Monday, March 14, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Should You Write Every Day?


by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

My senior year of high school—which is when I started getting serious about writing professionally—I came across an idea about how one should approach writing that seemed revolutionary: Writers should write everyday. And not just that, but they should have a daily word goal. 

Up until then, I had been more of a seasonal writer. If I felt like writing, I did it a lot. If I didn't, I didn't. When I was in a groove with a story, I would get up before school or scribble away when I should have been paying attention in class. But I would also go months at a time without writing anything besides school papers or emails.

To learn that many professional writers pushed themselves to write daily was amazing to me. Is it something you should or must do if you want to write novels for a living?



The advice of "write every day" is out there because most artists struggle with discipline. You've probably experienced for yourself that some days are good writing days and others are not-so-good.

Being a professional writer means you're self-employed. That comes with a lot of freedom, and to be successful, you have to develop the discipline to manage that freedom. Sometimes that means pushing through the not-so-good writing days. When you've already been practicing the discipline of daily writing, that gets easier.

But the advice to "write every day" assumes certain things that may not be true for you:

1. That you are in a season of life where you can prioritize your writing. When you're in finals week, about to graduate, settling into college, or traveling it likely isn't the best time to write every day. Taking time away from writing for times like that shouldn't make us feel less-than.

Sometimes even when writing is your job, you go through seasons where you can't prioritize writing new words. Especially if you're working on edits or have a book releasing, but also when you have life stuff going on. 

2. That writing is more than a hobby. If writing is your hobby right now rather than something you're seriously pursuing, there's no reason why you should push yourself to write daily. Hobbies should cultivate joy, not stress.

3. That "writing a book" involves only the physical writing of words. Even outside of editing, there are times when I'm working on a book and not actually writing words. Like when I'm researching a subject or when I'm letting a book idea simmer. Should I feel bad about myself if I didn't write a thousand words today even if I spent several hours researching or developing characters? Writing goals should be about motivating yourself, not legalism.

With all that said, here's why a daily writing goal can make a big difference:

1. It's an efficient way to write. When you aren't taking big breaks between writing days, it's easier to stay mindful of the story. So when you sit down to write, you're not going to have to spend so much time reacquainting yourself with where you are and what's going on.

2. It helps you draw a boundary. When you're setting aside a regular time to write each day, it says to those around you and yourself, "This is my writing time. It's important to me." When you respect your writing time and your writing goals, not only does it boost your confidence but it can also cause others to respect what you're doing.

3. It helps you push through dry spells. If you're pursuing any kind of creative profession, sometimes you will have to produce even if you're not feeling like it. If you've been in the habit of writing every day, you're going to find it's much easier to do this. Same as if you're in the routine of doing anything that requires discipline—running, eating healthy, studying—it's easier to push yourself to do it despite a lack of motivation because you know how good you're going to feel on the other side.

Here are some ideas for alternative goals if writing a certain amount of words every day just doesn't jive with your season of life:

1. Set weekly or monthly goals.

I do this because with a baby in the house, my days are not as predictable as I would like! This way if I have a lousy Tuesday, I can make it up later in the week.

2. Set time goals.

The key to this one is not letting yourself fritter away time that you've set aside specifically for writing. What works for me is to set a timer, and if I think of something else I need to do ("I need to text my friend about dinner this weekend!") I jot a note on a pad of paper and press on with writing.

3. Setting a daily "do something" goal.

In extremely busy or stressful seasons of life, this can work well to keep you from losing all your momentum. The last time my son was in the hospital due to his epilepsy, I listened to writing podcasts during my drives. That was what I could manage. If you're in a crazy time, or if you're just getting serious about writing, maybe this is a goal that can help you make progress without adding a lot of stress.

Do you write every day? I would especially love to hear from you if you're doing the Go Teen Writers 300 words for 30 days challenge! How's it going?




41 comments:

  1. I write every day when I have a project going. At the moment, my goal is more like "write or edit or both" every day. (Both is rare. When it happens, it's a good day.) But editing at the moment is half-rewriting, half transcribing from paper to computer, so it works.

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    1. Very cool, Sarah! My current stage of editing involves a lot of writing too. I actually really enjoy that because I feel like it's the best of both worlds. I'm improving the story but still getting to create.

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  2. Once I'm past the plotting and characterization stages of a novel, I like to try to write at least a hundred words every day. Most of the time, it only takes that hundred to really get me going. Sometimes I do get creatively dry, though, so I switch to weekly goals to keep myself from getting stressed out.

    The 300-4-30 is going great! I've missed a couple of days (March is always an extremely busy month for me), but I was still able to jot down a few words or a character development idea.

    Thanks for the post, Mrs. Morrill!

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    1. I'm so glad it's going well for you, Linea! I'm glad that even on the days when you weren't able to write 300 words, you still did something. That can make a big difference!

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  3. I tend to write almost every day, though sometimes I skip days. However, I don't feel like I NEED to write everyday, I simply have so much to work on that it's fairly easy for me to write everyday :D.

    The 300 for 30 is going great! I've managed to meet the goal everyday so far, and I tend to go over 300 :D. It's been a lot of fun! The goal really helps me to write more when I'm having a bit of writer's block, too.

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  4. Haha, Sarah, transcribing stinks...I am writing my first draft by hand but I'm already starting to transcribe it... Yuck! Like Linea, I've missed a few days...but I've had some pretty good excuses. I couldn't write because I was gone pretty much from 8am--midnight yesterday. And I'm actually functioning today..so far!!

