Do you have to write every day to be a writer? No. But should you? Probably. “Write every day” is super common writing advice. In fact, Roxane Gay said it at her reading in Cincinnati and Kiese Laymon said it when I took his workshop. And if writing every day is how Roxane Gay became Roxane Gay, then yeah, we should all probably be cranking away at our craft daily.
But how realistic is it to expect yourself to write daily? DJ Older, who is massively popular in the speculative fiction genre, is one writer who doesn’t believe in the daily writing rule. My middle sister me asked me how many days a week I try to write. When I told her every single day she was shocked. To non-writers the concept sounds outlandish.
When I was working for The Man, I frequently found myself drained and uninspired at the end of the day. The only thing I wanted to do in front of my laptop was look at stuff on Netflix. The idea of forcing myself to create was excruciating. It’s one of the main reasons I applied for an MFA program. I needed some mental space to focus on my craft.
But guess what happened? There were whole weeks, months even, where I had all the time in the world to do nothing but write. Still, I found, that sometimes, I couldn’t force myself to do it. I didn’t have the excuse that I’d just put in a solid eight hours at the office; I hadn’t. The summer after my first year of grad school, I didn’t work. I told myself I was going to use the next four months to finish the first draft of my still unfinished memoir.
For days, I just laid in bed staring at the ceiling (Don’t worry, I’m not trying to make you feel bad for me!). I couldn’t will the words to come. Then, I thought, if every barrier was removed and I still wasn’t writing, was I even meant to be a writer? The pressure of feeling like I should be writing daily sent me in a spiral and just made everything worse.
Eventually I did write again (I mean, I’m writing this blog post right now). I had a meeting with a professor and I had to revise a chapter to turn into her. Nothing like a deadline to get your creative juices flowing. It certainly wasn’t my best writing, but I did write. Looking back, I realize all the pressure I’d put on myself to write had resulted in a kind of writer’s paralysis. I’d told myself I was going to finish my memoir, but I hadn’t created a plan to do it. I believe things would have been different if I’d broken it up into smaller, daily writing and revision goals.
It’s all about striking a balance. Now, as a professional writer, I write almost everyday. I’m pretty awful at keeping a schedule, so I’ll find myself writing on the weekends or late into the night. However, there are still big blocks of hours or a couple of days that can pass without me writing a single word. I used to force myself to sit in front of my laptop for hours trying to will the words onto the screen, but that rarely worked. I found that just shutting my laptop and making lunch or taking a walk was actually way more effective at knocking some words loose.
The goal is still to write daily, I think that’s important for building the muscle memory that makes it easier to keep your words flowing. But, I no longer tear myself down if I miss a day. Some days are made for exploring and having the experiences that fuel your imagination and other days are for wading through your head and your heart trying to make sense of it all. And those are good days too.
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Image credit: Clem Onojeghuo