Did you write today?
No? What about yesterday? The day before that? No? Took the weekend off, maybe? Or maybe you haven’t written in a month or years?
Well… whatever the case, however much you wrote or did not write makes no difference to me. I know I just wrote a post about everything you write being significant, but at the risk of sounding like a therapist or a parent, I still love and respect you even if you haven’t written a single word ^_^
And on this Writing Wednesday, I’m going to talk about 4 reasons why the advice of “Write every day” is borderline nuts.
The Reasoning Behind “Write Every Day”
You’d think that humans would be bored by doing the same thing every day, but they aren’t. We wake up. We get dressed. We eat breakfast. We brush our teeth. We go to work. We blah blah blah every single day.
Why? Because habits. All human beings operate through behavioral patterns that have been ingrained in the brain so hard that they become “automatic.”
Brushing your teeth upon waking up? Habit.
That craving you get for something sweet after you eat lunch? Habit.
That lack of desire for changing into actual clothes and staying in your pajamas all day? Habit.
Writing every day? That can be a habit, too, if you want it to be.
You see, according to Steve Scott’s Bad Habits No More, all habits — good or bad — take about 21-30 days to form. In other words, it takes a month or so of a repeated action or behavior for it to become a regular occurrence. And the reason “write every day” is thrown around so much as advice is because habits are powerful. If you’re writing something every day, chances are you’ll turn into a writing powerhouse.
But in order for you to become a writing powerhouse, you need to be disciplined and be prepared to make some tough calls.
1. Everyone is different.
I’m not you. And you’re not me. Therefore, we’re different.
We likely live differently, eat differently, and — you guessed it — write differently. Maybe you’re more of a straight plotter or panster; I’m a bit of a hybrid. Maybe you’re a drink-coffee-when-hands-are-cold-type of writer; I’m more of a drink-tea-when-hands-are-cold-type of writer. Maybe you have children to raise or a full-time job; I don’t at the moment.
My point is that depending on your current lifestyle and responsibilities, writing every day might not seem feasible. It’s certainly possible, but it takes discipline and lots of sacrifice.
Some people just don’t have the time to write every day or even every other day, and that’s perfectly normal.
Having goals is good. Wanting to exercise more and lose weight is good. Wanting to write every day is good.
But just having a goal is not enough. You need to get S. M. A. R. T. about it.
The S. M. A. R. T. acronym has many variations, but essential, goals that are deemed “S. M. A. R. T.” are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
“I want to write every day” is a goal. But it’s not a S. M. A. R. T. one.
“I want to write 50,000 words of my novel draft by November 31” is a S. M. A. R. T. one. It’s specific, has a measurable word-count requirement, is achievable in thirty days (at a daily word count pace of 1,667 words or more), is relevant to one’s career as a writer, and is time-bound with a clear deadline. I don’t use the S. M. A. R. T. goal system when crafting goals all the time, but I’m willing to bet that just about every goal I’ve successfully achieved could be filled with the requirements of the S. M. A. R. T. acronym.
But like I said before. Having a goal — even a S. M. A. R. T. one — isn’t enough. You need to have a system in place that lets you achieve it, and that system has to be as flexible as an Olympic gymnast.
‘Cause let’s be real: Life gets crazy.
3. Adaptability is more important.
I’m a two-time NaNoWriMo winner. I know what it feels like to write every day and what it takes to get the job done. And this year, I decided that enough was enough. I decided that I’d do my own brand of NaNoWriMo by writing every day during the months of March and April while waiting to hear back on the results of my job interview. Instead of writing 50,000 words of a novel draft in one month, I’d write 100,000 words in two months by April 18 (edit: which didn’t happen :D). Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
But at the end of March, I heard back from the folks over at JET and learned that the possibility of me getting a job as an ALT was still up-in-the-air. I also got edits and comments back from a friend of mine on my short story and realized that it was nowhere near submission or publication-ready. And so I thought, “Maybe I should look at places that are accepting shorter fiction. But how am I going to draft my short story, draft my novel, write on my blog, and generate ideas for flash fiction at the same time without going insane?” And then I remembered that I wanted to get started on the process of de-cluttering my room without having to wait until after my novel was finished or even before I possibly left for Japan.
In other words, life threw me a curve-ball, and I needed to adapt. Instead of writing every day, I now plan to write every week day and have the weekends to sort through my clutter. I’ve scheduled free-writing sessions to generate more flash fiction ideas. I’ve shifted my work on my novel to the morning instead of the afternoon, and I’ve dedicated short-story writing time to the afternoon. I’ve also scheduled in time to write more posts for this blog.
