Do you write everyday and should you?

Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ is a fabulous no-nonsense practical approach to being a writer and one that anyone serious about writing should own (in my humble opinion). From a previous reading I recalled that King said that he wrote everyday including Christmas Day and his birthday. On re-reading I see that he says that he told interviewers that because, when you are being interviewed you have to say something…However the nuanced truth is more interesting. When he’s really into a project, he DOES write everyday (including Christmas and his birthday). On the other hand, he says when he is not writing, he completely comes away from it and does plenty other things instead.

When we want to call ourselves writers, when we come to a point when writing is almost as vital to us as breathing, we can begin to eat, drink and sleep writing. We ponder plots and subplots, fret about wordcount, viewpoint, characterization. Sometimes we go to our writing day after day like inmates of an institution who don’t realise that they are free at any time to leave. During National Novel Writing Month in November, thousands of writers pledge to write 50,000 words. Why? friends sometimes ask Is there a prize? Is it a competition? No, we just do it, for ourselves. But producing the necessary 1667 words a day is a baptism of fire and there are days when you want to beat your head against the table and shout ‘No, no, no!’ You feel literally burned out. And the reason is that you are sapping every inch of your available subconscious and leaving no subconscious soup to bubble and brew and produce new rich and substantial ideas.

I’ve written before about the absolutely vital part of creativity called incubation (the psychological process whereby disjointed ideas stew and associate in new and startling ways). It famously worked in the bath for Archimedes and – as I’ve discovered this morning – for the inventor of the ATM (who unfortunately forgot to patent the idea.) At the moment I am itching to write a short story, I just love the form so much. I have plenty of ideas jotted down, some character development done, some paragraphs written but nothing, at the moment is jumping out at me. As indeed Stephen King puts it ‘good short story ideas come quite literally from no-where, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun’.  So my short stories ideas are reasonable but there is no spark to set them alight, align them in a unique and exciting way. All it will take is a moment, a chance remark, something seen on television (Gah!) or by listening to a song or reading something in the newspaper to make the difference. But that cannot always be planned and sometimes you have to work through the piece in the absense of inspiration hoping that the next time you come to it you will see it with a fresh eye.

Being committed we will write as much as we can, even when life is busy and emotionally demanding, even when we are sucked from all sides. ‘Sometimes, as King says ‘you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you are doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position‘. We need to be committed and ready to feel the fear that our work is going no-where and go there anyway. However we also need to be aware of finding a balance between word production, following through and giving ourselves the mental space to find new inspiration and drive.

Do you write everyday? Through difficult times or holidays? Or do you give yourself a day off every week? Or a break at the end of a project? What works for you? Would love to hear your comments.

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25 comments

  1. I completely agree with you that Stephen King’s On Writing should be owned – and read – by every writer. It is a brilliant read and I found it one of the more helpful, informative and inspirational books on writing.

    I don’t write on my birthday or at Christmas, I have to admit, but I try and write six days a week, and then have one ‘light write’ day a week, where I don’t have to do anything, if I don’t want to. I figure that everyone else usually has at least one day off a week and that it’ll be better for me and benefit my writing, if I do the same and take time out to relax, enjoy – and get out into the real world for some more material!

    1. Hello everyone,

      Thanks for such interesting comments. The six day cycle seems like a winner! although I must admit I do seem to do it most days in some shape or form but realised there was something wrong when it came ahead of fresh air, exercise, relaxation with family and even the occasional chill out in front of the TV. Having a busy family life with young children there isn’t in reality, much time for everything so its important to guard my writing time but also ensure that relaxation and incubation time and a balance with the other aspects of life. I understand the almost anxious feeling, Alison (lovely name!) of not being able to get to it but in situations like that, I keep my notebook handy.

  2. I write virtually every day but the vast majority of it then gets cut or edited. I usually have one day a week when I don’t and I feel refreshed for it- and miss it. If I wrote for myself full time I often wonder what habit I would form.

  3. I have to be dragged away from my PC in order to prepare food, get a drink and fulfil personal requirements(!). At the moment I am packing up to move and feel the ache of deprivation as I an forced to fill up cardboard boxes. I sneak in a few moments at the end of the day, even now, 3 days from removal men arriving.

