Why writing every day is bullshit

writing advice, burnout, indie publishingI’m sure I’m going to get a lot of flack for this one. I don’t care. There’s something I see being posted a lot, and it ticks me off. So I have no problem sounding off on the topic.

Write every day. Every single day. You will not be a success if you don’t write every day. You will fail. Just do it. Write every day. Do it.

Bullshit.

To explain why I think this is bullshit, I’m going to refer to an awesome post I read on a financial blog. What I read wasn’t anything new, it just sums up how I feel on the topic. The advice basically goes like this:

Do your best, dummy.

OK, what does that mean? I refer to it another way. I call it the 80/20 theory. The 80/20 theory is basically that if you’re 80 percent perfect, you’re still going to be pretty good. Maybe not as good as 100 percent, but still pretty good. But 80 percent is achievable. 100 percent is nearly impossible, and most of us will get frustrated and quit if we try.

OK, that’s pretty abstract. Here’s a concrete example. Say you want to start working out. You decide you need to go to the gym 4 days per week. Many folks start their New Year’s resolutions this very way.

The first couple of weeks go great. Then, on week three, the person misses a day. They decide they need to make up for it. Then another day is missed, and that needs to be made up. Suddenly the make-up days start piling up. Eventually it’s too much, the person feels like a failure, and they stop.

Let’s look at a different scenario (and this is how I approach fitness, for that matter). Let’s say I set out to work out for four days per week. Guess what happens if I miss a day? I move on. I let it go. I make the next workout.

So, let’s do the math. I missed, say, three workouts that month. So, I should have done 16 total work outs. I did 13. Guess what? Still pretty good. That’s 13 more workouts than the guy who quit and isn’t doing any.

I approach writing the same way. I go for days without writing. (Fiction at least. My job is to write every day, so in a sense I am one of those write every day people! But my job is also one of the reasons I sometimes just don’t have anything left for my fiction.) Then I go for days when I do write.

I just published the first part of my serial novel, and my second is coming out in September. So I’d say I’m doing pretty well with producing content. It might have taken me longer than someone writing every single day, but I got there. I’m happy with where I’m at, and I’m happy at the rate I write.

But understand, it’s not writing every day that I take issue with. If that works for you, go for it. What I’m calling bullshit on is writers who tell other writers there’s only one way to do it. There isn’t. There’s as many ways as their are writers. You have to figure out what works for you. I like writing at night, with post-techno on. I used to have to be at a coffee shop. You might favor writing upside down in your underwear. Maybe you like writing a little bit every day. Maybe you write in Jack Kerouac three-day binges. I don’t know. Do what works for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. And don’t forget, this stuff is supposed to be fun. If you’re not enjoying it, why do it?

17 thoughts on “Why writing every day is bullshit

    • I think every author needs to find what works for them, and you’ve certainly done that. You and I know that, I just worry about the new writer who reads a “you need to write every day” posts and thinks, “Oh, I don’t/can’t,won’t do that, I must be a failure.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Of course, there are times I force myself to start writing. And most days when I sit down and start, I’m fine. Some days I can’t get started. Those are the days I just go do something else, because I know the next time I sit down to write I’ll be fine. So I do try to maintain a fairly steady pace, but I would never force myself to a daily routine. The most important thing for me is that it’s fun.

      • Exactly. I was told once by a “writing coach” that because I didn’t write every day and because I wrote in spurts as the mood struck me that I would never be a real writer. I would never be successful. I would never be published or sell books.

        I have become ALL of those things and I did it without giving up everything else in my life to do it. I resent that man and his advice every single day.

  1. I love this. It’s refreshing after basically every single writer’s resource/outlet has shoved the whole “write everyday or you’re not really a writer” paradigm in our faces OVER AND OVER AND OVER forever. I totally agree. I work a full-time job, a job that expects me to work when there is work to do, a job that doesn’t care if I put in 40 hours or 80 hours, a job that has nothing at all to do with my writing, a job that is at least a 45 minute commute each way. So there are days I don’t write. No one can tell me I’m not a writer or that I’m not as good or that I don’t care enough, or whatever the case may be.

    You just have to find a routine that works for you. Thanks for this!

    • Definitely! Even some writers I really respect have propagated this myth, that to be a great writer, you have to do it every day, or else… or else what? Then you look at their back stories. Hugh Howey is one of my favorite indie authors and he’s also someone who pushes the write every day moto. But he started writing every day when he lost his job and took a part-time job in a bookstore. Other writers saying this are those who do writing full time. And maybe someday if my fiction takes off, then I will happily write every day, if it is my job. But right now, it’s something that’s a BREAK from work, something I enjoy, and I would rather keep it that way. I’m glad to see people like you who totally get this! Good luck with your writing!

  2. I’m with you, B.C. You find what works for you. New writers are often so anxious to find out “the secret to success” that they’ll do anything and everything, forgetting that they are their best source. Trust your (growing, in my case) gut.

