Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, March 3, 2014

You don't have to write every day


One of the most persistent myths in the writing pantheon is that "serious" writers write every day.

Like many myths, this one contains a kernel of truth, namely that many writers do write every day. The rhythm and discipline of sitting down every day is important to some writers, and many of them believe so wholeheartedly in their own process that they elevate this to "requirement" status. They can't imagine not writing every day, so it becomes an ironclad rule and some hector others as unserious.

I've said this several times before, but I still see this myth repeated so often I feel like it's time to chime in again. You don't have to write every day. You really don't. I certainly don't write every day.

I'm not a morning person, so I can't wake up early to write in the mornings. And after a long day's work, I'm usually too mentally exhausted to write. So I get my writing done on weekends.

Moreover, I find the breaks between writing times to be very beneficial. Those breaks are ideas times, when I'm letting my mind wander, making free associations, and planning what I'm going to write when the weekend comes. By the time I finally get back to the computer, I'm ready.

Does this mean I write more slowly? I don't think so, actually. I wrote all three Jacob Wonderbar novels in 6-8 months. I just had to carve out quite a bit of time on the weekends.

Don't let other writers shame your style. You don't have to write every day. Unless you do. Whatever works for you. Just get the job done.

Art: Captive balloon with clock face and bell, floating above the Eiffel Tower by Camille Grávis






55 comments:

Felicity said...

This has been a freeing realization to me. I write in bursts on weekends and evenings. But I find I'm also the type who does a lot of pre-writing/brainstorming and even drafting in my head. So when I come to the page/document, I have words ready to fill it. Usually. : )

Stacey Graham said...

Well thank goodness somebody said it. My fourth book is coming out this summer, and I felt like it was a dirty secret that I had days off of writing. I thought about it - researched - plotted and planned - but sitting down to write every day? That's a bucket of nope, my friend.

Kent Sievers said...

While I try to write every day, the real world often intrudes and I know I can force things (going without sleep) only so far. I also believe that you don't actually need to be at the keyboard to be writing. Sometimes I think those real world intrusions are there to give the story in my head time to mature.

Nathan Fischer said...

I know many people who can write on weekends or whenever they have time. I can do the same for non-fiction. For fiction, however, if I take breaks in between, I end up losing my momentum on the story. I have to write every day. I didn't know this was a "myth" - I just recognized it as a weakness in myself (losing the momentum) and made up for it by dedicating myself to writing every single day if it's a story. I find the many and varied ways of different writers fascinating.

Kay Day said...

Thank you for this. I actually gave up writing because I figured I wasn't cut out for it. No way am I writing every day.
Oh, and the fact that I can "give it up" apparently means I'm not a real writer, also.
Whatever.
This post has been very freeing for me. I'm off to discover my own writing rhythms and patterns. Thank you for taking the shame off!

Jen said...

I don't write everyday; I have two day jobs. I have learned, though that if I spend too much time - by that I mean a matter of days - away from my manuscript, I lose momentum and the flow of the story. If I can at least look at, read through the part I'm working on, it makes progress much easier.

Suzanne said...

Totally agree! It's not bad advice, it's just that...there are other ways. I like to carve out stretches of writing time, and in between, I work on the stories in my head while doing other things. I wrote a very similar post just a few weeks ago, right here: > http://www.suzanne-goldsmith.com/on-not-writing-every-day/

Shawn said...

As a minor point of clarification/edification, Nate, what were the word counts for your three MGs?

Jaimie said...

This is going into my Feedly category "writing lessons" along with a whole bunch of Chuck Palahnuik essays and such. Thanks for saying it.

Jaimie said...

.... and by Feedly I mean Evernote.

The Writing Muse said...

I'm not a morning person, either; plus, I have kids and a day job, so week nights are a write-off. I, too, have to focus on writing on the weekends. I find that, as the week goes on, I let the ideas flow...by the weekend, I'm ready to get at it. Nice to know I'm in good company.

Janiss Garza said...

