When I first started writing, I was given a piece of simple, terrible advice: “Write every day.” For years, those words haunted me. Each morning, I woke up, stared maddeningly into the blank Word doc for an hour, and then busied myself with all the other items on my to-do list. By the end of the day, when no writing got done, the self-flagellation began: How could I call myself a writer when I didn’t write? What the hell was wrong with me? I remembered that Stephen King had written 79 novels, and that writers with responsibilities much greater than mine, not to mention children (children!), were probably more productive in a week than I was in several months, and really what was the point of even trying if I couldn’t produce a single mediocre sentence every day?
Maybe this sounds vaguely familiar to you. I often tell the writers I teach and coach that feeling “not good enough” doesn’t mean you’re not a writer; it’s the surest indication you are one.
Self-hatred among writers is a cliché for a reason. But instead of submitting to unhelpful tropes like Hemingway drinking his weight in booze or Sylvia Plath slitting her wrists, I believe there are healthy ways we can escape the self-flagellation of falling short of the “writing rules.” Namely, by calling into question the rules themselves.
The problem with the “Write every day” advice is that it assumes all writers are the same. That is, that all writers are able— physically, mentally, and emotionally—to write 365 days a year, or that they even want to. Aside from being incredibly ableist, the “Write every day” maxim presumes that we need to write every day to meet our writing goals. But we don’t all have the same goals. Productivity to me looks different than productivity to you, and that’s okay.
Writing is the hardest thing I have ever done. The only shot I have at writing at all is by creating the best, most nurturing environment possible for me to make progress in the ways that are right for me. And you owe it to yourself to do the same, by identifying strategies and routines conducive to your version of productivity.
Some questions to ask yourself in finding a writing practice that works for you:
1. At what time of day are you generally most productive? (i.e. mornings, afternoons, evenings, 2 a.m. stumbles out of bed)
2. Under what conditions do you work best? Consider your physical space (i.e. an office, a favorite chair, in bed), the ambience (i.e. music in the background, birds chirping out an open window), as well as potential distractions (i.e. proximity of your phone, use of the internet and social media)
3. Do you need structure (i.e. a writing workshop, class, or retreat) to support your writing, or do you prefer a less structured environment?
4. What is a reasonable, achievable goal for how frequently you will write? (i.e. once a week, every other day, a few times a month)
5. What is a reasonable, achievable goal for how many words / pages you’ll write? (i.e. 750 words a week, 5 pages a month)
6. Is there someone in your life you can share these goals with to help hold you accountable?
No matter what your writing practice looks like, remember that you know yourself best. Productivity is not a one-size-fits-all concept, neither in writing nor in life. With all that said, if writing every day works for you, do it! The point is, you don’t have to. The larger point is, you’re still a worthwhile writer and human even if you don’t. Find a writing practice that works for you and stick to it. End of story.