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?