Should We Follow the Advice to Write Every Day?

by Jami Gold on June 6, 2017

in Writing Stuff

Apple on a white background with text: Writing Every Day Keeps Failure Away?

If we know other writers at all, chances are good that we’ve heard a lot of advice about how to write, how to edit, and how to publish our work. However, I’ve written before about how there’s not “one right way.”

There’s definitely not one right way to write. And my whole two-year-long series at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University was all about how there’s not one right way to self-publish.

So how does that “no one right way” truth apply to the most common piece of advice of all? Namely: Write every day.

Dozens of multi-published, bestselling authors proclaim that habit as a necessary step to success. Should we assume they know better than us what it takes to be a writer?

Between the sheer number of authors sharing that tidbit of wisdom and their success, should we take their advice to write every day as a must-listen rule?

Yes and no… Let’s take a closer look. *smile*

Point #1: Advice Isn’t One Size Fits All

We often see two kinds of encouragement in the writing world:

Pushy Advice:

  • “Get your butt in the chair and just do it.”
  • “Writing is hard. No one cares about your excuses.”
  • “Want to be a success? Suck it up and learn (grammar, marketing, entrepreneurship, etc.).”

Sympathetic Advice:

  • “Writer’s block sucks. Maybe try something different to see if that helps you brainstorm.”
  • “10 Ideas to Promote Your Book without Feeling Like a Desperate Loser”
  • “You can do it! I believe in you!”

Both types of advice can be useful and helpful to people. Neither are wrong. And the kind of advice we need might change from hour to hour or project to project.

However, write every day falls into the “pushy” category, which means that it won’t always be the right advice for us or our situation.

No one else can tell us what our goals should be. No one else can tell us what our priorities should be. No one else can tell us our budget, our comfort zones, our personality, or our strengths or weaknesses.

Point #2: Our Writing Processes Are Unique

As I mentioned above, there’s no one right way to do anything in writing, and one of the most unique aspects about each of us is our writing process. We have plotters, pantsers, and in-betweeners. Some start with ideas for our plot but need help with characters, and others do the reverse. Etc., etc. There’s no end to the various approaches we can take for our writing process.

Why are our writing processes so unique?

  • Everyone’s brains are different: what we notice, how we process information, what gets us stuck or unstuck, what motivates us, what helps us connect to our characters, etc.
  • Our situations are different: our free hours in a day, the distractions or other obligations in our lives, our budget for pursuing our dreams, our support system, etc.
  • Our goals are different: the types of stories we want to write, the income we want, the sacrifices we’re willing (and able) to make, how we define success, how we hope to connect with readers, etc.

Just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Or to take it a step further, just because something works for us one time doesn’t mean it will work for us all the time. Our process might evolve with more experience, or adjust as our situation, our mood, or our connection with the story itself changes.

Nothing about an author’s writing process should be labeled “must do.” Yet write every day applies to our writing process, which means that it won’t always work for us or our situation.

No one else can tell us the best way for our imagination to brainstorm and draft. No one else can tell us how much writing time our daily or weekly schedule allows. No one else can tell us what works best with our story, characters, or brain, situation, and goals.

The Danger of One-Size-Fits-All Advice

I really dislike “you must…” advice because the wrong kind of advice for us can be harmful. Yes, if we’re procrastinating or not working as hard as we could, pushy advice might be just the kick in the pants we need.

However, if we’re already working hard and running ourselves ragged, pushy advice might force us into burnout or sickness. Or if we’re already feeling bad about ourselves, pushy advice can make us beat ourselves up even more.

In the case of write every day—with that advice coming from so many well-known (and successful) sources—we can feel judged from all sides. We might worry that if we can’t write every day, we should give up.

We might feel like a failure for missing a day, much less a week, month, or more. We might stress during vacations, thinking that we’re never allowed to take a day off. We might fear that if we can’t “find” the time to write from somewhere, we must not be committed enough to deserve the title writer.

Those negative thoughts aren’t helpful and could be downright harmful. There are many types of writers, authors, and writing careers, and such strict expectations don’t work for every situation.

