Monday, April 11, 2011

Mythbusters for Writers: Do We Really Need to Write Every Day?

“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?

Not me.

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?


Sheila Tenold said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Clarissa! You need to re-juice through new experiences such as traveling. Our minds never shut down.

In Puerto Rico I thought up several story ideas and new characters while having a wonderful vacation with my husband. I believe pure thinking time is just as important as keyboard time.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Hi Sheila,
I've heard Puerto Rico is beautiful. I can see where it would be inspiring. Thanks so much for commenting :)

Donna Cummings said...

Clarissa, this is another great post. :) I agree about giving the brain a chance to rest. It doesn't just work an 8-hour day (at least mine doesn't! LOL) It's constantly churning and plotting and doing all kinds of writing-related activities. It deserves a change of scenery and some down time too. :) Otherwise, it just might decide to quit entirely.

D.R. Grady said...

I totally agree with you Clarissa. I've never felt writing every day was a good idea. In fact, I took a weekend off recently, because the story became a terrible struggle. Guess what? When I returned to the WIP on Monday morning, it was there flowing effortlessly across the page!

Sometimes our muse needs some time to figure out the story. Give her a chance to think, and in the meantime read someone else's book.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thank you, Donna and D.R.! So nice of you to stop by and agree with me :) I'm surprised we haven't heard more from those who write religiously every single day.

Anita Clenney said...

I think burn out is a big problem. I'm a little different than most writers. If I don't feel like I'm going to be productive, I don't write, but I'll double up and go nonstop when I feel the creative flow. I do need to become more disciplined because often just sitting down and starting a sentence or looking over what you've already written will get the creativity going. And I can pick up a book and read a few lines and I'm in the groove, so there's really no excuse for me not writing at least a little EVERY day.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I don't always write every day, but I like to try. I have carpel tunnel ravaged hands so I have to take a break every so often and that gives me a chance to rethink or come up with why my muse stopped talking. I have to sure fire ways of getting the muse going again - listening to the music from Phantom of the Opera (a sure fire to stimulate the muse almost every time) and sewing on my current quilt. Both of them are winners for me.

Pamala Owldreamer said...

My laptop is never off limits and I usually write a post on my blog every day.Five years ago I was a newbie and read so many published authors saying a writer should write every day to become a better writer and I bought into the advice of people,I felt knew much more than me.
I wrote religiously in my WIP. Rarely missing a day.I don't regret it and I do believe it helped me discipline myself,but I'm not sure it made me a better writer. Other RWA and FTHRW writer's answers to my novice questions and kind advice helped a lot. So did a lot of online workshops. After five years, and three unpublished( yet)novels, I AM a better writer. I write and post on my blog every day.And usually write at least a few new scenes in one of my WIP's almost every day or my story and characters won't leave me alone. However; sometimes life intrudes and I miss a day or two. Writing is my job and I love my job.So yes I guess I do write every day and I still love it.I get twitchy if I don't write something,even one scene in a WIP.

Cassy Pickard said...

Great topic! I am just returning from a writer's retreat in which there was intense discussion about writing and brainstorming. When I left after nearly five days I found ideas were swarming in my head, but couldn't write. So much had been concentrated in a short time, I needed to take a few days and just let it all percolate.

Vanessa Kier said...

I'm like Pamala. I get twitchy and unhappy if I don't write every day. It might just be for five or ten minutes, but that's enough to keep my muse happy.

However, I think it's all a matter of what works best for the individual. Don't force something if it doesn't feel right. Throw away all guilt and "should" thinking and find your unique process.

Clarissa Southwick said...

So many insightful comments! Thank you all for taking the time to stop by and post. :)

PamelaTurner said...

I found I had to take short breaks, simply because I was overreaching myself: taking on writing challenges while still revising other WIPs and dealing w/marketing & promotion.

I try to pursue other creative endeavors like photography, painting, drawing, etc. to help my writing. Often get ideas from hearing a song lyric or seeing a photo or painting. :-)

Clarissa Southwick said...

Hi Pamela, That's a great idea for nurturing your creativity without getting burnt out. Thanks for posting.

Paisley, you have my admiration for soldiering on while dealing with carpel tunnel. I love your positive spirit!

Debby Lee said...

Hi Clarissa, I consider myself fortunate to have found what works for me early on in my writing career.
I write at least 100 words a day Monday through Friday. Saturday is optional depending on deadlines or if I'm really in the muse. On Sundays I don't put words to paper, so to speak. That's my day to spend with family, relax and get refreshed.
I began doing this in Feb. of 2009. There have been days where I've had to write 100 words by hand because I didn't have computer access, days where I've wrote 1,000+ words, and days I've barely eeked out 100 words while sitting with a puke bucket in my lap.
I don't always write fiction though. Some days I work on articles, devotions, and other forms of non-fiction to keep my mind sharp and to keep things fresh.
I haven't missed a day since I started this long ago. So like I said earlier, I count myself luckyto have found what works for me. Thanks for posting this article Clarissa.
Sincerely, Debby Lee

Clarissa Southwick said...

Hi Debby, I think that's the key, every writer must find their personal best routine. Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the support.

Anonymous said...

I don't write every day. Sometimes I wish I did, because it seems that the more regularly I write, the easier it is to put stuff on the page when I do sit down to write.

Josie said...

I write every, every, every day. And I'll be the first to admit that many, if not most, of those days, I have to push myself.