The Worst Piece of Writing Advice

Why it’s so wrong, and what you should do instead.

OPOLJA

Almost everyone repeats this same rule. Write every day. Build a schedule. If it works for you, great. But too many writers — and content creators in general — wind up burning themselves out on this plan.

It can lead to strange limitations. One guy I knew from grad school wouldn’t go over 500 words a day. When I asked why, he said, “I want to keep up a consistent daily schedule.”

“But what if you’re on a roll?”

He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll stop myself in mid sentence if I have to.” Apparently that’s what Graham Greene did.

The “write everyday” mantra stems from a single toxic assumption. What other writers did will work for you. Just copy what Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Atwood did, and you’ll publish your way to a fortune.

Except you’re not these writers. You live in a different era, with different technology. Your life and job come with different expectations. What helped them may hinder you.

The real advice is to pay attention to your process. Your own writing habits and strategies need to evolve. What worked for you for six months might stop working tomorrow. You’ll have to try something else.

For years, I could write in coffee shops. Or at least I thought I could. Then one day Starbucks got too loud, and I started writing only in my apartment. Recently, I’ve managed to write a few great pieces in cafes again. Once or twice, I’ve even managed to write in an airport.

Some of my best pieces, I started writing those alone and finished them over family dinner.

The biggest myth out there is still daily writing. In my 20s, I interviewed a dozen different mid-list authors, a few best-sellers, and even a couple of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners. None of them gave the same advice when it came to a writing schedule or ritual.

A lot of them said “write everyday,” but they didn’t seem invested. I doubt they actually followed their own advice.

Maybe what they really meant was write consistently.

People think I write every day. But I don’t, not usually. Maybe I’ll go three days in a row, especially if ideas feel like they’re piling up. But I prefer four days a week, when it comes to blogging.

What do we really define as writing, anyway? I’m writing in my head all the time — ideas, parts of introductions, clever sentences, observations, and weird stuff that happens to me.

A smartphone has replaced my notebook. I don’t worry too much about keeping my list organized. Going back through and seeing what stands out is part of the process. But I do clean it out a lot. If an idea goes into a post, I delete it from my app.

There’s no real need to sit down and force yourself to bang out a certain number of words per day. I’ve tried that, with mixed results. This approach ignores all the complex dynamics of writing and how it interfaces with your life. Maybe you shouldn’t be writing today. Maybe you should be doing laundry and cleaning your house.

Maybe a fantastic idea will strike you in the middle of dishes, or while you’re raking leaves, or after coffee with a friend.

Write it down and let it brew.

The worst thing some writers do is lock themselves away for eight hours a day. Hello, you’re a social creature. Even if you don’t like people, you need them. Anything you write will ultimately involve humans and all the stupid stuff we do. Our jobs as writers is to learn about people.

On a given day, I’d rather spend most of my time reading and working on articles. Even I manage to keep a social life. Usually, the stuff I don’t want to do actually gives me material for my blog.

Talk about strange motivation.

Take charge of your writing and research time. You don’t need to plant yourself in front of a word processor every single day, unless a major deadline lurks. But keep tabs on yourself. Devote time to it. Nobody can show you how exactly to balance it all. You’ll learn.