    • My friend, who is a martial arts teacher, told me a story about a kid to whom he told the “secret” of being a great martial artist. The kid leaned in, eager to here the secret to martial arts success. He was, of course, disappointed when my friend said “Show up to class and train hard. Repeat.” I think the same applies to writing. You just keep doing it. You don’t worry if you miss a day, a week, whatever, you just keep writing. Will it take you a little longer than the write every day crowd? Probably. Who cares? It’s a long process either way, and I think a writer has to be prepared to enjoy the process. So I would rather write a few days a week and enjoy it, rather than force myself to follow a schedule and hate it. Thanks for reading!

  3. I appreciate this so much. “My job is to write every day, so in a sense I am one of those write every day people! But my job is also one of the reasons I sometimes just don’t have anything left for my fiction.”

    Same here! I sometimes have runs of several days in a row, and I sometimes have breaks of a week or more. But I keep at it, and I strive to find what works. :)

    • Awesome! Yep, I think that’s the important part, to just keep going. For me it’s usually a few days per week – sometimes, I take a week off. But I never stop. Keep up the good work!

  4. Pingback: Loving the response to ‘Why writing every day is bullshit’ | B.C. Kowalski

  5. “Write every day” is an ideal and a worthy one if your goal is to become a good writer. Of course it’s not realistic, but it’s a lot simpler than saying, “Write as often as you can so that the synaptic connections that control your ability to write become as hard-wired as possible.”

    For myself, in the absence of a pressing project I tend to inertia and if I don’t strive for “write every day” it tends to become “don’t write any days.”

    • And if that’s what works for you, then great. But every single writer has an approach that’s going to work best for them. So I get a little torqued when I see people cramming their one-size fits all approach down other writer’s throats, making them feel like failures if they miss a single day. As I mentioned in my post, I see the people do the same thing to themselves in fitness. They tell themselves they’re going to work out every day, then they miss a day, then two, then they feel guilty, and quit. As the financial blogger I referenced said, isn’t better to be 80 percent perfect than zero percent?

      The problem I have with it is that it’s an all-or-nothing mentality. BUT – and this is a big but – that doesn’t mean you can’t stop pushing yourself, that you shouldn’t have a goal that you’re striving for. I typically write three to four days per week (on top of being a full-time reporter); I’ve published my first novel and my second is due out in September.

      I may not publish as quickly as other authors, but I also haven’t been burned out, and I enjoy my writing. The pace I write at is right for me. Maybe others need to write every day to achieve their goals in the time they want to achieve them. Others might get away with even less. The important thing is that each writer finds what works for them. You only do that by experimenting, taking advice, and keeping a willingness to abandon that advice if it’s not working for you.

      • But that’s what I am saying: the ideal of “write every day” doesn’t mean that you have to write every day, just the way “appreciate each and every day” doesn’t mean that you mean that you grin like an addled fool all the time. It’s a cliche that holds a nugget of truth–and if there’s any reason to dislike the phrase, it’s not because it’s untrue or misleading but because it’s lazy and rote.

      • No, I get what you’re saying, and I think it makes sense. However, the posts I’m seeing aren’t saying “try” to write every day, or holding it up as an ideal to shoot for; they’re saying you need to write every day and are quite clear that’s literally what they mean. I reject that idea. Like I said, the bottom line is that each person is going to find what works for them, whether that’s writing every day, shooting for that as an ideal, having a three day per week schedule, or whatever. I have a friend who writes poetry a few times per year. He has a single book published and it will probably be some time before he publishes another one. But as long as he’s OK with that, who’s to tell him otherwise? If he’s not, of course, than he needs to figure out something else. So, I don’t think we really disagree here. And I do appreciate your input!

      • I’m just being ornery and argumentative. For most of us, writing is going to be a passion rather than a career (I’m a middle-aged tech writer who dabbles on the side). And like any other pleasure in life, it’s there for you when you need it.

        But I’ll make sure to subscribe to your blog.

  6. It seems to me that the real take away here is create goals that you can actually stick to. If writing every day keeps you in a groove and you can actually do it, then you should! If that’s impossible and becomes more of a burden, maybe it’s about milestones (get to x amount of words in a week, finish this chapter in a week, etc).

    When you do want to improve a skill, daily practice is best – but it doesn’t have to be the same kind of practice. He author himself mentions he writes every day – albeit for work – but that is the act of writing. I’m brushing up on my skills right now just writing this reply!

    Ask any successful musician, athlete, or dancer – you may not rehearse your piece or with your team every day – but you are doing something every day that improves your craft. So to me, it’s all about that. Maybe I don’t write in my book, but I journal or write or short story or research or even just enjoy reading a well-written book.

    • You’ve made some very good points. If you count all forms of writing and even reading, or promotion, then doing a little something becomes obtainable for nearly everyone.

      It comes down to your goals. If you want to release five books a year, then you better write every day. My goals are getting my work out at a pace I’m comfortable with and building a small but loyal audience. Each writer has to decide for themselves what they’re willing to do and what they want to achieve.

      Thanks for reading!

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