Finding the Nugget of Truth Hiding in Advice

Most well-known advice—whether about adverbs or writing every day—became common because it does contain a kernel of truth. Many (but not all) adverbs are signs of weak writing, etc.

In the case of the write every day advice, many of the typical reasons given for following the rule focus on ideas like “train your brain.” But again, everyone’s brain works differently, so that’s still not a one-size-fits-all truth.

Instead, the nugget of truth behind the advice is that if we’re serious about writing, we can’t wait for inspiration. We won’t always feel inspired, connected to our subconscious/muse, in love with our story, or whatnot, and waiting for that perfect spark of inspiration will delay completing our book.

However, that truth includes many nuances that we can take into consideration. For example, some writers aren’t as serious about writing.

  • Maybe we simply enjoy the creation process.
  • Maybe we’re not looking for writing to be a career.
  • Or maybe we’re happy to poke at a single idea for years because no other idea has grabbed us as hard as this one that we want to get right.

None of that means we aren’t writers. None of that is a negative reflection on the quality of our work. None of that indicates we should give up.

Or for another example, just because a writer doesn’t write every day doesn’t mean they’re waiting for inspiration.

  • Maybe our schedule doesn’t allow for writing every day, but we binge-write on our days off.
  • Maybe our priorities include lowered expectations (releasing a book every other year rather than one or more a year) to better balance the other demands on our time.
  • Maybe our brain works best when drafting in large chunks of time rather than an hour here or there.

None of that means we aren’t serious about our writing. None of that means we’re not writing at all while waiting for inspiration. None of that indicates we should give up our writing goals.

The Truth Is…

Yes, inspiration isn’t likely to strike often enough to build a writing career. Serious, career-minded writers frequently have to start without an inspirational spark and hope it shows up later to work with them. That much is true.

So if we want a writing career, we do have to ensure that we’re not waiting for that elusive spark. But there’s a wide expanse of options between “not waiting for inspiration” and “write every day.”

The problems only crop up when our actions don’t match our goals:

  • A writer could write only when they feel like it—as long as they don’t expect to finish oodles of books in their lifetime or establish a career out of their writing.
  • A writer (even a serious one) could write only as opportunities allow—as long as they’ve scaled their career goals appropriately.
  • A career-minded writer could create their own “not every day” writing schedule—as long as they’re committed to starting without inspiration if necessary and their schedule produces the results needed for their goals.

Personally, I tend to write in batches, focusing on drafting on some days and other activities on other days. That way, my brain doesn’t have to change gears too much in one day.

But on my writing days, I don’t accept a lack of inspiration as an excuse. I figure if I screw up the story, my muse will show himself to express his frustration with my ineptitude and correct all my mistakes. *grin*

That said, I’ve also adjusted my publishing and career goals to reflect that my personal and family life is a priority as well. That balance is more important to my happiness than just writing success, so I wouldn’t want to sacrifice everything to fulfill a supposed “must-do” writing rule.

What Should the Advice Be?

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I often prompt writers to think about their goals. The reason is because I recognize that we can have different goals and still deserve the title writer or author.

I don’t like when advice is dismissive of writers with other habits without also taking into consideration the possibility of other goals, so I try to avoid that messaging. (Maybe it’s the pantser in me who’s been on the end of the “plotting is the only way to go for serious writers” attitude too many times. *smile*)

Instead, when I see someone writing only when they feel like it, I interpret that to mean that they’re not serious about writing as a career and back off from “you must/should” advice. On the other hand, if they say something to indicate they want to be serious—hinting at a possible disconnect between their actions and their goals—advice about committed writing habits might be in order.

For example, we could say something like:

“If you’re serious about writing, some habits that might help you are x, y, and z. It’s fine if you’d rather just enjoy the act of writing, but you’re probably not going to be able to (write 2 books this year, make enough money to quit your job, etc.—whatever their serious-sounding goal is) if you’re waiting for inspiration to strike. Our brains are too lazy for that.”

(Then I’d smile to show that I was in the same boat as them with procrastination-brain and wasn’t making an accusation of laziness. After all, it’s not about being lazy—it’s simple priorities.)

