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Advice for Writers: Write Every Day. Or Don’t. Either Way, Really.

One of the standard bits of advice that gets trotted out for writers, whether in writing workshops, or seminars, or just at author Q&As, in response to the inevitable “what advice would you give a young writer” question is this: write very day.  Set aside a particular block of time each day, during which you will write.  Even if you have no ideas, you will write.  Even if every sentence you type is worse than the last, you will write.  Treat it like it’s your job, because it is, and if you give into letting yourself off the hook because you don’t have an idea one day, you will inevitably do the same the next, and the day after that, and so on, ad infinitum.

For some people this is great advice.  But for others, it’s really truly awful advice. 

Writing every day helps many writers to stay motivated, and to keep momentum going on works in progress.  It helps them to stave off writer’s block, because they don’t allow a lack of ideas to stop the flow of words on paper—a tactic that eventually forces them to push through that block sooner than they otherwise would have.

And if that works for you, wonderful!  But for other folks (myself included) treating writing like a 9:00 – 5:00 is a complete creative turn-off.  For some, sitting down and writing something awful every day doesn’t work through the block, it just prolongs it.  For some writers, there is a lot to say for letting the creative soil lie fallow for a season.

The thing is, writing really is work, and like any kind of work, every writer has different habits and patterns that allow them to operate at peak productivity.  For any writer to try to dictate to another writer when and how often they should write, and in what environment is no different from your micromanaging boss insisting that you can’t possibly listen to music while you type up paperwork, because he tried it once and it ruined his concentration, so obviously it will ruin yours too.  Some folks thrive on routine; others shut down entirely.

For instance: my own best writing generally happens between the hours of 12:00 and 6:00 AM, when I’m sleep-deprived and heavily caffeinated.   I do my writing in binges—a few weeks on, a few weeks off, producing nothing at all for long stretches, then writing dozens of pages in just a few days.  Would I ever advise anyone to imitate my process?  NO!  Unless it happens to work for you, in which case, have at it.

The important thing is to find your own routine.  Try writing at different times of the day.  Try varying how often you write, or how long you write, or where you write. (I do my own best writing when confined to a very small room.  The best office I ever had was a closet.)  And know that whatever routine actually gets you writing is the right routine, and you should never feel guilty about not writing as often or as predictably as other writers say you should.