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  5. I try to write at least a hundred words every day, but if I can't, I don't let it bother me because there will always be days where I can try and write more. Making writing a habit really helps me not get stuck in writer's block. When I've been writing every day for a week or so I often find myself pumping out a few thousand words when I sit down for an hour, which is awesome!
    And I kind of forgot about the 300 for 30...but I've been mostly writing every day anyway, so I think I'm good. ;)

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    1. That's awesome, Lily. Sounds like you're able to get a lot written without stressing much about it on the days when it doesn't quite flow. That's a great combination :)

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  6. I've been writing in huge clumps every two or three days recently. I try to write as often as I have the time to. Recently I've been going through writer's block, but I've been finding music is a big help with that.

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    1. What kind of music, Josie? How awesome that you've found something that helps!

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  7. 300-4-30 is going great! I've missed a couple days owing to school and what-not, but have been able to make it up again on other days. It's been very good, actually, getting me to write more :)

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  8. I try to write every day, usually I can but we also run a small business on eBay of Magic decks. With the 300 for 30 though I'm doing pretty well, I have gotten it every day, though I have to keep careful track of my words to avoid going way over 300 each day.

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  9. I never used to write every day, but with the 300 for 30 going, I have been doing really well. :) I haven't missed a day, and I'm starting to get really motivated to write more!! :)

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  10. I try to write or edit or both everyday. My 300-4-30 isn't going as well as I hoped. I've been doing a ton of editing and rewriting this month along with gallons of research for a short story for my creative writing college class. That is due tomorrow, so hopefully I can get back to writing words (as it will be turning into a novel. lol)

    This post was so encouraging for be, because I am in a stage of graduation and figuring out college and scholarships, yet getting serious about writing. So I try to write every day, but that doesn't always happen, but I guess as long as I'm making an effort, it doesn't have to.

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    1. I'm glad it was encouraging to you, Elizabeth. We have to have grace for our creative selves during busy times!

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  11. Yes! I think sometimes there simply isn't time. Last November (whY MUST NANOWRIMO BE NOVEMBER) I was buried in schoolwork and barely had time to publish pre-prepared blog posts on posting days, much less write. Since I'm writing epic fantasy (and recently another contemporary fantasy what is my life), I often spend a lot of time world building, which I think can be good if you don't have enough time to actually sit down and write. Worldbuilding and writing should be kept in balance, though!

    Ellie } On the Other Side of Reality

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    1. Absolutely. And I've never been able to participate in NaNo because Novemeber is just too busy. One of these years...

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  12. This is so practical and helpful, especially that last section of tips since I don't happen to be in a stage of life where writing every day is realistic. Thank you so much!

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  13. This is so helpful! I was feeling like I wasn't a "real" writer the other day because I haven't been writing every day...this makes me feel a lot better and feel like I can be productive even if I'm not writing every single day.

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    1. The whole "write every day" mantra is so prevalent in the writing culture that I think a LOT of writers feel that way. I'm glad this helped, Emily!

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  14. I like your point: The "write every day" advice can be extremely helpful, but not for everyone or for all the time. I really wish I could write every day . . . but I'm a college senior and it Just Is Not Happening. But--like you said--that's okay :-)

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    1. Absolutely. You won't always be a college senior. Just like I keep telling myself I won't always have a baby in the house!

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  15. I like that 'do something goal' because sometimes I just can't write and I need to research, or the words won't come but maps or character building will.

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    1. I get that! Sometimes there's value in pushing through the "I don't feel like it" and writing, but other days it's more productive to research or make visuals or whatever.

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  16. I used to write on impulse, but at the beginning of this year I decided I would write 500 or more words each day. So far I've completed that goal every day. The 300 for 30 challenge is breezing by and I even keep forgetting about it because writing every day has now become a habit. Lately I've been writing far more than 500 words; just now, in fact, I wrote 817! Writing every day definitely helps me.

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    1. That's awesome, CS! Keep going strong!!

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    2. How exciting! I'm glad to hear this is going well for you!

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  17. This is really helpful. I'm participating in the "300 for 30 March Challenge" and I'm discovering that while I do manage to write something every day, some days that time would be much better spent researching or plotting my next writing move. I'm growing a bit apathetic towards my work because even though I'm doing it every day, I don't feel like I'm truly invested in it.

    This challenge has really benefited me by pushing me to write a goal every day, and I've learned so much about myself as a writer already. For instance, I'm not really a "write by the seat of the pants," type. I often write a whole lot to begin with, but after that I need to outline, and plan, and develop my ideas a bit. If I don't allow myself to do that, I miss out on some of what I enjoy most about writing.

    After the challenge is over I think I'll modify my goals to fit me and my writing style better.

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    1. I love that, Mallory. When we do these challenges, our goal isn't so that you'll learn to write every day or learn to come up with new story ideas every day, but rather so you'll learn something about you/your writing/your process. This is great!

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    2. Thanks! I'm learning more about my writing process every day with the challenge.

      I'm beginning to loosen up a bit too as I go, and occasionally do some editing/rewriting instead of my 300 "new" words.

      Sticking to just one project didn't work out for me, so I'm writing on all sorts of different things. It's a bad habit I can't seem to shake! :)

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  18. Until I sat down and analyzed what I do every day, I didn't think I wrote every single day. Surprise! I do. I write emails. I comment on posts :P. I work on outlines. I write scenes. I jot notes in the margins of novels I'm reading (yes, I'm one of those people). Some days, I doodle (write snippets of prose) or rhymed couplets. The challenge is to complete one project, any project. Too many ideas, too little time.

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    1. Ugh . . . that is totally my problem too! Too many ideas!

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  19. I'm suuuuper behind on the 300/30 challenge. Luckily I have a holiday coming and 16 hr plane rides are great for writing. Also, I don't think my entry went through. . . But I'm doing it anyway!

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  20. I write everyday, no exceptions!!

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