When you’re starting out as a writer, you often hear people talk about how important it is to write something every day.
It’s important to build the habit of writing, they say, because one of the hardest parts of writing is getting started. Build up momentum so that even when you have one bad writing day, it doesn’t stop you from sitting down the next day to try again. Or so that your version of a bad writing day doesn’t look as bad now as it did before — say, instead of I didn’t write anything at all today it becomes I wrote a few shitty things today, except actually, when you look back at those things, they’re not quite as shitty as you thought they were at the time.
By and large I’ve found this to be the case with my own writing habits. I do think that there’s a danger into turning WRITE EVERY DAY into an absolutist mantra — or turning anything into an absolutist mantra, for that matter — but that’s no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Sometimes, especially when you’re a new writer or you’re struggling with a period of doubt or low productivity, both baby and bathwater get lost in the crowded writing advice bubblebath. It can get overwhelming! You’re just trying to figure out how to write right and now that you’ve gone back to the well of helpful tips, all of a sudden you’re choking on metaphorical soap bubbles.
So let’s talk about wading through the mess. Get that baby writer some fresh air!
Plenty of more experienced writers have talked about how WRITE EVERY DAY can become counterproductive. If you internalize the idea that all the “real” writers do it every day, and you are somehow doing it wrong or worse if you can’t make time for that, it builds up a lot of anxiety around the act of writing or not-writing. Now you’re right back where you started at a blank word document, except there’s this huge stress wall you have to hammer through that wasn’t there before.
I’ve certainly been there, and I’ll no doubt be there again. You might say that I’m actually there right now — that’s why I’m writing this post. To chip away at that wall.
If you find yourself in that place, I definitely recommend “Writing Begins With Forgiveness” by Daniel José Older. I find myself going back to it again and again when I feel stressed or inadequate for not producing enough. It’s a soothing reminder that there’s no one right path to being a writer. No matter how many accomplished and respected writers swear by any given bit of writing advice, it’s not worth the spit you spend to say it if it doesn’t help you write.
That having been said, I want to explore the good intention of advice like “Write every day.” There is something valuable in there! I’ve found that I write more and feel more confident about what I write when I’m able to write consistently, if not every day.
How do we sift through the counterproductive stigma and anxiety to pluck out that gold?
Well, I think Older’s article is a great place to start — you’ve got to forgive yourself for times you’ve fallen short of your goals, whether that’s “write every day” or anything else. Again, don’t make it an absolute mantra. Make as much time for writing as you can, and make the best of that time. Anxiety and perfectionism don’t qualify as good ways to use that time.
I’ve felt the best about my writing when I’ve consistently been able to work on a project, keep my head in that project, and bring it to completion. Maybe that means putting out short blog posts on a regular schedule. Maybe for a longer project, like a novel, it means finishing chapters or scenes regularly so that I get a sense of progress.
The important part isn’t to stick to a precise routine with anal-retentive-bordering-on-fascist devotion and then kick the shit out of yourself when you fail to meet your own impossible standards.
The important part is to find a way to build habits that keep you productive. Feeling good about your work is an invaluable way to stay productive. It makes your work time a lot more bearable, too — dare I drop an F bomb, but perhaps it can even make your work fun?
A little flexibility goes a long way. Give yourself room to grow and room to slip up. If your workflow doesn’t allow you space to come back and try again after you’ve fallen short of a goal, it’s not a very practical workflow.
So go out and make things. Not all of those things will be perfect or even good, but if they help you get where you need to go? That sounds to me like it’s worth it.