I’ve heard a lot of writers over the years thumping the “write every day” bible. While I applaud their dedication and zeal in the service of our craft, I have a few issues with the daily writing philosophy. I tried writing every day last year. I got about six months in before I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I’d cranked out two rather expansive novels and got halfway through a third before the muse in my head started throwing empty vodka bottles at me and shouting at me to knock it off and let her rest for a little while. While your muse may be a bit more taciturn than mine, I have met few other writers who were willing or able to write 180,000 words in six months. Why? Because we burn out. Because the human brain can only sustain a good creative bender for so long before we either start cranking out garbage, give up, or something much worse happens.
Does this mean you can’t or shouldn’t write every day? Of course not. I only suggest that we reconsider what “writing” means to us.
Writing is Rewriting
Any editor, good friend, beta reader, or killjoy will tell you that while the first job of every writer is to write, the second job of said writer is to rewrite. Unless you just plan on letting your stories collect dust – a terrible waste – you’ll need to do some rewriting/editing/revising/whatever you want to call it. As I tell my students, “nobody just shits literary gold.” Not you, not me, not J.K. Rowling, nobody. Nobody gets it right the first time, and so it falls to us to go back through our work and make it better. Utilizing the axiom that writing is rewriting, our new definition of writing must include rewriting.
Writing is Brainstorming
Sometimes we need to stop and consider what it is we’re doing. It’s all too easy to get lost in a moment that we love, blinded to the fact that we may be writing something that nobody but us will ever want to read. Maybe our writing has gotten stale, we’ve hit a wall, or one of a million other things has come up and rendered us creatively inert. In such times, it’s helpful to stop working on the main project and do a bit of brainstorming. Use a new document, that leather journal you bought but haven’t written anything in yet, or that scrap paper you’ve got here and there. Take a step back and let your mind work out the kinks in the big project, then go back to it when you’re ready. Fair warning: this may take a while.
Writing is Self-care
As writers, we often let our creative minds get the better of us, and we forget to take care of ourselves. We neglect going to the gym so we can get that extra 500 words in, or we “forget” to eat right because we can keep writing a little longer if we order a pizza so we don’t have to stop to cook or clean. We bail on family and friends because we procrastinated all day, and it’s only at 11pm that we start the day’s writing. It’s tantalizingly easy to shirk our needs and responsibilities for the high that fulfilling your creative needs brings. What’s worse, we may be working long and/or arduous hours in a soul-sucking job we hate that has left us naught but husks of human beings. Trying to write in such a husk-like state is, in my experience, ill-advised, as what comes out of my brain is embittered and anything but useful. Of course, all things in moderation. If “self-care” involves a pint of ice cream and binge watching Stranger Things again, it might be time to dial it back.
Writing is Publishing
I remember a scene in the film Amadeus where Mozart’s father Leopold asks him if he’s taken on any pupils.
MOZART: I don’t want pupils. I have to have time for composition.
LEOPOLD: Composition doesn’t pay.
While we’re not all teachers, the idea remains the same: if all we do is crank out story after story, how is anyone going to read them? Eventually, we’ll have to dedicate some time to writing query letters, working with agents and publishers, and the rest of what’s involved in sending our stories out into the world. Working toward getting your work to our readers is absolutely worthy of being called “writing.”
“Write” every day
Armed with our new definition of writing, we’ve got a much more manageable life ahead of us. While compositional “writing” is the cornerstone of what we do, living as a writer and “writing” must include something more. While I cannot advise writing every day, I heartily endorse writing every day.
Nate Chang is a genderqueer author and professor of English, currently living south of Seattle, Washington. Their work has appeared in The Pitkin Review Literary Magazine, Paper Tape, and Soul’s Road: a Fiction Collection (although you might not know it was them.) They enjoy musty old books, weird comics nobody has ever heard of, and model tanks.