Where Did The Idea You Need To Write Every Day to be a Writer Come From?
Many writers I work with quote either Stephen King or Anne Lamott when saying they want to have a daily writing practice and while I love much of their writing advice, I disagree strongly with the idea that to be a writer you have to write every day.
Let me explain why focusing on how to write every day can be a mistake
Your brain is always looking for a reason to save resources. It’s built to be a cognitive miser.
When you set the goal to write every day and then life happens — you suffer an attack of self-doubt, your dog eats a sock, you chaperon your kid’s school trip and then have to catch up on work after dinner — your brain decides your longer-term goal of writing a book or having a writing career is impossible.
Your brain confuses a short-term goal stumble — write every day — with a long-term goal stumble — writing a book or whatever you desire — and tries to convince you to give up writing forever.
What to do instead?
Build In Writing Flexibility Instead Of Trying To Write Every Day.
I coach my writing clients to look at the week ahead and schedule time for writing in teeny tiny containers of 15 to 30 minutes and write those on their calendar.
Each week can be different.
Some days might have several teeny tiny containers, and some days might have none.
This is so much easier to stick to than a rigid goal of trying to write every day.
I also coach them to prime the pump by thinking about what they want to write before they sit down to write so that when it’s time to write, they have a clear place to start.
This is so easy to skip and such a procrastination buster because your brain hates uncertainty and will do anything to avoid thinking, but if you separate thinking from writing, it makes it emotionally safe to write.
What if you like long stretches of time to write?
Great! Each week, choose one or more days you can write for an hour or more but don’t make that your only time with your project.
Be sure to touch your project on your non-writing days.
From the national best-selling author of The Woman’s Comfort Book and Why Bother.
5 Ways to Start
Your Non-Fiction Book
You can write your book faster, easier, and better.
I’ve written 9 books with about a million copies sold.
I’m not one of those creepy people who make it hard to unsubscribe or email you again nine years after you’ve unsubscribed. Giving me your email is like a coffee date, not a marriage proposal.
What does touch your project mean and why does it replace writing every day?
Touching your project simply means taking 3 to 5 minutes to touch in with it.
You can read over what you last wrote, spend time talking to a character, review some research, ask your book what it wants to say next – anything that keeps your writing alive.
This will keep your unconscious mind working on your project when you aren’t, which will create a natural excitement and enthusiasm to get back to your writing project.
But I Want to Write Every Day!
Okay, then the question becomes what to write about every day?
Some people like simple prompts like “I remember” or “I don’t remember.” These can be great for memoir writers.
More of my favorite writing prompts I give clients and use on my writing retreats:
- Don’t be afraid to borrow…
- The truth is…
- Richard Hugo said, “The only questions worth asking in a poem are the ones that can’t be answered.” The questions I want to explore next…
A writing warm-up I use in my writing retreats is to record as directly as possible five things you heard, four things you smelled, three things you sensed with your body, two things you tasted, and one thing you saw.
Of course, many people love morning pages, created by Julie Cameron which consist of three pages of long hand free writing about anything.
I Still Want to Write Every Day but I’m Not And I Feel Bad About Myself
Then try this little quiz:
- Do I want to write every day because I think I’ll give up on my writing dreams and goals if I don’t?
If so, what might work better than trying to learn how to write every day to increase your internal motivation to write?
You can do this by making a list of why you want to write and then taking a minute to feel (not think, feel) deeply immersed in the act of writing. Train your brain to savor the process of writing, rather than the outcome.
It might also help to get clear what your next writing goal is and then break down simple steps to reach that goal.
For example, if you want to publish a personal essay, you could:
- Research 10 places that publish personal essays
- Make a list of what these outlets are looking for
- Read 3-5 essays published in each place
- Working backward, set a reasonable deadline to write the first draft of your essay
- Contact 3 beta readers for comments
- Set a date for revision and submittal
This will create a far more tangible way to track and celebrate your progress and increase your self-trust then trying to write every day.
- Do I want to write every day because it helps me learn and grow or because ________ ?
Fill in the blank as many times as you can and you may uncover what’s motivating you to think you must write every day.
It could be something your 7th grade English teacher said or a critical friend or something you read.
Then you can replace that extrinsic motivation with something that truly matters to you — maybe learning a particular aspect of your writing craft or weekly progress toward a particular goal or the fun of playing with words!
- Do I want to write every day which means I never take any days off?
When I was just out of USC film school and trying to make it as a screenwriter, I thought writing every day was the only way to be successful in the “biz” and the only way to be a real writer.
The only problem was, I was also writing for my job as a “reader” at Creative Artist’s Agency, which meant I was asking myself to write and read 10 hours a day every single day.
I drove myself into quite a serious depression because all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Moral of the story: you are not a robot, you are a writer. Embrace some downtime! Experience real life. This is not a forced march!
- What do I hope to gain from writing every day?
Remember, if your desire to write every day isn’t tied to a concrete goal, then when you stumble and miss a day or two, your brain is going to grab that as an excuse to stop writing.
It’s much more productive and satisfying to focus on a concrete goal with a flexible realistic deadline that you can control than to try to write every day.
Is Writing Every Day more About a Romantic Identity than Being a Successful Writer?
I have been writing professionally since 1990 and my first bestseller The Woman’s Comfort Book was published in 1992.
I’ve made millions of dollars by writing– both directly from the sales of my books and from all the ancillary business–speaking, spokesperson work, national magazine column, radio show, podcasts–and from building a successful business offering courses and retreats, and working as a writing coach.
And I’ve never ever written every day.
Dial in your desire.
Break your writing goals into smaller goals you can take consistent flexible action on.
Celebrate your progress.
Focus more on enjoying writing and less on achieving an outcome.
And then if you still want to write every day, it will be the cherry on top of your writing life, not the ice cream sundae itself.