Quick-Tip Tuesday: On Writing Every Day

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David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonOne hears conflicting advice these days on the question of whether aspiring writers should try to write every day. Some will say that it’s important to write, but it’s also important to take time away from the work when we need the rest, when we’re exhausted physically or emotionally, when all that other stuff that falls under the heading of “life” gets so overwhelming that we can’t write at all. That was, in essence, the point of Tamsin’s wonderful post a couple of weeks ago.

And Tamsin, who I adore, is absolutely right.

Mostly.

I am one of those obnoxious old fart writers (I have a birthday coming up very, very soon, and yes, I’m feeling a bit like an old fart) who shakes his cane at the young’uns and says in a voice much like that of Bart Simpson’s grandfather that writers ought to write each and every day. Of course, I don’t write every day myself, but, well, you youngsters should. And get your ball off my damn lawn . . .

Tamsin’s point is well taken. We have to take care of ourselves, and sometimes that means not writing. I would also say, though, that there are times when we don’t feel like writing, and we really should write anyway. Why? For a number of reasons.

1. It’s what professionals do. As I said before, I don’t write every day. But I do write five days a week — Monday through Friday. I treat writing like a job because — surprise — that’s what it is. And just as with any job, I have days when I would rather go AWOL and play. I have days when I feel like crap, or I’m depressed or surly. But I have a book to finish and this is my job, so I write anyway. And on almost every one of those days, I feel better about myself for having fought my way through whatever it was that might have kept me away from the keyboard.

2. In the long run, taking days off makes it harder to write. I exercise daily, too, and I go to the gym even when I don’t feel like it. Because I know — I KNOW — that if I take today off, tomorrow’s workout will suck even more. Writing is like that, as well. The more we write, the easier writing becomes. Making a habit of writing, and developing that habit as part of our daily routine, engrains the creative act into our lives. Put another way, writing begets writing. Taking the occasional day off is fine, but to my mind “occasional” really is the operative word.

3. Often, the reasons we don’t want to write are really the best reasons TO write. I think it would be a mistake to write only when I’m in the mood. I think my prose and storytelling would become dreadfully boring if I were to write only when I’m relaxed, or happy, or well-rested. And I think my character work would suffer, because my characters are so rarely any of those things.

Perhaps the hardest writing I ever slogged through was the first half of my second novel, The Outlanders. I had recently lost my father to leukemia, and, a year before that, my mother to cancer. I was still grieving, my siblings and I were struggling to deal with all the logistical and estate-related crap one deals with after the loss of both parents.

The last thing I wanted to do was write. But I did anyway. I found a way to channel those emotions into my writing, and the work I did in those months was the best I’d done to that point in my career.

There is a sort of alchemy that takes place when we manage to convert our own emotions into the different-but-related emotions of our characters. Spinning gold from that straw carried me through my grief. Had I given in to the temptation not to write, that book never would have been as good, and I don’t think my creative development would have followed the same trajectory.

No, we don’t all have to write every day. But if we can, why wouldn’t we? By all means, take care of yourself. Do the things you need to do to keep yourself physically and emotionally happy. But if you can manage to make writing one of those things, think of how much better your writing will be.

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11 comments to Quick-Tip Tuesday: On Writing Every Day

  • […] I said: complicated. You can find the post here. I hope you enjoy […]

  • […] I said: complicated. You can find the post here. I hope you enjoy […]

  • David, I get depressed when I’m not writing, even if I’m doing writerly things like rewriting or Cons or signings. That creative part of writing I really miss. And when I’ve been away, it feels like coming home to a loved one when I start again. That creative spark of a new book is amazing and joyful.

  • Thank you, David. You’re absolutely right.

    The following quotation is part of my email signature, more so that I see it every time I send an email than for the recipient! 🙂
    People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
    – Harlan Ellison

  • <3 <3 <3

    Awww…thank you…I adore you too, but you know that. 🙂

    I went back to my post and added a P.S. with a link to this post for continued reading. Cause these things are SPOT ON. You HAVE to write even when you don't feel like it. Especially if it's your job. "Get yo butt in dat chair and do da words!"…or something like that… 😉

    Much like Faith, I too get depressed if I don't write. In addition, I start having really weird dreams if I don't let my imagination play. Yeah, those are some screwed up dreams. One involved me chasing an ostrich down West 55th Street with a pony that I wasn't riding (because that would've made sense to do), but instead I was talking to it with witty dialogue, because, obviously ponies can talk…duh! O_O

    xoxo – Tamsin 🙂

    Oh…and you're not old. Shut it! 😀

  • This definitely sums it up perfectly. Writing, like working out or running, has become part of my routine. When I write every day I feel better and I can tell me writing is getting better. The hard part is knowing when it’s okay to not write, but I’m slowly getting better with that.

  • Faith, I get grumpy. And yes, there is nothing quite like the spark of a new shiny. I’ve been doing work for the University here in town and have not written anything new in months. The work has been stimulating, and has kept the grumpies at bay, but I miss it and hope to back to it soon.

    Melissa, thanks for the comment. That’s a great quote, and totally true. The work is all.

    Tamsin, thanks. Love the dream. Talking ponies and a runaway ostrich, eh? There’s a band name in there somewhere . . . Hugs.

    Kevin, that’s the hard part for me, too. There was a time a few years ago when I knew I needed to take a day off and I build one into my schedule and everything. And still, I very nearly gave it up to write anyway, which was NOT a good thing. The first step to recovery, they say, is acknowledging we have a problem. And I do . . .

  • Andrea

    Thanks, David! It’s exactly what I needed to hear. Because I had a busy day, I almost skipped my writing today, thinking I’d catch up tomorrow (yeah, right 😉 )
    I try to adjust my daily writing target to how busy my day will be with other things, though. It is no use beating myself up over a schedule that simply isn’t feasible, when I’ve had a day full of appointments and/or the day job. But writing can usually be ‘squeezed in’ in the evening instead of watching the latest rerun on TV :p

  • I think adjusting your expectations to meet the conditions of the day is a great idea, Andrea, especially if it that then makes it easier for you to keep writing as a part of your routine. Because the flip side of this — and perhaps this is something I’ll tout in my next post — is keeping expectations realistic so that we don’t undermine our own confidence. Great comment. Thanks.

  • Well-said, David. It’s been bugging me, because I *have* felt emotionally and physically drained for some time, and that’s been translating to not writing.

    I read the Tarot, and last week, after some hesitation, I gave myself a reading about my current situation. Which has nothing to do with writing.

    The answer: “Everything’s still uncertain and up in the air. But finish your damn novel.”

    Well, okay, then…with all these messages I’m getting from the universe (including this post), I guess I need to start listening.

  • Laura, yes, you do. I find that embracing the image I mention in the post, the sense of engaging in alchemy — of turning something without value or, more to the point in the case of your situation, negative and dark, into gold — is really helpful for me. Writing becomes an act of defiance, of the reassertion of spirit and self. And, if I can presume, it sounds like that’s what you need. Best of luck. You have many, many people rooting for you and sending support your way.