Some writers like the idea of writing or being an author more than they like the work necessary for a serious pursuit, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with different goals, and there’s nothing wrong with different habits. We just have to make sure our habits match our goals well enough to enable the success we want. *smile*

Have you heard the “write every day” advice? If you’ve tried to follow it, were you successful, or have you struggled? Do you think the “every day” aspect is important? Or is it more important to not give ourselves “inspiration” excuses? Are your habits in line with your goals?

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14 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Julie Glover June 6, 2017 at 7:21 am

This is the writing advice I hate the most. For all the reasons you state. Moreover, there’s an underlying belief that if you’re not writing on the book, you’re not doing anything on the book; however, you could be researching that day or mulling over character development and plot issues or putting together a marketing plan. And a lot of those people are the same ones who say that you should treat writing like a job, but then they don’t want anyone to be able to take a sick or vacation day.

Of course I believe in consistent writing, but that doesn’t have to mean every single day. Great post!

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Jami Gold June 6, 2017 at 8:26 am

Hi Julie,

Exactly! I usually do something writing related every day (if we’re counting this blog, reading craft/publishing advice, doing self-pub-related activities, etc.), but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m drafting new stuff.

Plus, the way my brain works, I prefer to work on one story at a time. So if I’m editing a story, that’s what I’m doing with my “writing” time. I’m not drafting the next while editing the last one. Thanks for chiming in with your insights! 🙂

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Carradee / Misti June 6, 2017 at 7:45 am

I’m trying to get in the habit of writing more days than not, and this advice has been part of what’s tripping me up. What I need to do—for me as a person—is try to write every day, just for 10 minutes.

On good days, I’ll run from there. On bad ones, at least I’ll have tried and have maintained the mindset I need. Probably will manage to do some needed thinking about a project even if I can’t write.

Whenever I start thinking in terms of “Write every day!” instead of “Try to write every day”, I turn into a binge writer and end up spending weeks or months having a hard time writing anything for myself.

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Jami Gold June 6, 2017 at 8:32 am

Hi Carradee,

That’s a good point. The usual advice doesn’t specify how long that every-day writing session should be. We often don’t think in terms of ten minutes being “enough” to meet the “requirement,” so that adds pressure to the expectation to find a longer chunk of time in our days.

I have written in short 10 minute chunks before, but that was only with my first attempt at writing, when I was trying to force myself to be a plotter. As a pantser, 10 minutes hasn’t been enough for me to get into the story mind-space and 30 minutes works better for me. (And this is exactly why I talk about how we each have to figure out what works with our process. 🙂 ) Thanks for sharing your experience!

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Pauline Baird Jones June 6, 2017 at 11:56 am

I write in bursts and even when I’m doing that, I don’t write every day. I always take Sundays off. 🙂

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Christina Delay June 6, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Thanks for this post Jami! I wholeheartedly agree. While a writing habit should be established, it is by no means a hard and fast rule. Nothing about writing says if you want to do this, then you must do this. I had a conversation with a woman I met in France about her desire to start writing. But she’d heard this exact advice– you must write everyday. She goes, Christina, I have two kids, another on the way, I work full-time, travel all the time for work…I’d have to get up at 3AM each morning just to write. But I could write on weekends…
I told her to go for it, and that this was exactly why I couldn’t stand this kind of advice. The important part is to write. And when you get serious about writing, establish the writing habits that don’t make you an insane person, but still allow you to be productive.

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Elizabeth June 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm

I love your admonition we must not accept one size fits all. On an earlier post you saved my writing by explaining what pantsers do and holding the line against all these well-meaning folks who say only an outline will do. That without this rigid structure, your writing will fail. I was downhearted. I will fail, I thought. No way can I follow an outline. Your blog came at just the right time. *angels singing* Your advice keeps the joy in writing. Thank you. (At my recent book signing, I made a point of repeating your advice. I gave you credit.)

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Sieran Lane June 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Thanks for writing about this topic! This is truly one of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice I have ever heard. I had believed religiously in this advice for–I don’t know how long! So I did feel guilty whenever I skipped a day, even if I rarely miss a day (not having a family to take care of helps, tbh. You could say I’m privileged in my writing time.)

