In Defense of Not Writing Every Day
Many great writers have said that in order to become great, you need to write every single day no matter what. The idea being that if you want to master something, you have to do it all the time. While I totally understand where this advice is coming from and I agree that in order to get really good at something you have to be 100 percent committed to it, I don’t write every single day.
Furthermore, I don’t think that taking a day off is detrimental to me as a writer. In fact, I think the occasional day off from writing helps me far more than it hurts.
I’m not saying that I only write two or three days a week. I’m not saying that I only write when the words come easy. I’m not saying that I stop writing when it becomes difficult or that I only write when I want to.
But there are times when I take a day off. There are times when I allow my mind to wander and recharge rather than sitting in front of a half-formed word document and struggling because it’s what someone else said I’m supposed to be doing. There are times when I remove myself from my writing environment to draw inspiration from the world around me.
But believe me, even with an occasional day off, I’m writing.
This year I’ve been working on:
- A 77,000-word book that will probably never see the light of day
- Over 20 short stories (and counting), which may never find a home because they’re not any good and/or because it’s difficult to find a home for fiction
- Another 30,000+ words (and counting) of personal essays that I’m still very torn about releasing into the world for various reasons
Even with regular days off I’ve gotten quite a bit done and I’ve spent more time mashing my fingers into my keyboard this year than I ever have before. At the same time, I think taking a break to come up for air is a critically important part of the creative process.
Whether you’re writing a short story about peanut butter and jelly or you’re writing something deeply personal or you’re just crafting a listicle, all writing is creative in some way. And creativity is not about being rigid. Creativity cannot be forced. Creativity doesn’t work on a schedule.
This isn’t to say that creativity falls out of the sky while you’re watching TV or that it appears the second you’ve cracked open your fourth Corona as if you just rubbed a genie’s lamp (though that has been known to happen on occasion). But I also don’t think that the act of sitting in front of my computer day after day without a break means that my writing is suddenly going to be infused with creativity.
When I’ve been writing for many days in a row without a break I have a tendency to get so close to what I’m working on that I lose the ability to view my work with an objective eye. I get so sucked into what I’m writing that I want to keep going until my hands start bleeding and the white glow of my computer screen is the only light I’ve seen for days. And these tendencies come at the expense of letting my work and my mind breathe for a little while.
Writing every single day may have helped many writers achieve greatness, but I don’t believe that greatness is one size fits all. I don’t believe that just because many well-known and well-respected writers say that you should write every day means that it’s the gospel. I’ve tried writing for weeks on end and I usually end up burnt out and in a place where the quality of my work and well being starts to suffer.
Our minds work in different ways and everyone processes things differently. There’s no reason to think that what has worked for some people (or a lot of people) will work for everyone.
Based on my experience, I’ve found that human beings are not meant to do anything without respite. And I think that’s especially true when it comes to an endeavor like writing where the mind needs time to detach itself and gain some distance after prolonged periods of intense concentration.
If writing every single day works for you, that’s great, keep on going. But I don’t think it’s a requirement for being a great writer.
Of course, no one should expect to become a great writer by only writing two or three days per week and not being 100 percent committed. But taking an occasional day off to recharge and let your mind focus on something else won’t kill you. In fact, it might even make your writing better.