to write every day.
However, we can’t do that without addressing why the advice does carry some truth.
Like any skill, writing is something you get better at with time and practice. You don't improve if you don't take the time to.
This, I think, is one of the roots behind the idea of writing every day. Encouraging writers to set aside a bit of time to write and build up their skills is certainly commendable.
It promotes getting into and sticking with a routine and doing a little bit every day to achieve your goals, both of which are super helpful. After all, if you aren’t working towards the light at the end of the tunnel, you’ll be left in the dark.
For many, writing is a form of escapism from everyday struggles and irritations. We can spend time being somewhere else, as someone else, and give our minds a rest.
Writing is also an outlet for our feelings. The intimacy between a writer and the page is unlike that between us and our closest friends or family. It’s private. It’s ours and ours alone. Journaling is an especially popular form of daily writing because it invites us to not only recount and celebrate the highlights of the day, but to vent and potentially gain a new perspective regarding the things that weren’t as good.
The page is a safe space.
Devoting a little bit of your day to writing can be worthwhile, but it’s not always something you can do every day despite the popular suggestion.
Life Is Strange
Longtime readers of the blog might know what I’m about to say next: Life finds a way to get in the way.
It’s a phrase I use quite often in my posts and with good reason.
Advice like writing every day is great when you can implement it, but that’s not always the case.
As is the case with setting goals or establishing a new writing habit, it’s important to take your life into account.
Chances are that when you’re just getting into writing, your time spent learning the craft falls in the spaces between a job, school, parenting and family obligations, other hobbies, grocery shopping, cleaning the house—basically, everyday life.
Knowing what your life looks like on an average day can help shape your new routine. Maybe your version of writing every day means squeezing in an hour after your kids are in bed. If you’re more of an early bird, you might get up an hour earlier to squeeze in some writing before getting ready for work. It could also be similar to mine where I’ll use my lunch breaks at work as an editing block.
Once you get yourself in that groove, writing every day can become more attainable.
But there’s also the matter of unpredictability. Even with the best of intentions and planning, you can only prepare for so much.
Things happen. Scat hits the fan. Life finds a way to get in the way.
And that’s one of the reasons for my love/hate relationship with the advice of writing every day. Because, sometimes, you simply can’t get that time in the day.
If you or a loved one fall ill, your power goes out and you can’t access your files because you can’t turn your computer on, your emotions are running high and you can’t focus on your WIP, or you get asked to go into work on your day off, you may not be able to spend time on your writing.
There are so many ways that things can go any way but according to plan.
While having the intention of writing every day can be great for motivation and staying on track, life likes to throw its curveballs.
It’s important to develop a steady writing habit, but it’s just as important to grant yourself a little wiggle room.
One of the most common arguments in favor of maintaining a daily writing regimen is that you have twenty-four hours in a day, just like any famous author you can think of.
While the length of time is the same, your twenty-four hours might look different from theirs when you’re just starting out or even when you’re newly published.
If you’re not able to write full-time and have a day job, that’s going to take a significant cut of your time. You may have additional responsibilities you cannot neglect.
Some writers hire personal assistants to tend to their inbox or social media, work with publicists to arrange help coordinate events, or have researchers tracking down the resources and information they need for their new project so they can devote more time to actually writing. Their kids may have a regular sitter or go to daycare. They might use a cleaning service.
These aren’t feasible options for everyone.
Not to mention the basics like sleeping, showering, and eating.
Understanding that even though you have twenty-four hours in a day just like anybody else, yours are going to be vastly different, and finding time to write every day may not be as simple as it sounds.
More Than Just Writing
Writers write. That's why they're called writers.
But the writing process involves more than just writing.
Before putting pen to paper, many writers spend some time outlining and planning their story’s course. There may also be preliminary phases of research, character development, and worldbuilding taking place before the writer gets going on the story.
Then there’s the writing itself, which is pretty self-explanatory.
However, that’s just the first draft.
From there, writers usually do a few rounds of self-edits before distributing their WIP to beta readers for feedback. Editing is a lengthy process that, in my experience, can take far longer than writing the first draft.
Here, the road diverges somewhat depending on your chosen path to publication.
For a self-publishing author, the next step might mean sending your work to a professional editor while looking into cover artists and formatting.
Those taking the traditional route might begin preparing submission materials ahead of querying agents.
In either case, as publication draws near, there’s still plenty of work to be done. At this point, you’re likely promoting your release, which could entail making graphics to share on social media, putting together some giveaways, writing guests posts on blogs, doing interviews, and finalizing the actual book.
Writing is a long road with a lot of stops along the way.
With so much going on, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing some writing-related thing every day, even if that’s not writing something new.
And that’s a great segue to my next point!
It's not uncommon for writers to find themselves working on multiple things because there is so much to do.
I actually prefer bouncing between projects. Between drafting a new story, editing an older project, and writing blog posts, I’ve got a lot going on. Occasionally, I might also have comments from beta readers to go over or research to dive into, and I’ll hopefully be shifting focus to the querying phase (again) soon.
Balancing all of these things means I’m doing writing-related activities every day in some capacity, but I’m doing it more on and off in a sense. I might devote several days to the new WIP, but then I won’t touch it for a week in order to do some editing. Depending on the status of my Scheduled folder in Wix, I might shift gears on a day off from the day job to focus more on blogging.
Even though I may not be making progress on the new project, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m just concentrating on other aspects of my publication goals.
Pumping The Breaks
On the flipside of writing every day is the necessity for time away.
Although there are circumstances that force you to take a break, there are also times where our stepping back is deliberate and to our benefit.
The advice of writing every day, at least in its current phrasing, doesn’t allow for that as easily.
With this the form of this advice learning closer to an instruction to write every day rather than a suggestion, it can be so frustrating or disheartening when you miss a day, even when it’s out of your control—and it can make it harder for you to take a break when you need it.
Around the middle of 2021, I took a hiatus from the blog and writing in general to focus on my mental health. In that time, I was able to reassess what I was writing and where I wanted things to go.
Overall, it was good for me, but it wasn’t easy for me to recognize it at first.
Instead, I found myself feeling bad for not writing. Although a lot of this time was spent daydreaming scenes that will eventually find their way to the page and creating the distance needed to edit with fresh eyes and an outsider’s perspective so to speak, not physically writing every day left me untangling a sensation of guilt.
Breaks are okay. They’re necessary for us to be at our best. So a bit of writing advice intending to be helpful without making room for time away seems a little counterproductive.
Overall, the advice of writing every day comes with good intentions and an amiable aspiration. A steady routine is beneficial for writers of any skill level, whether they’re just starting out or are coming off the heels of their second bestseller. However, I think it’s time to reassess that piece of advice.
Writing is about more than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but there are going to be days where neither is possible. Or you might find your attention divided between multiple projects.
It’s better to not just focus on writing every day, but do something that’s going to keep you moving towards your goals—even if that means taking a day off now and then.