April 29th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Writing Every Day?

I have a question for folks.  Some explaining first.

When I was first starting out, one of the good pieces of advice I got was to write every day.  I heard it from lots of people, and it made a lot of sense.  Getting in the habit of sitting down every day and writing is one of the best ways to learn to write, to learn to write lots, and to learn to finish what you write.  Over the course of my years as a struggling writer, I’d write every day some years, and not write every day in others.  The years when I wrote every day were always better.  I didn’t necessarily produce more, but what I produced was better, and got better feedback.  I kind of got superstitious about writing every day, because good things happened when I did — I sold more stories, wrote better stories, and so on.  This last stretch, I’ve been writing every day since February 2004.  I’m afraid if I stop all the success I’ve had the last couple of years will go away.  (I also, coincidentally (?) landed my agent in February 2004, sold my first novel in August 2004, and so on.)

Now, I have a very loose definition of writing every day, which makes it much easier.  I don’t have a set word count.  Writing in my journal counts.  (I’m sure someone looking through my journal would find at least a couple of entries that say, “Can’t write, too sick, blaurrgghh!”)  When I travel I keep a trip journal rather than try to work on fiction.  Brainstorming and outlining count as writing for the day.  So does serious revision.  But I do something that involves putting words on the page every day.

So.  Writing every day.  Good advice for writers just starting out.  But I’ve noticed something: a lot of the pros I know don’t write every day.  They take breaks between books, or breaks for other reasons, or take weekends off.  At this point, I’m not sure I’d know how to take a break from writing.  As I said, I’ve become rather deeply superstitious about it.  Writing is a self-fulfilling ritual.  If I want to keep writing, I have to keep writing.  Irrational, I know, but there it is.

Now the question, especially for the working pros and nearly-pros:  Do you write every day?  Do you take breaks?  How do you decide when to take a break?  How hard is it to get back into the groove?

I love my job, but there are plenty of days I don’t feel like writing, and I have to drag every word out of my brain kicking and screaming, painfully. (I just had a couple of those days, which is what brought this up.)  But if I didn’t write when I didn’t feel like writing, I’d never get anything done.

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14 comments to “Writing Every Day?”

  1. Darlene Ryan
     · April 29th, 2009 at 7:32 am · Link

    “But if I didn’t write when I didn’t feel like writing, I’d never get anything done.”

    That’s exactly how it works for me. I don’t do a lot of writing on the weekends, but there’s always some, maybe just an hour snuck in somewhere. I spent years writing radio commercials and there were lots of days I didn’t feel like writing about used cars and pre-arranged funerals but I did it anyway. I think I’m just used to writing on a schedule.

  2. Charlene Teglia
     · April 29th, 2009 at 8:19 am · Link

    I’ve written every day since I was 12. That’s, whee, nearly 30 years now. Starting off the day with my journal helps me focus, process, plan, brainstorm. I feel unfocused and off-balance if I have to rush into action first thing and don’t get to do that until later. I’m not sure if time off between projects would be more recreational that letting myself write something just for fun.

    There are days I don’t write any fiction, which always makes me feel like a non-writer. For some reason, if I didn’t write any new pages it doesn’t count in my head. When I know it’s time to take a break; when I keep pushing and the words aren’t coming, or the ones that come are bad. Sometimes a break isn’t an option so I do mini breaks. Spend an hour away somewhere in nature. Watch Battlestar Galactica episodes. Play with my kids. Take a picture.

  3. B.E. Sanderson
     · April 29th, 2009 at 8:23 am · Link

    I used to try to write every day, but sometimes life would intrude. Then I promised myself to do something writerly every day. If I wasn’t writing, I was going to edit, work on submission materials, outline, brainstorm, etc. That worked pretty good for a while, but I’m back around to the reality intruding thing again. I need to get back to some kind of schedule, but I feel better when I work every day. I think I’ll start today. Thanks for the unintented nudge, Carrie. =o)

  4. Lena Phoenix
     · April 29th, 2009 at 8:34 am · Link

    I don’t write every day, but I do write 4-5 days a week. I need to write enough to keep the momentum on my projects going. But I also need weekends to clear my head, to take a step back from the story and let things settle in a new way so the writing is more fluid when I am at my desk. I’ve also found that pushing myself to write when it’s just not happening is less productive than taking a day off now and again, so I’ve learned not to give myself too hard of a time when that happens.

  5. Paige
     · April 29th, 2009 at 10:01 am · Link

    Although recently I’m getting more and more into writing fiction, I write for my dayjob as a radio copywriter, and I definitely understand your point. There are days when I’m doing more producing of commercials than the actual writing of commercials, and if it goes on too long, it’s really hard for me to jump back into the mentality of writing them, so I have to take a bit of time to get back into it.

