“Write every day. Writing is like a muscle. If you want to maintain your writing skills, you have to exercise them every single day.”
Take any writing class, and you’re likely to hear some variation of this advice. Time and time again, our workshops stress the importance of writing every single day. Most writers believe this is the only way to improve as a writer, but is that really true?
I will be the first to agree that no writer should sit around waiting for a “muse.” Writing is a job like any other. Once a deadline or a goal is set, it’s important to do whatever it takes to meet that goal.
But write every day even when you’re not on deadline?
In every other discipline, vacation days are considered necessary to renew and reenergize. No one tells a brain surgeon, “Uh, sorry, you can’t take a day off. We don’t want you to get rusty.” No, we want our professionals well-rested, alert, and enthusiastic. Even professional athletes schedule days of rest.
Why should writing be any different? Do we really believe our writing will turn into incoherent blobs of gerunds and passive verbs if we go away for the weekend?
After years of judging contests, critiquing chapters, and generally reading everything I can find, I’ve come to the conclusion that burnout is a greater problem for writers than they like to admit. How else to explain that disastrous third book in an otherwise brilliant trilogy or the rare lackluster chapter from a genius critique partner?
Is it possible the difference between crisp and clichéd is simply a weekend away from the computer?
I used to feel guilty about taking time off from writing. I’ve written in hospital waiting rooms, at my kids’ soccer practices, and while waiting for my car to be repaired.
But the one place it is impossible for me to write is on family vacations. Oh, I’ve heard all the recommendations: get up an hour early, go sit in the hotel cafe, “make” your husband take the kids for an hour. With four kids in a crowded hotel suite, none of that really works. Besides, this is our vacation. I don’t want to miss a minute of it.
During a recent week-long trip to San Francisco, I did not write a single word. I did however, choose my next project, plot out an entire novel, study hundreds of characters while on a ship to Alcatraz, and come up with at least five novel-worthy story ideas, all without turning on the computer. Reinvigorated, I returned home, excited to get back to work and enthusiastic about my new manuscript.
So write every day?
No more guilt on those days when I can’t squeeze in a thousand words between catching a shuttle and catching a plane. I’ve come to appreciate the change of pace, the pause for reflection, and the life experience that only comes from stepping away from the computer. From here on out, I’ll be scheduling regular no-writing retreats to freshen up my perspective.
There’s more to writing than simply putting words on the page.
I would love to hear your opinion on this topic. Do you write religiously every day or do you intentionally plan days when the computer’s off limits?