Do You Have to Write Every Day?

Many authors worry about how many words they write every day. Some even post the tally on Facebook as if they’re in some kind of competition.

And if they’re not writing at least 500 or 1200 or 2000 words or whatever quota they’ve set, they feel miserable. Why aren’t they working harder? Why are they stuck? What’s wrong with them?  How come everyone else is racking up the pages?

If that kind of system works for you, fine. But I think too many writers are somehow caught in the assumption that if they’re not actually physically writing a set number of words every single day, they’re not just slacking, they’re falling behind and even betraying their talent. Especially when they read about other people’s word counts on line.

Many well-known authors like Ann Lamott advise beginners to hold to a daily minimum, but some days it’s simply not possible. Hell, for some writers it’s never possible. Why should it be?

Other writers advise that you if you’re feeling “stuck,” or to warm up, you should re-type what you wrote the previous day. Well, even if I weren’t a slow typist, that’s never had any appeal for me or made much sense.   I’d rather switch careers then do something so mind-numbing.

I don’t advise my creative writing students to write every day; I advise them to try to find the system that works for them. I’ve also never worried myself about how much I write every day because I’m almost always writing in my head, and that’s as important as putting things down on a page.

But aside from that, every book, every project has its own unique rhythm. While recently finishing a suspense novel, my 25th book, I found the last chapter blossoming in my head one morning while on the treadmill at the gym. Though I sketched its scenes out when I got home, I spent weeks actually writing it.

Some people would call that obsessing. They’d be wrong. What I did was musing, rewriting, stepping back, carefully putting tiles into a mosaic as it were, making sure everything fit right before I went ahead, because this was a crucial chapter. I was also doing some crucial fact-checking, because guns are involved and I had to consult experts as well as spend some time at a gun range. It took days before I even had a rough draft of ten pages, yet there were times when I wrote ten pages in a day on this same book.

The chapter was the book’s most important one, where the protagonist and his pursuer face off, and it had to be as close to perfect as I could make it. So when I re-worked a few lines that had been giving me trouble and found that now, they finally worked, that make me very happy.

And if I didn’t write a word, I knew I would be soon enough. Because the book was always writing itself, whether I met some magical daily quota or not.

16 Responses

  1. Excellent points, Lev. Personally, I do a fair amount of “writing” flopped down on the sofa with my eyes closed. I’m also a believer in getting away from a project and coming back to it refreshed. Those who force themselves to meet a word count goal every day may be sacrificing quality for quantity.

  2. Every book, every writer is different. I do a lot of “writing” when I’m on a trail up a mountain, or in my car on routine errands. I do find, however, that I need to write something every day, even if it’s just a response to an excellent blog post. Thanks for validating other writers’ processes.

    • You’re very welcome. I think writers are too bombarded with Rules and Must-dos and it can make us crazy. Finding what works for us, whether it does for anyone else, is crucial.

  3. My writing career was “late” by about 20 years as I listened to writers who claimed you had to write every day, even if it meant getting up at 4 a.m. before the rest of the world intruded. But I’m not a routine lover; I don’t like to do *anything* every day. I finally found my own writing rhythm. Who knows who’ll read your blog and start writing! Thanks.

  4. […] Do You Have to Write Every Day? ( […]

  5. Love your post, Lev. I’ve said more than once that I love your books. I will never be the writer you are. I’m not even trying. I just want to do my own thing and get my own books out of my head and onto the page, however long it takes. Your post is a nudge in the right direction. All the best —

    • I’m glad that you enjoy my books and loved the blog! And truly, we’re all very different writers with very different gifts.

      “However long it takes” is the right attitude. Writers need talent *and* patience-verging-on-stubbornness.

  6. I agree with this whole blog, Lev, and especially about the musing. But I don’t trust my memory, especially when I’m just about to fall asleep–a good time for such musing. I scribble something in a little notebook and then home it will make sense in the morning. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it’s more like “higamous hogamous,” and I have to do my best to reconnect with it.

  7. Following your own “system,” whatever it is, makes sense.

    I’ve learned to embrace forgetting,even if I misplace some notes. What I think of next will often be better. How do I know? Because I’ll usually find the notes after having moved on. 🙂

  8. I admire you people who get inspired and then write. But don’t/didn’t you ever have to “prime the pump,” to get started? I have “idea’s,” too but have not developed the habit of sitting down and writing. Are you people saying you don’t need to develop the discipline of writing?

    • That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is very simple: find the system that works for *you.* Your own discipline, not somebody else’s. Please re-read the blog carefully and you’ll see that.

  9. I now know what you mean! I have developed a writing discipline but it may be A LOT today, a little tomorrow, and three 10 minute (I’m a slow writer too) spots the next day.

    I am now in the middle of a memoir about my life with a disability and what I have learned. It’s slow going, 2000 words is A LOT for me to type but I’m getting better.

    I hope someone kept this blog going but I had to say it, even if nobody’s here. I got a lot out of just this one post.

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