Bad Writing Advice #1 Write Every Day

There are some bits of writing advice that make me go “hmm” and this is one of them. For one thing I mistrust any advise that is couched in absolutes. Write EVERY day. That’s an absolute. Any advice like that should be taken with a bucket of salt, because of the assumption that it a) works for everyone and b) is the only way that works.

Why it’s bad

1) There are too many exceptions. Because many very good and successful writers don’t do it and they do just fine, so they immediately contradict the idea that it’s the only way to be a writer.

2) It’s guilt inducing. Guilt is generally a useless burden. Thinking “Oh no, I didn’t write all week, I need to get my act together.” might be helpful. Thinking “Oh no, I didn’t write today, I’m a failure as a writer!” is not. Especially if on the previous few days the writer did 10,000 words.

3) It’s elitist and possibly sexist to boot. Oh wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all schedule big blocks of time, close the door on interruptions and go to our mind palace to work on the novel. Clearly the people who advise writers to do this think writers don’t have children to take care of, or don’t have a day job. Most writers — and I’d venture especially women writers — are working around a busy life to get their books done. The fact they get novels finished at all is something to admire and they don’t deserve to be made to feel bad because they missed a couple of days writing because their kids were ill, or they had to work late at the day job, or they were just plain knackered.

Tired writer
Some days there just isn’t enough coffee in the world.

4) It ignores the fact everyone is different. Some people like the discipline of daily writing sessions. They work steadily on their books. Deadlines hold few terrors for them. They know they can get the work done. On the other hand some people do — gasp — wait for inspiration. And as long as they get the work done, then who cares? Does the reader know or care if the book was finished at a steady 1,500 words a day, or in a frenzy of words with an eye on the clock?

So that’s what I think of write every day. Don’t, unless doing so works for you. Writers gotta write, certainly. You’ve got to produce the work. But how you’re going to do it is something you’ve got to work out according to what suits you. Writing advice that implies you are not a proper writer if you don’t do it their way needs to be judged warily. In my opinion the best writing advice is never prescriptive, but presented as “this works for me, you might want to try it. If it doesn’t work, try something else.”

Woman writer
Not pictured – screaming baby, puking cat and builders working next door with power tools, playing loud radio.

11 thoughts on “Bad Writing Advice #1 Write Every Day

  1. Yep, this one always makes me feel guilty. I’ve given up on weekly word counts too. I seem to manage to produce fiction without them, and this way I get to take a day off if I feel the need.

    What most writing rules fail to recognise is that writers are a diverse bunch of personalities, and we all have own quirks. I think it’s often handy to try different approaches out, but ultimately you have to decide for yourself whether something suits you.

    1. You’ve certainly managed to get your books done, so it’s obviously working for you. Being able to take a day off without guilt is key. It’s hard to relax mentally (the whole point of having a day off) if you’re feeling guilty!

  2. This is one area where I’m going to have to disagree.

    1) Yes, there are many very good and successful writers who don’t write every day – but they probably aren’t working on their first novel. Successful writers have already learned and developed the discipline to write, and know when they can and cannot take a day off.

    2) There’s nothing wrong with a bit of guilt – and if someone is thinking they’re a failure because they didn’t write that day, they have bigger problems.

    3) Writing every day doesn’t mean setting aside huge blocks of time. It means getting up fifteen minutes earlier, or using lunch breaks to write, or working on the novel instead of tweeting. And suggesting that women writers have it any harder than men – single parent here. Organization meant I had time to do my stuff as well as taking care of the boy and the full-time job and all the other things adults need to deal with.

    4) Waiting for inspiration? Don’t get me started on that! lol Yes, everyone is different – but the point of “write every day” is to develop the discipline needed to get the job done. Too many would-be writers find excuse after excuse after excuse not to write. They don’t write one day – then the next day they find another excuse. Then the third. Suddenly a month has gone by and they haven’t done a thing. Those are the people who want to be writers – but they don’t want to write (ie, do the work).

    There are exceptions to every rule, obviously. But those should be true exceptions, not excuses. And until a writer has developed the discipline, and thus knows when they can and cannot take time off (ie, when they know the difference between ‘taking time off’ and plain procrastination), writers need to write every day, even if it is only fifteen minutes.

    1. Hah, that’s me told. 😀 All good points. Though I think the writers who wait to be inspired have to have their own discipline – which is that when inspired they MUST WRITE until they run dry. Whatever else is calling them and distracting them, they have to ignore it all and keep writing.

  3. I agree that it’s hard to write every day, so I have a weekly word count, or to do list if I’m still at the planning stage (character biogs, chapter outline etc). This gives me flexibility to have days with more writing alongside days when I do none, due to the factors you listed.

  4. Write as often as you can has always been my advice to students – writers have to write a lot, many many thousands of words in order to make the most of their talent. Practice, practice, practice, begin novels, throw them away, write a poem, anything, write over the top and off the wall, in different styles….then put the writing away in a drawer for weeks or months or years, write some more. Edit, edit, throw it all away or send it out to magazines, publishers, friends…..the only thing is, you have to write a great deal to develop your writing. Writing every day is probably impossible for most people, but sacrifices do have to be made in order to do any thing well, turn off the tv, don’t go to the cinema, pub….write a lot as often as you can. And when you are too knackered, read. If you’re reading you don’t have to feel guilty about not writing. There, that’s my penny’s worth. And I feel guilty all the time about not writing, although my 6th novel is with my agent, and I am half heatedly trying to promote my published novels….I feel guilty about that half hearted effort, too, but sometimes it’s hard not to be overwhelmed…and seven years of book signings, library visits etc takes it toll…writing is a very self motivated activity, not always easy to get up and go, but get and go we must if we are to have any impact.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Marion. You’re right, it does mean a lot of sacrifice. It’s not like any of us were sitting around with nothing to do with our time before we started writing.

  5. I don’t manage to “write every day” – I never have, and I doubt I ever will. The only time I’ve ever been disciplined enough to do something every day to develop a skill was when I was doing my A levels and had to practice my flute to have any chance of passing the practical side of the Music exam (however, if I’d bothered to practice even three times a week in the preceeding years I mightn’t have had so much work to cram in to eighteen months!)

    What I do do every day, though is think about my writing. I don’t mean that I think “Oh, maybe I should write. Yes, I should. When shall I do that?”, but that at pretty much any spare moment I have (which includes when I’m doing other tasks such as cooking or shifting boxes at work) I’ll be mulling over my characters and their story – working out the kinks and the niggles, figuring out backstory, and sometimes working my way through a scene which needs writing later…

    I also do this when I’m winding-down for the night, and I use the ‘memo’ function on my phone (which sits on my bedside table ready for alarm-clock duty in the morning) to record anything I think I might forget: most recently, at (apparently) 11pm last night was “I snore,” – “like a shipful of sailors!”

    1. Ah yes. I’m thinking about writing and characters all the time. Running over scenes in my head, “listening” to the characters talking at each other. All the time! See, that’s why I like writing because you can say to people, “I know it looks like I’m just lying here snoozing but actually I’m working – with my brain!” 😉

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