Because writing every day was no longer reasonable, I adapted.
Writing every day might not be possible for you either, and that’s okay. If you can write once a week, do that. If you can write once a month, do that. If you can write once a year, do that.
And when you can’t write on the days that you’ve told yourself to write, don’t be so hard on yourself. Easier said than done, I know, but in the long run, being nice to yourself is one of the most important things you can do.
Be firm, too. Be honest about the times you procrastinate on your writing. Be honest about what you need to do to change.
4. Self-care is also important.
Be forewarned. I’m going to be talking about some serious stuff (TW: mental illness, death) in this section.
Another reason why, in my book, it’s okay not to write every day is self-care.
One day, I happened to come across a Tweet by concept artist Wesley Hart. In his junior year of college, Hart passed out on his kitchen floor and woke up several hours later. He couldn’t remember why he had passed out or what to do in that situation, but he had “enough safety-talk embedded in [him]” that he thought to call his father on the phone and tell him that he passed out. When Hart called his father, Hart thought he was making sense while speaking, but he wasn’t. Hart was so delirious and fatigued that he couldn’t speak in complete sentences or properly answer any questions.
But there was one thing he was absolutely clear about: Hart was so worried about finishing his art finals that he begged his father not to take him to the hospital. “I didn’t want to go to the emergency room,” Hart writes, “because I didn’t want to spend time away from my art.”
Hart did end up going to the hospital with the help of his father and his roommate, and he stayed at his parents’ home for a week while he regained his health. At the time he passed out, his BMI was “dangerously low”; he had so little money that he “hadn’t been eating”; and he had been “pulling all-nighters” so he could get his art exams done.
And so I quote him to tell you, dear readers and writers out there, that’s it’s okay if you don’t write every day, especially if not writing every day means making sure your body and mind are taken care of first:
Please do not fall prey to the artist’s myth of the glorified starving artist, or the idea that your art is worth dying for. I know that you’re eager and you’ve given so much of your life to this, but there will always be time to make art. You are not falling behind, you are not in any rush. You will make more and better art safe and well fed [sic] than you will emaciated and depressed.
If you happen to be struggling with ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or anything that makes it harder for you to be the best artist you can be, I feel you. I’ve had my shared of things I’ve procrastinated on, and while I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, I was up late at night trying to write a story for my class once in college, and I felt awful. I couldn’t edit. I couldn’t write. My anxiety at trying to write the perfect story caught up with me and ate into my ability to think. Mercifully, I got an A in that class, but I’ll never forget that feeling of self-sabotage, that disappointment in myself for turning in something so shoddy and the complete opposite of my usual work ethic.
And I’ve used that experience to put my mind and my body before my art. I eat breakfast, meditate, and exercise first thing in the morning before I write, and if I decide not to exercise or write one day, I know it’s because I need some time to recovery and get into the swing of things.
If you also happen to be in dire financial straits and are not eating or sleeping because of it, I hear you, and I know what you’re going through. Financial matters can wreck art like a needle to a balloon. I am very fortunate enough to have never experienced large financial troubles. I’ve never had to skip a meal because I didn’t have enough money. I’ve never slept without a roof over my head. And as I type this now, I am eternally grateful for my parents taking care of me while I try to figure out my future.
But I say that I hear you and know what you’re going through not because I’ve experienced what you’re going through, but because I’ve seen what money, particularly the lack thereof, can do to people and artists. I had a friend of mine go through some very rough times because they were in financial trouble and had depression. The friend is doing much better now, but I have to admit that seeing them suffer was heartbreaking.
Forget the two of us being friends; there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to do everything I could to help them.
Which brings me to my next point: Please don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help from your family, friends, strangers, organizations — wherever. There are people out there whose sole calling in life is to help people like you, but you have to be willing to say yes to yourself so you can get the help you need. If you pass out while working on a piece of writing with a tight deadline, let someone take you to the hospital. Don’t beg to stay behind with your art.
Self-care is not negotiable. Sleep is not negotiable. Eating is not negotiable. Please take care of yourself first. If you don’t, I guarantee that you and your art will suffer.
A Parting Thought
The most important people in your life do not care how much you wrote, how you did not write, how much money you make, or how little money you make. Unless you have an accountability partner and you’ve told them you want to create a daily writing habit, the most important people in your life also don’t care that you don’t write every day.
The most important people in your life care about you without any conditions attached. Plain and simple. If you feel healthy and capable enough to write every day, do it. If you’re not feeling up to writing because you are legitimately sick and need to rest, don’t do it.
Life is chaotic. Be orderly with yourself.
And as always, see you next post!