The really important thing with writing (or any other endeavor) is to have it as a necessary routine - whatever that routine means to you. You write on the weekends, and that's your routine. Some writers write every day, and others have a different schedule. The danger comes when there is no schedule - that makes it easy to slack off! And I speak from experience. ;-) I exercise six days a week and I even try to shoot for that when I'm traveling (though I'm not always successful!). When I treat my writing with the same diligence, I get loads done. It's all about consistency.

Other Lisa said...

I personally do better the more regularly I write. Like Nathan F. I tend to lose momentum if I skip too many days, and I'm not as good at problem-solving either. Just opening the document and staring at it sometimes will give me the answers I need. I'm also not able to binge-write very effectively -- I do better with a smaller word count on more days. But I think Janiss hit on something important, too -- a routine is good, but your routine doesn't have to be the same as my routine. I know tons of people who write best in the AM. Not me!

Steph Kruger said...

I'm working on my first novel and I'm finding that I am my worst enemy. I am a pre-plotter and an outliner so the story is there. Getting it on paper has been another story. I started out very slowly and now I am getting anxious to finish knowing that it's only pressuring me to rush what needs time. I'm on a break from writing right now, and it's helping me to keep perspective and play the story out in my head. I'm discovering new details to develop without the manuscript in front of me. I feel the itch to write growing, so this break will be coming to a close sometime this week.

Marcy McKay said...

I agree with you Nathan to NOT shame other writers on their process. For me, it depends on where I am in my writing....if I'm knee-deep in novel mode, then writing daily (even if just for 15 minutes) makes me happiest. Other times, I spend that time researching a scene for my book. That still counts as writing even though I'm not typing away....

Ashley Dominique said...

I used to write every single day no matter what for the first 6 months after I started writing. Then I realized that I was burning myself out. I quickly switched things up. I now write OR edit 5 days a week and relax on the weekends. The burnout has stopped and I feel like a much better writer because I'm not putting as much stress on myself.

Roger Floyd said...

I agree completely. I get the feeling that so many writers have their own ways of doing things, and they get so intent on doing it their way that any other way becomes sacrilege. And they tell so many others, "If you don't do it my way, your writing will be a pile of ---- and you'll never be published." I say don't listen to them. Do it your way. If you don't want to write every day, don't. But at least keep in mind that regular writing will help you get better and better. Just like any activity, practice makes better. The real art of writing consists in knowing what advice to take and what advice to ignore. Good writing is good listening and smart thinking.

Julie Musil said...

"Shame your style." I love that! I don't write every day, either. I think about writing every day but probably write only 4-5 days a week. Thanks for the reminder that we're not doing something wrong!

Machetedontext said...

Cool.

Laura K. Cowan said...

Thank you for this! I have been hitting my stride a bit this last year, but that saying nagged at me, like I was doing something wrong by not being consistent enough. Recently I realized my personality is the exact opposite of slow and steady, but that's okay! If I plugged away every day my writing would be lifeless and I would be exhausted. Doing it more the way you describe allows me to rest and power up for a big surge of writing. How did I let people shame me for something that has always been part of my personality? It's not like I'm undisciplined or flaky. Working this way I wrote my first novel over 5 years but then wrote 6 books in a year and a half. Something is working. Thanks for this blog post, though. I really needed to hear someone say it.

wendy said...

Most people have so much call on their time that it'd be impossible to write every day. A few years ago I had the luxury of having no responsibilities and could have spent 24 hours a day writing, but I became depressed and lethargic and as a result didn't want to do anything. This episode makes me think that human beings might operate better with a busy schedule, partly because it is distracting (if one tends to slip into negative thinking) and partly because we need the stimulation to perform at our best.

Kristi Helvig said...

I'm also not a morning person and am so with you on this. I don't write every day and sometimes go several weeks in between if my kids are on break. I find that I write even faster when I sit back down because things have had time to simmer in my brain. I tend to be a fast drafter (6-8 weeks) and like to leave it alone awhile before I go back to it. :)

Margaret Reyes Dempsey said...

Hooray for you for having the guts to say it. I'll definitely attend your stoning in the public square and shed a tear for you. ;-)
I would love to write every day, but I also work a day job and have a family. Definitely don't have time for the guilt trip, too. I think whatever works for the individual is the right thing.

