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Debunking the ‘write every day’ myth

We’ve all heard the advice, the stern word from the Serious Writer that to be considered a Serious Writer also, to Get Things Done, you have to Write Every Day.

Not only that, but you have to write a clear and high number of words each and every day. Figures like 2000 daily words are bandied about as though anything less is a failure of purpose or even of moral fibre.

What, and I mean this most sincerely, a load of tosh.

I do encourage people to write, write and write some more – it’s by doing that we improve, that we get words on a page that can then be edited, reshaped and made better. But while writing whenever you can is an essential part of being a writer, that tricky ‘whenever you can’ is very much in the category of ‘how long is a piece of string?’.

That writer slamming out 2000 words, rain or shine, illness or health, clean house or slovenly? That’s fantastic. Good work! It’s marvellous that they have the resources, support, mental and physical health, and limited external responsibilities to do so. They may be making sacrifices – even significant ones – to achieve this goal, so there’s no shaming here about the work that this entails.

But to then tell *other* writers that this is the One True Way of Writing is, at best, thoughtless.

That writer’s life isn’t necessarily my life, or your life, or the life of any other writer.

I don’t write every day. I write and edit for a living in other fields, and so sometimes my fiction has to wait until I’ve delivered for my other clients. Sometimes I’m physically unwell; sometimes my head is not in a good space for creativity because of stress, anxiety or depression.

Some writers who achieve high daily word counts have someone else running their household for them. Their spouse earns money, cleans the house, feeds the kids, walks the dog. Or they have sufficient resources to pay someone to clean and cook and pay the bills without requiring external income from a day job.

Some writers writing up that storm are not dealing with trauma or poor health or any one of a hundred other things that fill up lives in different ways.

So yes. If you want to be a writer, you do have to find some way to write. But that necessity can look different to different people.

Some writers raising young families get up two hours early and write before the rest of the family gets out of bed at 7am. Some jot down 200 words a time over their lunch break. Some only get to write for a few hours every week or so because of chronic fatigue or debilitating mental health episodes. Sometimes it’s five months off, one month on.

Whatever your circumstances, don’t look to those writing large numbers of words every single day as the standard you set for yourself. Your life is not that writer’s life. Your resources, responsibilities, health and ability to find time, space, mental bandwidth and energy are entirely your own.

Look and ask for how other people do it, of course. Perhaps you’ll find someone whose experiences map closely to yours, or who, at least, have some suggestions that might work for you.

And whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up when you don’t reach some imagined ideal of writing-schedule-perfection, because self-hating self-flagellation never gave a writer more time, energy or motivation.

Breathe. Write when you can, whatever that means for you. Explore options. Find a rhythm that works for you and adjust as required for the circumstances of your daily life. Be kind to yourself.

Acknowledging and accommodating the life you actually have – as opposed to some mystical Platonic Ideal of a writing life – is not cheating, it’s not insufficient, and it’s not failure.

Whatever you do, whenever you can do it, is real writing, and it’s enough.

Know of any other judgemental writing myths that you’d like me to debunk? I’m ready to give it a go – just let me know in the comments. And if you have kind suggestions for people trying to make time to write in a complex life, let us know your tips!

2 thoughts on “Debunking the ‘write every day’ myth

  1. Interesting viewpoints. I’ll admit to being in the ‘write every day’ camp, but I don’t really care about word count. It’s the consistency that matters. Just with a diet of 250 words per day, I’d managed to complete four novels, so there is something to be said about maintaining a routine, but like you also said, each writer is different, and like you, I’m always wary of people who say there’s only one way to write. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    1. You’re very welcome, and thank you for commenting! This topic came up when I was working with a client who experiences severe PTSD. The burden of feeling that they *had to* write every single day was making it even less possible for them to do so. This is the heart of the talk we had, about where that advice comes from.

      It’s terrific when we can write every day (whatever the word count) and there have been periods in my life where I do that. This is not one of those periods, in part thanks to catching covid in March. Right now, whenever I get a chance to do my own creative writing, I bless it, but I give myself a break for the many times when I can’t right now.

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