    Anyone find that you get into a certain zone or mood when you’re doing your best writing? I get that when I know I’m writing a good commercial, and lately I’ve been getting it when I work on my fiction projects at home. It’s a really neat feeling.

  6. Carrie Vaughn
     · April 29th, 2009 at 11:12 am · Link

    This is actually encouraging. It’s not just me! I feel like a bit of a freak sometimes and wonder if I’m working myself too hard. But it would feel really, really weird and wrong not writing at least _something_ every day.

  7. May
     · April 29th, 2009 at 1:53 pm · Link

    Every day.

    Sometimes, it’s just opening the file, tweaking one sentence and that’s all I can do. But usually it’s more.

    Paige, absolutely! It’s like the world’s just a that much better place to be in!

  8. Linda Poitevin
     · April 29th, 2009 at 2:22 pm · Link

    No, Carrie, it’s not just you! Last August, I got SERIOUS about my career and began writing every day. Lo, I made the same discovery you did. I was actually making headway. Not just a little bit, but a lot. I completed a manuscript, found an agent, started on the second book in a trilogy…oh, the miracles of discipline!!! But wait…what if I stopped…and couldn’t START again? What if my muse, so recently agreeable to a relatively routine performance, DISAPPEARED in the one day off I allowed myself?!?

    I’ve managed (slowly) to get past the hyperventilation aspect, and give myself the occasional day off. I’ve never been able to do more than three off in a row, however, and that resulted in a two-day mild panic when my muse did disappear in a sulk somewhere, so I’m now eyeing my upcoming summer vacation with serious trepidation. :)

    Hmm…it seems that while I can commiserate, I don’t have any answers to your dilemma. I guess it’s one of those balance things we have to discover for ourselves…wouldn’t this be so much easier if we had a definitive employee handbook?

  9. Lynn
     · April 29th, 2009 at 2:40 pm · Link

    Charlene has me beat by a year; I’ve been writing every day since I was 13. The only times I haven’t written daily were a few weeks during basic training when they wouldn’t allow us personal time at night to do our own thing. And even then I was writing in my head.

    I don’t think you have to have a quota unless you’re under a tight deadline and aren’t sure you’re going to make it, but writing anything each day incorporates writing as part of your daily routine. Not a bad habit to get into if you want to do this professionally.

  10. Samantha Clark
     · April 29th, 2009 at 10:36 pm · Link

    I feel the same way about writing every day. I started writing every day when I got tired of not really getting anywhere with my novel. I changed my way of thinking from trying to find the time to write to making the time to write. I now set my alarm early and get up when it’s still dark and write. I do miss a morning here and there when I’m just too tired, but when I do, it not only feels weird to wake up when they sun’s coming through the blinds, I can feel myself getting aggravated because I haven’t been doing any writing.

    It’s different for everyone, but writing every day works best for me. I even take my laptop on vacation. I’d be lost without it.

    But, I agree that even research, editing, whatever counts, as long as it’s something to do with writing. Currently, I’m researching agents and tweaking my query letter and synopsis. I miss my novel, but those are still writing related and necessary next steps.

    Writing every day also helps with keeping writers block away, I find, although it still rears its ugly head sometimes, especially when I’m very tired. But mostly, the story stays with me better when I’m writing every day, so I don’t get blocked as much.

  11. Sasha White
     · April 30th, 2009 at 12:52 am · Link

    I don’t write every day-although I have done so fro a two year stretch. I find that when I’m working on a story, I like to write everyday, all day, and night usually too. But when I’m not actively writing a story then I tend to piddle around on my blog, or something like that…and not every day. Taking days completely away from my computer helps me to sit and concentrate when I DO sit down to write. I hate sitting still unless I’m tired, so I find the mix does my sanity and my creativity good. And how much /how often to write to get the best product is still a bit of trial and error for me.

    Not sure that helps. LOL

  12. Marissa
     · April 30th, 2009 at 8:56 am · Link

    I try to write every day, but usually only write six times a week. I carry a notebook around with me, with a pencil tucked into it, so I can write when I have time. No one wants to borrow pencils anymore, so I always have something to use other than my eyeliner.

  13. Emma
     · May 1st, 2009 at 2:07 pm · Link

    I have similar regulations and superstitions for writing every day. I wrote on and off for years, but it was only when I started writing every day again that things began to take more shape. Writing in my journal definitely counts. I’ve tried setting word targets, but it generally doesn’t help me; however, if I am going through a spate of writing more prolifically I keep note of my word counts to cheer me on in less wordy times.

  14. Stephen Webber
     · November 16th, 2010 at 3:09 am · Link

    I don’ think it’s necessary to write every day. Many successful writers work in stints.

    However, writers who do so as a practice, rather than a profession (above and beyond) will do so every day. It seems to be less about routine and more about passion, yes?


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