So lately it seems I’ve been lobbing grenades at Conventional Writerly Wisdom (CWW) so I figured I’d persist, if only out of my usual impulse to be perverse, by taking a shot at one of the great sacred cows of CWW: that all serious authors must Write Every Day.
Actually it’s usually phrased more as an utterance from within a pillar of fire and framed by heavenly hosts with trumpets, and it goes more like “Thou shalt not miss a single day of writing, and yes, we’re talking Thanksgiving and Christmas too here, slacker, so get on it lest thou be smited.”
Great writers (and great writers on writing, including one of my favorites, Stephen King) concur. Serious writers, they say, writers who really mean it, professionals or those determined to become so, write every day and So Should You.
To which I say, bollocks.
You don’t need to write every day to be either productive or good, in fact I think that a lot of people do better (in terms of both output and the quality of that output) if they don’t write every day. I for one need time to reflect, to figure out what comes next in the story and to mull the tonal weight of how I want those next scenes to play out, all of which takes time away from the actual keyboard. And I also just need to take a break from thinking about the story entirely in order to keep my batteries charged.
I realize this may sound like a lot of pretentious crap, but I became a writer because I wanted to be an artist, not a brick layer. Yes, I write mainstream genre fiction which has a commercial and utilitarian bent, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking of it as art, something that—to borrow from Keats—has its own beauty and truth, even if it also has monsters and guys with guns. You don’t make art by clocking in and pounding out your eight hour work day. Or at least, I don’t. You make art when it’s there in your head, clear and fast as a mountain stream, when you’ re driven to it, thirsty and desperate to share it with the world.
Still pretentious crap?
Possibly, but there’s something of the puritan work ethic to that Write Every Day alternative, something slightly joyless and Product Oriented which chills my soul like a deep cave and makes me Suspicious, and not only because those Founding Fathers hats with the buckles look ridiculous on me. We’re making books here, people, not machining nuts and bolts.
Let me insert the usual Magical Words proviso here in case you hadn’t seen it lumbering towards you over the horizon like a Chieftain tank: in the end, the right way for you is the one which works. Some people need to write every day, or at very least, on most days. That’s fine. Good. Wonderful.
But if you don’t, don’t sweat it.
Not needing or being able to write every day doesn’t mean that you are not a real writer (whatever the Hell that is). I have a job, a family, non-literary interests (imagine that!) and all kinds of other commitments that get in the way of writing every day but, as I’ve already suggested, that’s really not the issue. I genuinely believe that when I do have the opportunity to write every day, it’s not good for me, my brain, or my writing. I need the time away from actually hammering out the words to think, recharge and—yes—just live a bit as something other than a writer. This is important, and much of what I do when I’m not consciously being a writer will actually finally inform my work in some abstruse way. In short, to be a writer, I also need to be a person, and that means being something other than a writer from time to time.
Does my output suffer as a result? Perhaps, a little. I’m really not sure. But I know that I have spent hours doggedly banging out a few thousand words out of a sense of obligation only to find later that I had to trash most of them because they weren’t worth the price of admission. But I think that I actually produce pretty quickly, and that is partly because I’m not writing constantly, so that when I do embrace a project, or a writing week or a day, I’m fired up, passionate and ready to create, driven by a conviction, a hunger to get out what has been simmering during my off days (or weeks or even months).
Still pretentious crap?
Like I said, whatever works. But if you stick to the Write Daily mantra, make sure it really does work for you and isn’t just some vaguely corporate work ethic designed to make you feel serious or committed. Some times the very best thing you can do for your writing is to walk away from it.