Monday, July 23, 2012

How to 'write' every day

Amid the mounds of well-meaning advice out there for writers, one you see crop up more than most is 'you should write every day, even if only a little'. In principle, yes, you probably should. But in practice, this is not always possible. Life has a tendency to interrupt the writing process in ways big and small: particularly if you have a full time job, a family, or other responsibilities that you're obliged to prioritise over writing. And then, of course, there are those days when the words just won't come...

(Photo take from Flickr account with a Creative Commons Licence)

Now I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You don't need to write every day.Gasp, shock, horror etc. What on earth is he talking about? How else am I supposed to finish my 100k MS if I don't at least bash out a few hundred words a day on it? Well, by doing other sorts of writing every day. Here's ways you can keep your writing hand in without feeling guilty about not finding the time to sit in front of you computer and add to the dreaded word count:

  • Keep a notebook on you at all times. Yes that's another one you're told to do all the time: but on those days when you're held up by train delays on the commute home from work, or you're nagging your kids to do their homework in between cooking and washing up, half formed snatches of ideas will come to you. These can then be fed in to your WIP when you're in front of your computer later.
  • Critique someone else's writing. Each time you do a critique, you sharpen your critical eye for your own work. The problems you identify in the piece you're critiquing could well apply to your own. Either returning to fix them there and then, or thinking about fixing them later, counts as writing for the day. More on critiquing in this blog post.
  • Devise a flash story. For those not in the know, this is a very short (1000 or less words) piece of writing. It's good practice: if you're struggling for an idea, use picture prompts, or delve in to your notebook. The ideas generated by your flash story can then either be used in your WIP or give you a whole new idea for a novel...
  • Read in your genre. Learn. Steal. N.b. steal, not imitate. It's all part of the creative process and it counts.
If the above reads a bit like kidology, then fine. The way I see it, writers get too hung up on 'I must write every day'. Doing the above, and more besides, counts towards writing every day in my view: just be sure that you do some actual writing at some point as well!


  1. Great post, Joe! I certainly don't write every day - as you say, the day job and other responsibilities don't let me. But I'm always thinking about my writing, mulling over plot problems and figuring out where to take the story next. I actually find (short) periods of not writing *help* me write, if that makes sense?!

  2. Yep, makes perfect sense to me! A break can refocus your mind and recharge your batteries/ Plus, if you get too absorbed in writing, it can consume your life utterly: and who wants that? There are more important things in life...

  3. Foggy, that's wonderful advice, especially for the new arrivals on the literary scene. I'll pass this along to my son. Thanks

  4. You're welcome. I had no idea your son was following in his father's literary footsteps. I wish you both every success, and hope he finds this useful :-)

  5. I'm SO glad someone else out there has realized that forcing yourself to write on the old novel or magnum opus every day is a wasted effort (at least for some). I think that advice assumes that there is nothing else on your mind but writing it, whereas in reality because of all the other things we think about, often we need a few days between writing sessions to let ideas ferment.

    Thank you for your very encouraging post!

    1. You're welcome. So much negative energy is wasted when you force yourself to write (in the classic sense of the word) every day, and beat yourself up when you don't. And for what? It's a hard, unglamorous business for the most part, unlike most non-writers think, so you need to cut yourself every break you can.

  6. Great stuff Joe, as always. A tutor on a course I attended told us 'The energy flows where the attention goes.' In other words when something is foremost in your mind, it will release creative energy. If you have to force it into your attention, the energy is more likely to be blocked. It's advice I have used, with some success, in time management and, of course, for writing.

    A friend asked my what was my 'writing routine'. I expect he want to know what time I got up, which part of the day I set aside for writing, how many words I wrote and so forth. What I told him was that my day was punctuated with playing the violin, sketching and long walks.
    'So when does the writing get done?'
    'All the time.'


    1. Sage advice indeed Will. Forcing words through is counter-productive, if anything.

      Your friend is a classic case of what most non-writing friends think about novel writing. Every time I mention I've written one, one of the first questions they always ask is 'when do you find the time to do that'? As is it's some sort of compartmentalised activity that neatly slots in to our daily routine like cooking dinner, or travelling to work. We all know it simply doesn't work like that. Excellent point! :-)