(This is the fourth post in a series on breathing new life into cliched writing advice; check out the previous Flip the Script installments here.)
Common writing advice often focuses on content — e.g. that old chestnut “write what you know” — but it also sometimes creeps into process. The most frequent prescription for beginners? “Write every day.”
Should you? Sure. Can you? Maybe. Do you have to, to qualify as a “real” writer? Absolutely not.
Obviously this isn’t the type of advice that can be completely turned 180 degrees, since that would be “write no days”, and that makes it awfully difficult to get anything done. But as writers with lots of other time commitments — day jobs, family, life in general — we have plenty of options beyond squeezing in a mandatory 6am session to make progress on our projects. We should “write some days.”
What does that mean?
Write often. Of course the core of the “write every day” advice is solid — once you’re in the groove, it’s easier to stay in the groove if you’re making constant progress. And waiting for inspiration to strike is a good recipe for waking up four months down the line and realizing you haven’t written in ages. You don’t have to write every day, but you should write when you can. Is that once a week? Weekend mornings? A few nights a week as a substitute for watching TV or other less productive activities? Figure out what works for you, whether that time is scheduled or just fortuitously stumbled upon. If you’re in an active phase on a project, write often enough to keep your plot and characters in the front of your mind. Speaking of which…
Make progress off the page. I had a baby in April, and as you can imagine, I’m not sitting down at the keyboard quite as often as I used to. But I’m spending a couple of hours a day walking around with a little passenger, not to mention those middle-of-the-night feeding hours. Sometimes this means one hand free; sometimes, none. I can’t spend that time writing, but I can spend it thinking about writing, and I’ve made some major leaps forward on my work-in-progress doing so. Working out plot and character elements, and turning them over and over to consider all the possible ramifications and permutations, is better done without access to a keyboard. Getting to the page too soon can mean a lot of work on an idea that’s only half-baked. Finish baking it.
Sometimes, stop writing. In some ways, not writing is just as important to your work as writing. Especially in the revision phase it can be tempting to fire off a new version of something to a trusted reader and then, as soon as you hear back from them, jumping back into revisions again. But moving too quickly in revision can be a big mistake. Even worse is finishing a first draft of something and immediately sending it out to prospective agents. Let it sit, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Of course you can work on a new project while you’re taking time away from the first one, but there’s also value in a writing break. It’s often the best thing for brewing enthusiasm.
Do you write every day? Do you advise others to do the same?
(image by slambo_42)