It was good that you expanded on what you meant by being a “serious” writer, because different people may interpret that word differently, though I would think many would see “serious” writers as “superior” to “nonserious” writers. And that would be how more guilt, and even shame, could build up in us. So it was helpful to see the examples you mentioned, e.g. spending many years tweaking at one idea; and seeing that these cases of “not serious” writing are valid and to be respected as well.

Oh I recall one author of literary classics say that we should read tons of books, and only publish a few books in our lifetime. ^^ The reasoning is that we need to read MANY books to polish up our writing skills to an amazing extent, and to make our stories substantial and profound; so that all the books we show to the world will be of tip-top quality. I don’t think this piece of advice would fly today in the 21st century. ^^ For me, I care more about letting my characters out, fulfilling my responsibility to finish their stories, and spending as long as I can in editing their stories. So, while I do care about reading a lot and enhancing my stories through my reading experience, compared to this literary classic author, I care more about writing than about reading…Though I still care a ton about reading. If that makes sense.

About your comment above on how we may do writing-related things on some days that aren’t drafting per se, yeah, I have periods of time where I do mostly reading and only a little writing. Or mostly editing and a little reading, no writing. Or mostly writing, a tiny bit of editing, and a little reading. These “periods of time” can last anywhere between a week to many months (or even years!) And overall, I end up getting a lot done!

Actually, being more flexible with the “write everyday” advice, made me feel more comfortable in letting go and READING more. It’s not wise for me to care excessively about getting writing done, and neglect my reading, right? Sometimes I think I’m overly concerned with my productivity, that I forget about the learning process, about the actual training of my writing skills. It’s about quality too, not just quantity!

Just as a general comment, I like your philosophy that everyone’s goals and methods are different. It made me more open-minded as a writer. 🙂 I used to think writers who wait for inspiration are “just finding excuses not to write” or are “simply procrastinating.” It’s really nice to talk about these writing issues out in the open, so we can debunk a lot of misunderstandings between people. I believe nowadays that there are many different motivations for things. It’s naive to believe that everyone who does a certain behavior must have the same motivation. (E.g. Someone who doesn’t write for a month may be “procrastinating/ being lazy/ finding excuses,” or they may have a different reason, for instance: They’re going through a very difficult time in life, and would slowly settle back into writing later on. Or maybe they just need to discover better time-management strategies. Or perhaps family members and significant others are scornful of writing, so it’s much harder for the person to seek opportunities to write–they might only want to write in secret. Or they currently stumbled upon a writer’s block, where they don’t know how to continue the story, yet they don’t want to give up and work on a different story; so they’re trying to get ideas from their real life to help them find a solution to their story problem and break that writer’s block. Etc. Etc.)

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Carradee / Misti June 7, 2017 at 10:06 am

Oh I recall one author of literary classics say that we should read tons of books, and only publish a few books in our lifetime. ^^ The reasoning is that we need to read MANY books to polish up our writing skills to an amazing extent, and to make our stories substantial and profound; so that all the books we show to the world will be of tip-top quality.

This logic doesn’t work. Anything else you learn how to do, you learn via practice. You can read all about oil painting, but you won’t be able to produce top-quality oil paintings unless you actually practice it.

Practice is also a standard method of learning and of increasing retention rate of what you learn.

Why would writing be any different?

I know that wasn’t the point of your comment, but I think that’s an illustration of how the “You must or should do X!” advice can put blinders on a person. 🙂

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Sieran Lane June 7, 2017 at 11:13 am

Yeah, that’s a good point. I know about this for oil painting, playing music instruments, and many other skills, but I didn’t think very deeply about this case for writing. I just assumed that reading a lot would help improve your writing skills too! (Learning from example is very powerful.) But you’re right. You can listen to as many exemplary songs as you like, but you won’t get very far in music composition ability if you don’t get enough practice in actually composing songs! Good thing I didn’t take this author’s advice too seriously. ^_^ Just because an author is an eminent one that English lit students study, doesn’t mean their advice must be helpful to us.

