How Ignoring Mainstream Advice Quadrupled My Word Count
A Hidden Script
You should write every day.
You should focus on one writing project at a time.
These are two of the most often repeated pieces of advice that I hear within the writing community and they have haunted me for as long as I’ve been a writer.
They have shown up in my morning pages in the form of frustration and shame at my inability to stick to a daily schedule. They have spawned hours of research into the writing habits of famous authors (my own particular productivity porn kink) with no shortage of books, podcasts and videos dedicated to that specific subject. They’ve fueled my indecision about what to work on, my heart torn between multiple projects that had captured my imagination. When I couldn’t pick just one, I picked none, losing momentum, progress and confidence in the process.
It wasn’t until I re-read my morning pages during one of my quarterly reviews that I spotted this negative influence. Here lies the genius of morning pages: they show you the hidden narratives that repeat themselves in your head that sneak up on without warning. Again and again, I would fiddle with my daily schedule, searching for the “perfect” day, the perfect week, the perfect conditions under which I would finally be able to develop this magical daily practice. Again and again, I would fail, feel bad, and berate myself for my lack discipline and dedication.
The last time I committed to a daily writing session, I could barely eke out a few hundred words, maxing out at around 900–1000. It would take me all day, each word a painful struggle that left my brain fried. It made writing not fun.
Why was I striving so hard for this idea of a daily practice? Why was I forcing myself to choose just one project? More importantly, was there a better way to write?
The Intuitive Writer
For one month, I decided to put aside the expectation of a daily practice and to embrace a more intuitive writing style. I would give myself permission to write whenever I felt like it. I would write in a way that supported my creative rhythms and trust that everything would fall into place.
I wanted the freedom to have my writing show up in a way that felt natural. After all, there wasn’t any logic in applying a writing system if I didn’t understand my own creative baseline. What would my writing look like if it wasn’t confined to the parameters and pressures of a daily practice?
Go With Your Flow
At the end of the month, I had logged 18 writing days and had written 50,000 words — more than I’d ever written in a single month. I was shocked.
Analyzing my calendar, I saw that I never had more than 2 consecutive writing days in a row. That’s when I figured it out: there’s a difference between creating and writing. Writing is one part of the creative process, but it’s not the only one despite everyone’s obsession with it. It just happens to be the one that is most visible.
As a devoted outliner (or plotter as we’re also called), I live and die by my outlines. I was never able to sit down at my computer and just start writing. I needed a plan, a goal, and idea of exactly what I wanted to say. On the days I didn’t write I found myself gravitating towards my outlines, deep diving into research or just mulling over a particular problem. Even though I wasn’t typing at my keyboard, I was still showing up and interacting with my projects every day.
This meant that when I did sit down to write, I was ready. And it showed. I tore through word-count like it was nothing. My writing sessions increased to unprecedented levels. I started regularly hitting 5,000–7,000 words in one sitting, doing the work of five writing days in one.
The invisible creating days, those days spent preparing for my writing days turned out to be more important than I’d anticipated. This was a revelation.
Daily Doesn’t Work For Everyone — And That’s Ok.
My experiment also made one thing very clear: I don’t like writing every day and that’s reason enough not to do it. I often used the excuse of balancing client projects, research, travel, and a lack of regular routine to justify why it wasn’t possible to sit down and write everyday. Deep down, I always knew that I could make the time if I wanted to.
I just didn’t want to.
And that didn’t mean I wasn’t as invested or dedicated to my craft as any other writer. It was liberating to embrace my own personal preferences and to build a system that factored them in. I needed to let go of the idea that a “real” writer writes every day. That’s just not true.
The More the Merrier
The other discovery was that my brain is wired to work on different writing projects. Whether it’s a piece of a client research, my own non-fiction writing, drafting blog posts or novels, my brain is happiest when bouncing around different types of creative tasks. When I was writing The Decoded Company, I also write a crime novel at the same time. With Hustle & Float I was inspired to write more poetry.
Why was I denying myself the variety that I craved? Working on multiple projects, in this case research for my next book and dabbling in Urban Fantasy fiction created a multiplicity effect that was great for momentum. If I was stuck on one, I changed gears and worked on the other. It kept me entertained and engaged and minimized my risk of facing writer’s block or getting stuck.
All Rivers Lead to the Sea
I wanted to write this article to offer an alternative perspective on the endless posts that push daily writing practices as the end-all be-all of becoming a writer. If you’re struggling to write every day, don’t lose hope. Do your own experiment and see what works for you. Your sweet spot might be three consecutive writing days or seven. Whatever that magical number is, it will be yours and it will make sense for you.
Instead, focus on showing up for your projects in some way everyday. Thinking about your writing, re-reading what you wrote, researching something about the topic, working with an outline — these all count as part of the “writing” process even though no writing is involved at that stage. Writing encompasses far more than just getting words down on a page.
I’ve published three books and I’ve never been (and never will be) a daily writer. Why did I let myself get so psyched out by this advice when I knew it didn’t work for me? I don’t even do morning pages daily. I do them regularly enough and increase my frequency when I feel like I need them.
Now I know without a doubt what I need to have a healthy writing practice. Use what serves you, let go of what doesn’t. Stop forcing your creativity into a rigid process if it doesn’t make sense for you. Not having a daily practice does not make you any less dedicated to your writing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Release yourself from these unnecessary expectations and watch your creativity thrive.