Should You Write Every Day?

Should You Write Every Day?

Writing advice is an interesting wormhole. There is so much out there, and much of it is contradictory. Add to that the fact that writing advice often gets condensed into ‘helpful’ shorthand that makes it easy to misinterpret, and it can be difficult to know which advice you should actually follow.

But the writing advice that crops up most often these days is write every day. It’s the number one answer in all of my writing groups whenever a newbie asks for advice. People offer it to experienced writers stuck in ruts as well. I’ve even seen people claim that if you want to consider yourself a writer you need to write every day.

I sincerely believe people offer this advice with good intentions. But the harsh reality is that not everyone can write every day – even if they want to. There are any number of reasons for this, from having to work full time to experiencing chronic illness. Sometimes time and responsibility gets in the way. And then there’s burnout, which can strike without warning if you’re not used to recognizing the signs.

Some people are extremely adamant about this advice and refuse to budge, no matter the counterevidence. And there is a laundry list of good reasons why a writer should sit down to write every day. So how can an inexperienced writer tell whether or not to follow this advice?

Reasons to Write Every Day

There are two main reasons why people might want – or need – to write every day. The biggest is if you’re trying to make your living as an author. In that case, it’s important to follow another often repeated bit of writing advice: treat your writing like a business. If you want writing to be a full-time gig, you should probably have office hours. And at some point, you should use some of those office hours to produce new work. This could mean writing for one hour or three, but the best way to ensure business gets done is to devote time to it every day.

If writing is your job and you don’t write, you theoretically can’t make money.

This statement ignores a lot of the other tasks involved in making money off of your writing, such as marketing or querying (not to mention editing). But in the simplest terms, to make money off of writing you need new product, and writing is how you produce new product. So anyone who wants to turn writing into their primary living probably should at least consider taking this advice to heart.

In the shorter term, however, the other main reason to write every day is to turn writing into a habit. If you struggle to finish projects, have come up against a writing block or want to develop the aforementioned writing business, then turning writing into a habit is a good way to do that.

Plenty of studies show that developing habits is a numbers game. The more often and more consistently you repeat an activity, the more likely it is to become a habit. And once something turns into a habit, you tend to do it somewhat automatically without really having to think about it.

A Game of Numbers

If you need to write consistently in order to have books or stories to sell, a writing habit will ultimately be your best friend. Because even the most skilled and consistent writers have bad days or troublesome projects that make it difficult to hit your word or project goals.

When it feels like everything is going wrong, time is running thin for the day or your just not in the best of moods, a writing habit can be a life saver. Because it will bring your butt to the chair and help you open that writing document. It might even help you push most of your troubles to the side for however brief a window so that you can get into the flow. (Though all the other stuff will still be waiting for you when you finish.)

On my streams, we talk a lot about star power, or hitting the zone. (Which we compare to the star power in Mario games.) Hitting the zone is the best way to write a lot of words fast without overthinking or burning a ton of energy. If you write habitually then you have a statistically higher likelihood of hitting your star power zone more often, even though there’s no way to consciously trigger it.

As they say, when the faucet is on, creativity is more likely to flow. And the muse is more likely to visit if creativity is already flowing. Insofar as writing can be reduced to pure numbers, those who write more often have more opportunities to encounter advantages.

Reasons to Skip Writing Some Days

If writing every day is so great, why isn’t it universally good advice to write every day?

Well, not everyone writes because they want to make money off of it. And making money off of your work is not a requirement of writing. Some people write for fun. And if you write for the sheer joy of it, you probably don’t want it to feel like work.

If you write every day, sooner or later it is going to feel like work. Having a writing habit will help you push through when the going gets tough. But if you’re writing for fun, it’s probably just better to take a break or switch gears so you don’t start hating your hobby.

Even if you want to write consistently, writing every day might not work for you. If you’ve taken ill, you might need a few days to rest and relax – especially if you don’t feel up to producing quality work. And for those that live with chronic illness and don’t have access to a reliable amount of energy every day, an extra daily task might prove to be an impossible ask.

While daily behaviors help you develop habits faster, it’s not impossible to develop a long term habit without performing the desired behavior every day. It just takes longer. (You wouldn’t want to have weeks or months in between the behavior you’re trying to turn into a habit, but a day or two break here and there won’t hurt you.) And let’s not forget that even businesses give their employees – and managers – days off every week.

Avoid Negative Habits

Even if writing is your full-time gig, you don’t want it associated with negativity. If the idea of sitting down to write makes you cringe every day, you might develop bad habits that make you procrastinate and avoid dealing with the stress or headache. Then you’ll have to unlearn a habit before you can make a new one.

We have to remember that creativity costs energy. In order to spend energy on creativity, you have to have that energy to give. Constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel just to tick off a checkbox is the fastest way to get burnt out. And if you’re burnt out, not even a habit can save you.

So how do you know if you should write every day?

Ask yourself if it’s working for you. If it is – great. Keep at it! But if it isn’t working for you, you’re not a horrible failure just because you take a few days off. I know lots of writers who write in fits and bursts when the muse strikes them and spend the rest of the time editing or marketing.

Heck, I don’t write every day. Even with all the other tricks I use to stave off burnout – like switching between projects and using prompts so I can sometimes write for fun – I still get burnt out if I don’t take weekends off.

Try Every Day

Here’s a better bit of advice, one I like to hand out during my streams. Try to write every day. If you don’t already have an established writing routine that works for you, pick a time slot and try to write some words on a daily basis. If the faucet flips on and the words flow, great. Otherwise, give yourself a little nudge.

If you’ve sat down with your document and genuinely tried to put words on the page but it feels as if you’re pulling teeth, then effort isn’t your issue. And the main point of sitting down to write every day is to put in effort. If you open the door and just can’t find a way through it, it’s a good sign you need a break. And if you need a break, don’t feel guilty – it happens to everyone eventually.

All that said, if you have a non-traditional writing routine and it works for you – don’t touch it! At the end of the day, routines and habits are personal. And the most important thing about writing is finding what works for you. Brains don’t all work the same way, so there really isn’t a universal key to writing or productivity.

If you haven’t found the thing that works for you, test until you do. But once you find it, hold on to that method because messing with it won’t do you any good!

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