Do you really have to write every single day?

Over on liveournal Deb Biancotti muses on whether it’s really necessary to write every single day in order to be a writer. Surely she asks, citing Jeff Vandermeer and Terri Windling, fallow times can be good for your writing too?

Now because I’m in admin hell and it’s eating my brain (zombie apocalypse admin hell) I am moved to point out the obvious: different methods work for different people. There are some writers who need extended time off; others who don’t.

If I don’t write for a month then I find it very very very difficult to get back into it. And the longer I’m not writing the harder it becomes. My writing muscles atrophy. I need to write—not every day, but at least three times a week—to stay limber.

Obviously, that’s not what works for Deb. Or Terri Windling. But I imagine I’m not the only one who needs to use it or lose it. (Tee hee. Those Americans have a handy motivational phrase ready whenever you need one. Bless!)

When reading advice on writing (or anything else for that matter) you’ve got to remember that the writer is sharing what works for them. Too often people think it’s a command from God on what thou shalt do in order to become a writer. And the thou-shalt-write-every-day command is one frequently handed down. So I can understand the annoyance if it don’t work for you.

It’s also important to make a distinction between writing as a vocation and writing as a profession which are two very different things. I imagine quite a few of the writers giving the write-every-day advice are people who make a living writing. In which case it’s good advice. For the vast majority of working writers a fallow season is a luxury they can’t afford. It would be more in the order of all the crops are lost! I must now go back to the day job.

All of which is spurring me to grab a few hours writing before the next wave of packing horror descends. Bloody zombie admin apocalypse.


  1. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    Even worse, I was just sharing what was working for me THIS YEAR and people started sending it around like it was some kind of mission statement for writers. LOL!


  2. Justine on #

    I know! It’s scary, isn’t it? Though I remember the first time I came across real, geuine, actual, living-and-breathing, published writers—I hung on every single word they said as if it were holy writ. And frankly with certain writers (Samuel R. Delany, anyone?) I still do that.

    To be clear, though, that’s definitely not what Deb was doing. She came across what you had to say and it jibed well with her working method so she jumped on it.

  3. Little Willow on #

    Writing every day is good for you, literary vitamins.

  4. deborahb on #

    re. the different methods for different writers — but of course! My only problem is with the word ‘should’.

    Jeff: thanks for the mission statement. ;0) not!

  5. Justine on #

    Little Willow: Literary vitamins? That’s hilarious.

    Deborahb: Well, “should” is the world’s most annoying word. Along with “must” and “duty”.

  6. Diana on #

    oh, puh-lease. the only aboslute thou-shalt-do command anyone should listen to is the kind that comes from me.

    or, whatever.

    man, iw ish i could make hte commitment to write every day. let’s take this week, in which i’ve have, indeed, written every day. but none of it has been for my fiction.

    i am in zombie promotional apocalypse.

  7. chidder on #

    I’m a big advocate of writing every day because (a) my schedule allows it, (b) whether what I write each day is gold or merely ore to be mined and refined later, I feel good at the end of each day because I’ve produced something, and (c) it helps me avoid that awful feeling of “Oh god, when am I going to write again?” I know that I’m going to write again tomorrow.

    That being said, just as “Nuke” LaLoosh in BULL DURHAM played baseball better if he wore women’s underwear beneath his uniform, ultimately it comes down to what works for you and your writing. If your writing habits contribute to your best possible writing, then your way is the right way — for you.

  8. Barry Lyga on #

    I’ve found that writing every single day is, in the end, pretty unsustainable for me on an ongoing basis. When I’m deep into a project, yeah, I go for hours and hours every day, with no end in sight. But I usually crash after that and need some time where I don’t even think about touching a keyboard in order to recharge the batteries.

    For me, the easiest way to get back into writing after, say, a three-week break, is to ease into it — take my normal output and cut it in half, then make that my temporary daily goal. This puts less pressure on me and tends to make it easier to ramp up to full speed again.

    And, well, yeah, I agree with the comments that “it’s different for everyone.” New writers especially, in my experience, tend to cling to every idea and bit of wisdom out there, sometimes to their detriment if something just doesn’t work for their particular set of circumstances. Relax! What works, works. Period.

  9. Sean Williams on #

    the really creepy thing, the thing that freaks me out the *most* about this crazy job, is that what works for me one year is in no way guaranteed to work the year after, or the year after that, or ever again in fact. i feel like i’m running on a treadmill that’s constantly changing speed and angle. as charles brown likes to say: “writing is the only job that gets harder the longer you do it.” but maybe he’s been hanging out with writers too long. that’s definitely the impression you’d get, from the way we carry on about it. 🙂

  10. may on #

    i try to write every day, but i don’t get too upset if i miss a couple of days here and there.

    to get any writing done at all, i needed to make it a habit. if i stop for too long, it’s hard to get back into the habit.

    i tend to write at the same speed from beginning to the end, so maybe it’s right for me, but not for somebody else.

  11. Corey on #

    There’s no doubt it’s subjective. For those of you who are gifted (cursed?) enough to have made writing a part-time job, I would imagine a more habitual method is the most effective way to stay committed. For those like me who have it as a guilty after-5pm pleasure, the excitement of being *able* to write is all the motivation it takes. ‘Daily’ is not always attainable, but it’s always a goal.

  12. Little Willow on #

    Thanks. I ought to patent that.

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