As a writing coach, I get asked this question a lot, “If I want to be a writer, do I need to be writing every day?” Usually, the people asking are professionals, entrepreneurs, moms, even students, who are already extremely busy but have a deep desire to write a book. They put off writing their book, hoping that in the next few months, life will slow enough that they can take up a practice of writing every day.
Plus, we have myths around writers, like Stephen King, who’ve been quoted as saying things like, “I write every day, including Christmas and my birthday.” Of course, I’ve actually heard King say elsewhere that he only writes every day when he’s writing the first draft of a book.
Do you actually need to write every day?
I think the pressure to write everyday has three unintentional, but very negative, consequences:
1. Procrastination: people can’t imagine trying to fit in an hour of writing into the rest of their lives, so they just assume that they can’t become a writer now. They delay writing their books indefinitely, waiting for that horizon of “less busy,” which never will come around.
2. Guilt: If you set yourself up to believe that you can only be a “real” writer if you write every day, you’ll force yourself to write for 5 or 6 or 7 days in a row, but the first time you slip up and miss a few days, you’ll berate yourself, saying, “See? I knew I didn’t have what it takes to be a real writer!” As you can imagine, your productivity will plummet.
3. Reduced willpower for other priorities: You use precious willpower to make yourself write every day. Studies have shown that willpower is both like a well and a muscle. It’s like a well, in that you only have so much for each day, and each time you make a decision that requires will power, you draw from your well. When you run dry, you’ll be much less likely to make decisions in line with your priorities. Willpower is also like a muscle, in that the more your use it, the stronger it gets. To continue the previous analogy, I suppose you could say that you dig your willpower well deeper, so that you can draw more each day.
But if you’re using your willpower well to write every single morning at 5am, there are other priorities that you are not reserving your willpower for, like exercise, meal planning, travel planning, meditation, reading, all sorts of other things.
Here’s what I believe: book-writing is a season.
There is a short season of life in which you should be fully, completely focused on writing for the purpose of getting your book done. When you decide that you are ready to write your book, you put all other priorities (except people) second for 3 to 6 months, and you write as much as you possibly can.
When you finish writing the book, you can return to a normal non-book-writing rhythm of life. You might start jogging or meditating or going to yoga in the mornings again, activities that had gotten squeezed out when you were in book-writing mode.
If you are perpetually in book-writing season, I don’t believe that you will do your best writing.
Even books have seasons. For a few months, we draft the book. For a few months, we design, format, and publish the book. For a few months, we hit really hard on marketing. For a few months, we simmer about the next book idea. It’s all in phases, and writing every single day does not truly allow for the cyclical nature of books and, really, the human experience.
Well, then, how often should you write?
I recommend that when you decide to write a book, you pick a timeframe (3 months is a great place to start), and devote that time to the book, come hell or high water.
Schedule in 3 to 5 hours of writing per week. That might mean writing every day for 30 minutes, or it might mean writing every Saturday for 4 hours. It truly doesn’t matter. Go with whatever suits your schedule because 3 to 5 hours is plenty to keep momentum going on your book. But do plan and schedule those writing sessions.
When you finish writing the book, you can relax on writing every day. And you can still be a writer! Then, bring back in other priorities, work on publishing and marketing your book, let your writing brain rest a bit. When you’re ready for another book, you’ll feel the itch, and the writing cycle can begin again.