Eman Quotah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
laughing, loving, living... LIS said...

Wait, does this mean I can stop flogging myself on the workdays I come home and just fall into bed, or go mindless in front of the tv for an hour? Wonderful!

(Isn't it funny how it's so much easier to release ourselves from guilt when someone else gives us permission to do so?

Sally Bosco said...

Great post, and it can be true. However, if I'm working on a novel and I take too much of a break, I lose the momentum. I forget the specifics of what happened several chapters before. As a result, the writing doesn't feel as organic to me. But, life intercedes, and we do what we can. Thanks! Sally

Nathan Bransford said...

shawn-

The Wonderbar novels are around 45,000 words, but I wrote a longer (unpublished) novel for adults that took about the same amount of time. I didn't find that writing shorter books necessarily saved me time.

f4155110-a311-11e3-a0da-000bcdca4d7a said...

You don't have to...but it's fun. :)

thewriteedge said...

Thank you for this reminder and for stating it so simply, without a great deal of fanfare. Just shared it on Twitter with my followers!

amosmcarpenter.com said...

Thanks, Nathan, for inspiring me to blog about what worked for me when I didn't have the time to "write every day" in How to make time for writing in a busy life. Like you said, the same thing doesn't work for everyone, so here's to all writers finding what works best for them.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I wish I could say that I write every day, just like I wish I could say that I exercise every day. But it's just not possible, due to all the other work that I have to do. When I set aside time for fiction writing, I have something to look forward to.

Admin said...
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Jennifer Mattern said...

I'm so happy to see someone say this. The idea that all "serious" writers have to have the same process is insane. On a typical work day, I get up at 4am and I'm writing by 5am. I've been running a successful writing business for ten years. It's what works for me.

Heck, unless it's crunch time on something, I have a four-day work week. And things got better when I cut down on my writing days several years ago. My brain enjoys doing other things, and if I don't take the time to pursue those things, it revolts. (I've been putting in extra hours lately on some big projects, and I suspect revolt is imminent.)

Don't get me wrong; it's great if that works for you. If you need that consistency to keep you disciplined, go for it! But there's no need to put your hang-ups on other writers. You don't tell me I have to write every single day, and I won't tell you that you must get up at 4am to write. Deal? ;)

Lori Schafer said...

I'd like to write every day, but with my schedule, that simply isn't possible. Personally, I don't see any point in sitting down for twenty minutes to write on my busy days just so I can say I wrote something that day. If I only have a bit of time to spare, I'd rather spend it on housework or errands - get those things out of the way so that I can devote a whole afternoon later in the week to writing, when I actually have time to get into it. The sad truth is, most of us are part-time writers. Everyone has to find what works for them and try to stick to that pattern, not adhere to some made-up perception of what a "real" writer does.

Anita Saxena said...

I agree whole heartedly. My latest novel has been written mostly on Sundays (the entire day). But if I lose that day for whatever reason, I try to make up for it during the week, but life and brain fatigue interfere.

Caroline Bliss Larsen said...

Thank you for that! I always felt kind of guilty whenever people would tell me to write everyday if I wanted to be a SERIOUS writer. I can barely get everything else done in one day!

Fred said...

Okay, confession time. All those times I sat down with the laptop after dinner? Well, most of the time I was playing spider solitaire or chess. There. Ah, man, it feels good to get that off my chest.

Marion said...

Yes! Thanks Nathan!
Good agronomy includes letting fields lie fallow, to replenish the soil.
Fallow time is stressful for a writer!

K. Wodke said...

Like Fred, I find spider solitaire very tempting. It steals a lot of my writing time. -K

Mudge Enaki said...

I concur. Love this post!

Bryan Russell said...

I cut minutes out of a day here and out of a night there. You do what you can. Excessive amounts of time, like money, are not given to everyone, and the rich should not look down at the poor.

Serenity said...

I would cry happy tears of gratitude for this post if I wasn't too mentally exhausted to cry. I am so grateful, though. I can't tell you how I needed it today.