    But my head is processing ideas, running through scenes, imagining dialogue as I fight the mound of bubble wrap and newspaper, so not all bad!

  4. I loved your article – I recognise everything there from that feeling of being in the zone to ‘shovelling sh*t around’ and ‘feeling the fear’ – I’m sure most writers would. I do try to write everyday, but sometimes I know that the days I have off can be just as productive. Often, a problem I have been trying to resolve will work out far better when I’m not at the keyboard and that I have to have time for things just to develop subconsciously. So, I try not to stress out too much when I’ve not done my requisite word count – like this week, it’s been unavoidable. I’ve also learned that if I’m just not in the mood, it’s better to leave it alone and wait until I am.
    Thank you Alison for such an interesting post!

  5. Great post, Alison. I don’t write on Sundays. And not much on Saturdays either. And if its sunny out, I like to go out to the garden instead. That said, I find I’m writing in my head a lot of the time. I loved your post, very insightful. Think you’re right. Time to smell the roses is important.

  6. ‘… you are sapping every inch of your available subconscious and leaving no subconscious soup to bubble and brew…’ – I love this! It is so true. & very convenient for me coz of mum duties/life crap/laziness. I can’t switch off mentally but some days I simply cannot face a blank page. (It also helps that I use my shopping lists for jotting down thoughts & ideas… *why am I in Waitrose? Oh yeah, I’m after 2 lbs of what she did next…’)
    Great post. Thanks.
    Penny Goring

  7. I like to try write something every day, though with exams that’s more difficult than usual. During the summer, when I get into the swing of things, I can get thousands of words done a day. Same with NaNoWriMo; I get loads done in the early days of inspired writing, and then the rest is actually more laid back. But I have to admit, the first time was easier than the second. The passion was gone second time around, and it seemed more like a challenge than an encouragement. Which, I think, is the problem with trying to write every day. Early on in setting yourself that task, you can get lots of writing done, but later it’ll seem like you’re only writing to satisfy the need to write daily… I’ll need to write more about this topic now that I’m thinking about it… Great post, Alison!

    1. Yes, very good point about the Nanowrimo writing challenge ‘later it’ll seem like you’re only writing to satisfy the need to write daily…’ that’s definitely how it felt, swimming against the tide. Thanks for your comments Paul.

  8. I’m for the 6of7 equation. I do try to write every day, but if I’ve done 6 days consecutively, or I have a special family reason to make an exception, then I do.
    In some ways, writing is like a diet!

  9. I think that writing rhythm is important. I tend to write to deadlines, so set a daily target and head down. This does produce a ‘work’ like feeling to my writing but it gets the words of the page, which makes my publisher happy!

    1. Thanks everyone for all your latest comments. Yes a writing rhythm and routine are important. I think that the mind adjusts to it and is oriented in the correct direction as you come up to your writing time. I started an early (5am if possible) morning routine and found myself a lot more focussed and productive than if I dabble at any available moment (often punctuated due to family demands.) I think if you are the kind of person that not only wants but needs to write then it will never be far from your mind. I think it is challenging though when writing is part of an onslaught of demands, to find the appropriate balance that will work best for your productivity but also quality as a writer and also for the best possible quality of life for yourselves and those that depend on you.

  10. Somebody (a writer whose name I can’t remember) said if you don’t visit your work every day it’ll turn feral on you. Pretty soon you’re afraid of it. I learned that the hard way, so I stay in touch with my ms almost every single day of my pitiful, enslaved life. Although to be honest I’m revising and polishing, so I wouldn’t call it writing. I look forward to the incubation period. It’ll be like a freakin’ holiday! Thanks for your post.

  11. I don’t write every day and reading people’s blogs about the importance of writing every single day makes me feel guilty and not worthy of calling myself a writer. But I need to feel inspired to write, and I need the energy to do it, which I can’t find every day. Also I need a break between one project and the next, I need to brew my ideas and shape them before I plunge back into writing.
    I like your post!

