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:
- “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.).”
- “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.
We can be serious about writing even if we don't write every day. Click To TweetIn 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?