Ellen Shriner said...

I couldn't agree more! Thank you for saying it. I wrote the first draft of my book in a year--in two-hour intervals on weekends

Will Overby said...

I think I would write every day if I didn't have a day job where I had to sit in front of a computer screen and use my brain all day. Physical labor is so much less taxing on my brain and allows my mind to wander and plot.

Jason Bougger said...

I agree that you don't have to "write" every day, but I do think you should devote time to your writing every day.

That could be in the form of editing, brainstorming, blogging, researching, submitting, querying, reading, or even just closing your eyes and fantasizing.

I definitely don't agree with the popular notion that you need to force yourself to write a certain amount of words every day. I think that can discourage people, especially for new writers.

Anonymous said...

I find that the more I write the more ideas I have and so I'm trying to write almost every day. But then, I'm a student, not yet started my graduate work so I'm rolling in extra time. Nanowrimo is always the best part of the year for me and I love the manic energy of it. I really hit my stride this year and realized that if I just sit down and keep at it I can get an amazing amount of words done without actually taking time away from my day. It was the 'breaks' that ate up my time before.

That said, it seems loads of people write differently and that's fine! I hold the only true definition of a 'writer' is 'someone who writes.'

K. C. Blake said...

My best friend constantly calls and asks, "Are you writing?" When I say no, she acts weird about it, like I should write every second of every day. Non-writers do not understand the process.

I pretty much do write every day, but I don't write for long periods of time. I spend two to three hours marketing and connecting with people online. Then there is my daydreaming time. That is also when I clean the house while listening to music. My mind wanders and sometimes I have to drop everything and run to the computer before I forget the scene taking place in my head.

Linda Maye Adams said...

I remember seeing one blog where the writer said that if you didn't wake up early in the morning and write then, it wasn't actually real writing. There's just all kinds of weird myths out there.

Scott Marlowe said...

There definitely is a push of sorts (some of it self-imposed, some of it from seeing others churning out content) where I feel I need to not only write every day, but hit some predetermined word count (usually 1,000). I did this on my recent novel, tracking word output daily, but have since slowed down. Like many others, I have a demanding day job; the last thing I need is another one a la my writing. So I try to write when I can, enjoying it instead of feeling pressured to produce every single day. I know this goes against some ppl's philosophies, but oh well.

Jennavier Gilbert said...

I like to write almost every day, but I'm careful to leave a day or two every week to focus on other things. If I don't plan for them they're going to happen anyway and I'll just feel guilty!

NordlysSørensen said...

I tried to write every day and I can write even 2k+ words at day, but then it becomes harder and I start to miss days.
While I can draw literally every day, all day without problems.
I'm glad is not an obligation to write every day.

Jack Erickson said...

Just because we're not at our computers doesn't mean we're not involved in our plot, characters, and settings.

They're imbedded in our conscious and unconscious minds, as we ruminate on what we will do the next time we open up the file and resume writing / revising / editing. New scenes, subplots, dialogue will be there waiting for us.

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Stanley Parko said...

I don't think I agree. It's not about waking up very early or anything like that. It's more to get a habit for writing, to not feel like it's impossible to put something on paper. Of course if you already write regularly and have no trouble keeping up you don't need to get on such a schedule.

But to most people, at least in my experience, it's quite hard to get work done if they don't practice a lot. After all writing is sort of like sport in the sense that becoming good and staying good is often something you have to work on. (Maybe the difference is that in sports your abilities seem to decrease at a certain age and most writers really seem to excel when they reached an older age (thinking of the Tolstojs here.)

It took me a couple of years to find my owntechnique on how to write every day. To me it was all about eliminating the "being-forced-feeling" since that was something that got in my way all the time. Writing used to be fun, I thought to myself. So a big part of my daily practice is pretty much writing nonsense. Or commenting on stuff, writing e-mails or letters to friends.

I guess I envy you bunch a lot. Since writing still is a struggle for me and you seem to have figured that out somehow.

Carol Graham said...

Bottom line -- like you said......get the job done!

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