Oh! I forgot to mention a good example to illustrate your point, Carradee.

My dad, who is now in his sixties, has read MANY books (over a thousand, from what he told me), mostly nonfiction. So he assumed that he would be ultra fabulous at writing too. But it was only in recent years that he started really writing–not formal writing, but just some essays to his friends expressing his views on society and politics. He considered starting a blog too. By “really writing,” I mean writing stuff outside of school and work.

My dad now realizes how hard it is to articulate some complex concepts. More generally, he found that there is so much he still has to learn about composition, and that writing is not as easy as he thought it would be. And so he regrets not writing more in the past! (In high school, my dad’s very strict literature teacher saw him as a star student in writing, so that might have contributed to my dad’s great confidence as an adult.) Prior to recent years, the only writing my dad did for himself were brief notes on his thoughts about the world and about the books he read. Brief notes aren’t nearly as demanding in writing skill as long essays are!

Anyway, this just goes to show that even someone who has read a great number of books can’t be amazing at writing if they don’t write a ton as well! (Writing outside of school and work.)

P.S. In case I gave off this impression, I didn’t mean to put down my dad’s skills or to lord it over him. Goodness knows I’ve read much fewer books than he did (certainly not over a thousand yet!!) I was just using this as an example of how we shouldn’t neglect our writing by focusing solely on reading, if we want to become fantastic writers.

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Glynis Jolly June 7, 2017 at 9:55 am

The first time I had come across this advice, I questioned its accuracy. For me, writing every day is the norm but, then, I do not have a job outside the home nor children to look after, so finding the time to write is relatively easy. Additionally, does this advice only have to do with WiPs or does it include all the writing a person does? I would think having a few days off from working on a WiP would make the end product better because everyone needs a day off once in a while. I work on my WiP four to five days each week. Still, I am writing every day.

I think the advice is to general.

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Sherryl June 7, 2017 at 10:07 am

I agree that writing every single day might not be the best advice for everyone. Personally, I do have a goal to write every day, but if I just don’t feel like it, I don’t force it. I take the day off. The time I would normally spend writing, I spend reading. Recharging my creative battery.

But before I decide that I need to take the day off, I go for a walk. Sometimes I just need some fresh air.

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Nirupam Banerjee June 25, 2017 at 11:09 pm

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that “Write Every Day” is a bad advice. Life is not linear. It has curves. Life science is not 100% mathematics. It is Bioscience.

Moreover, not all people in the 3rd world are “allowed” to follow what Steve Jobs suggested in his famous University lecture (Pick your Passion as Profession). So in countries like India: some people, if they ever dare to, lead a hyphenated-professional life. Where the demands of the time are hyphenated. And if you follow 2 professional activities simultaneously in a single lifetime, it is more stressful than the life of the typical professionals. 1 profession + 1 permanent hobby, was rather relaxing. But if you want to build your hobby into a profession, the Stress factor changes significantly here. And such a tensile stress needs to be balanced by not doing the two (1 profession + 1 more profession) on a Daily basis. Especially if the current profession itself is stressful with respect to us. So is there no Hope? We may make up at the weekends though! But even there, “Write on a Weekly basis” would be a bad advice too!! Especially if our current ‘job’ is not a 9-to-5 style one. And is another business instead. An entire week can go on without having a drop of environment to focus on writing (or the other profession). These are bold words. But I have to say them. On behalf of the 3rd world.

And the thoughts like “Life is Only One” + “Your Time is Limited” + “Time has the same speed for everyone” could even increase the pain in those situations. But is there again no hope? Maybe any advice like “Write something within every N number of days” is a bad advice in itself. Be it for N=1 (your Article’s villain advice) or be it for N=7 (my example just discussed) or be it for N=14 or even N=30 (“Write something every Month”).

But there is definitely a risk of what we might call “Link Failure” if the Value of N increases indefinitely to seek out the Perfect advice. In fact, no perfect value of N can be determined.

So we need to just follow this kind of Advice instead:

It is important to snatch time for the “other” profession in your life, whenever you feel physically energetic and environmentally safe to jump into it.

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