Don’t write every day. Or do, if it works for you

cropped-kayaks.jpgThere are so many ways to feel like you’re not doing it right. We all feel the pressure to conform.

Many of us try to find our own way, set our own standards, and this can be difficult and lonely. I don’t necessarily think it’s any more laudable to rebel than conform. All I know is that when I was a kid and teachers asked us if we were a leader or a follower, I was truly stumped. Weren’t there any other choices?

You’d think writers would be immune to the pressure to conform – or the desire to convince others that there is a right way and a wrong way. I mean, writers are creative and free thinkers, right? To write about society you have to be able to observe it with a critical eye. Feelings of alienation go with the territory.

The truth is, writers can be just as conform-y as anyone else. And worse, they can develop grandiose beliefs that “their way” is the right way. Writers love to tell other writers how to do it.

There are a lot of things you should or should not do as a writer. Demand your family leave you alone for five hours a day. Better yet, rent a cabin. Never use adverbs with dialogue tags. But the most commonly-repeated dictum is this: write every day.

Writing is a muscle, it’s said. Don’t use it and it atrophies. Inspiration is a capricious adulterer. You must be at your desk every day at the same time, so it knows where and when to find you.

There’s truth there. But unless you’re one of the people able to write every day, there’s a lot to feel bad about there, too.

You’ll hear, “If you want to be successful you have to be disciplined.”

If success is getting multiple and consistent publications, then yeah, at the very least you have to have a high production rate.

But I believe success is embodied in action rather than result. Writing itself is the success. And if this is so, then production rate does not matter. Writing every day does not matter unless it is something that works for you.

It does not work for me. I know this after over ten years of writing. What works for me is writing between three and five days out of the week, for an hour or two each session, and taking weeks off between fertile periods for internalizing the new developments of my story and regenerating creative energy. This is a writing schedule that keeps me happy. What’s that I’m hearing from all the self-serious writers? That it’s not important to be happy, only do good work? (Or maybe nobody is saying this.) Well, being happy is one of my priorities. At the end of my life I want to say I enjoyed it as much as I could, not that I wrote however may novels and stories that will molder forever in some rarely-visited, aging corner of the internet.

You know what else I want to say? That I kept on writing through the years. That I sat down and wrote words even when I didn’t feel like it, which is nearly every time I write (I’m not saying I lie around eating grapes and cheese, waiting for inspiration to strike, y’all). But that I wrote every day? Not something I care about being able to say in that hopefully far-off hour when my past comes home to roost for the final time.

So when I see yet another writer extol the virtue of writing every day, while at the same time bemoaning the fact that he/she is too lazy to get it done (or conversely, showing off his/her own dedication to the craft), I get pissed off. I want to say, “Not this shit again. Aren’t writers who don’t write every day allowed to feel good about their method?” And I kind of feel angry at the writer who is regurgitating this “should” bullet point.

I get it, though. I’ve been known to beat myself up for not being productive enough. And when I’m writing a lot I sometimes imagine myself giving sanctimonious advice to less productive scribblers. An inferiority/superiority complex is a common writer neurosis.

If you can write every day, I say great, do it. But I will never, ever say that you have to write every day to be a writer, or a “serious” writer, or a “successful” writer.


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