  12. I completely agree, understand and relate a lot to everything you’ve just discussed. And I haven’t read any of King’s novels or his writing book but it sounds like he talks a lot of common sense when it comes to writing.

    As for me, I know I perhaps SHOULD write everyday but I don’t. I tend to find myself doing other things like reading, watching TV or sleeping like as you said sometimes life can be a drainer but when I do get an idea that nags at my mind I do try and write it down even if its just the basic outline in my notebook.

    When I’m not trying to work seriously on making progress with my own WIP ‘Soul Chaser’ I’m usually working on short story ideas for competitions I’m aiming for but all the while my sub-conscious still works on Soul Chaser and more often than not an idea, character or scene will come to be through my short stories or books I read or even when I’m just say thinking.

    So I don’t think its entirely necessary for an amateur writer like myself to write everyday unless you depserate to get published in a hurry which at its quickest will take several years but as long as you do give yourself a break and not force the creative juices out of you like a friend of mine was doing with her WIP, and take a step back and do something else creative just to let you sub-conscious take the wheel, then well ideas, imagination and passion will gently guide you back to the keyboard or pen and paper when its ready.

    1. Hi Lynne, Sarah and Rebecca,

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comments. All of your comments make great sense to me, there are no hard and fast answers. Lynne, I know what you mean about ‘turning feral’. If you leave things too long you will lose the impulse that underlies the whole book – that even happens to me with short fiction. It does happen, even in published books where I get the feeling someone came back to the book after a long time, its lost its ‘sound’. Sarah and Rebecca, the guilt or the feeling of ‘should’ can be crippling and we go through phases in life where its not possible to keep up the momentum to the same extent. I guess that’s the theme of this post and of the blog in general, how can we find the right balance between creativity and hands-on life? It’s personal and something that we have to renegotiate practically and in our heads all the time!

  13. This is such an interesting post. I’m always curious as to the nuts and bolts of how others write, and balance writing with family life. ( 5 am! I really admire your dedication.) I’m doing three hour blocks four times a week at the moment. Would much prefer to write at the same time and daily. There ‘s something disjointed about my writing practise as the hours and days vary week to week depending on school holidays/work etc… Feel under pressures to get this novel finished before the younger children get their summer holidays. Then I hope to fill the well, read poetry, swim, walk, make paintings, write aimlessly and joyfully till September! I never write on Sat/Sundays and often take breaks when other things come up (not with out guilt!) My ideal would be to get four to five mornings hours daily and two in the evening to edit – very greedy! Enjoyed the post Alison, happy writing!

  14. I write everyday. Do morning pages for 20 minutes otherwise I am like someone deprived of caffine! But I Have not written anything for the past four days. Jet lag is my excuse, and I am sticking to it! Have only just surfaced. So back to the notebook. Loved the post.

    1. Hi all,

      I don’t know if I gave the impression that I have my writing routine sorted. I don’t! And the early start is sometimes aspirational rather than reality. But at least if I do a little everyday I can feel more relaxed that I’m still involved with it (although the other half of my brain is wound up at all I’d love to do if I had the chance. I do Saturdays and Sundays, because its the one time that I can hand over the responsibility for kids to the other half. However I think there needs to be more of a balance and an official ‘time off’ time or the family can suffer. I’m finishing a novel, like you Niamh, so its more full on than if I was back to short stories. I have a dream that I can dabble in short stories in a more informal way over the holidays when the kids are off. Its feasible because I think they are self-contained units that germinate well in periods of relative relaxation.

  15. Fantastic piece. I too own Stephen King’s brilliant tome. I write – to a set word count/target – every day when I am deep into a project, particularly a novel, as they require momentum. However, once done, I’ll have weeks away from writing. I see this fallow period as a chance to ‘fill the well’ in Julia Cameron speak, and of course just because a writer isn’t putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard doesn’t mean that they’re not working. My experience is that we’re always working in one way or another. Thanks for this.

  16. Coming back to this post 4 years later and I’ve changed my mind. I think there needs to be whole periods of time when the bum is not on the chair and the face is not staring at the screen. I’m adopting a routine more like Laura describes above, sometimes to fill the well, and other times to pay the bills 😉

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