When it comes to writing and being a writer, I’ve heard many pieces of advice. Some of this advice, though, is conflicting.
Write every day, no matter what, even if it is only a few hundred words or just for a few minutes.
Write when you feel the inspiration to do so; you should never force yourself to write.
I’ve tried it both ways. When I was working in an office, I would get to work an hour early and that hour was my writing time. I’d sit there and just write for an hour. Some days it was thousands of words in that hour; other days, if I scrawled out 13 words, it was a miracle. But either way, I dedicated the hour to writing.
When it comes to writing every day, the pros and cons of this are many, but boiling it down, I see (for me) a few key items:
- It forms a good habit of being creative and focusing on something enjoyable as a regular, important part of the day. It becomes something you just do, like brushing your teeth or combing your hair.
- The more you write, the better you get at it – practice makes perfect?
- The act of writing something—anything – can help bust through writer’s block
- It encourages experimentation in style and form
- If ideas don’t come easily or quickly, it can be very frustrating to sit there for an hour accomplishing “nothing”
- It is easy to start questioning the value and quality of what you are writing
- It is easy to burn out and become bored with writing
- Unlike brushing your teeth, which takes 2 or 3 minutes, writing takes a large chunk of time out of the day
When considering writing only when inspiration strikes, there are similar pros and cons:
- When inspiration strikes, the story and the writing can be exciting and energizing, often leading to more inspiration
- There is less “wasted time” sitting there writing nonsense words and phrases just so that you can say you are writing.
- There is usually a tangible output at the end of the writing session, because there was a clear goal
- It is extremely easy – almost automatic – to make excuses not to write at all (“I’ll write tomorrow…”)
- What if inspiration doesn’t strike for a long, long time?
- What if inspiration only strikes when you cannot write due to time, commitments, location (inspiration strikes in the shower or while driving a lot of the time, making it difficult to actually write at that point)?
Events such as NaNoWriMo rely on your drive to write every day. NaNoWriMo, of course, takes this to an extreme, requiring not only that you write every day, but that you average 1667 words every day. This, for many people, is too much of a burden or commitment and even for people who win NaNoWriMo, December 1 arrives and many just stop writing to take a break or relax a little. I’d venture that many of those who simply stop on December 1 do not start up again for quite some time. The writing habit that was formed in November is quickly lost if you take a week or two (or three) off in December.
As I said, I’ve tried to subscribe to both schools of thought on this and I’ve had varied successes with both. From the standpoint of building good habits, clearly it is better to plan to write every day. Given the stage in life I find myself in now with active kids and a stressful job, though, it is not really realistic for me to plan on having an hour or two every day which I can dedicate to writing. But the alternative – to write only when inspiration strikes – is proving to be untenable as well because the power of inertia is too strong (read: a writer who is not writing tends to continue not writing unless it’s November and he’s doing NaNoWriMo).
It is clear to me that what I am doing with my writing life right now is not working. One of my goals for 2014 is to try to find some balance for my writing schedule. I know for myself that when I think about a dedicated writing time, I usually think in terms of “hours”. I should write every day for an hour or two, I think to myself. But that’s when I start looking at my to-do list and my work calendar and my kids’ calendars and I feel the anxiety well up as I try to figure out how to squeeze in a two hour writing session. What I need to acknowledge and accept is that I am at a place in life where I cannot dedicate an hour or two every day to write. But if I take some of the pressure off and look for an hour every other day or every three days… perhaps 15 to 30 minutes each day… that might work.
If inspiration strikes, maybe that 30 minute session will turn into two hours. But if inspiration doesn’t show up, then in half an hour I’ll refill my coffee cup and move on to the next task in my day.
What do you do? Do you write every day no matter what? Do you set a specific time of the day to write? Or do you write whenever and wherever inspiration strikes?