“Write Something Every Day…”

“Write something every day, even if its just a sentence.”

If I had a nickle every time I heard someone say that, or a variation on that, I probably wouldn’t have that much money because a nickle is only 5 cents, but still, I’d have like a jar full of nickles.

And it’s offered as advice to pretty much every question a writer might have.

“How do I become a better writer?”

“How do I get past writer’s block?”

“What should I do to develop my plot more?”

“Write something every day, even if its just a sentence.”

I have so many issues with this piece of advice, mainly because it isn’t advice. It’s a platitude. It’s something people say when they don’t have any real way to help but they still want to feel like they’ve contributed sagely to the conversation.

Write something every day… OK, but what?

If you can’t work on your current story, people say, you should journal or do a short creative writing exercise.

Something.

Anything.

Except, if you are anything like me, when you step away from your work to write something else, you don’t feel productive. I could spend an entire day on a creative writing work, or just writing for the sake of writing, and at the end of the day I would only feel more stressed, because while I worked all day, I didn’t get anything accomplished.

So what should we be saying instead?

“Do something constructive, even if you don’t write a word of your story.”

People normally come looking for advice when they are having an issue or a problem. They don’t know how to start, or they’re stuck on something and don’t know how to move past it.

There are days when I struggle to put words on the page. My creativity is exhausted, or I’ve hit a bit that I haven’t outlined in much detail and don’t exactly know how to execute it. Or, the most likely issue, I’ve written something that doesn’t really contribute to the story or has a major issue that I can’t ignore until I fix it. In any case, it’s these moments when I know I need a break from my manuscript, a rest, before I can figure out what is wrong and how to move forward.

On those days, there are several things I do which I find helpful. First and foremost, I read. I read books in the same genre that I’m writing, and I let the words inspire me. Additionally, I do research about things that are relevant to my story (for example, the majority of The One That Got Away takes place in the wilderness, but anyone who knows me knows that I am not an outdoorsy person… I have had to learn a LOT about what it takes to survive in the forest for days at a time with no supplies).

Sometimes I’ve got an itch to write, but the words just won’t come out. When that happens, I go back through the manuscript I already have and begin the first round of edits and cuts. Since I’ve already got a lot to work with, I find revising and trimming my prose to be much easier than creating new work when I’m stuck. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to review the story as written so far, because that is usually enough to help propel me forward in the story.

Finally, and this might not work for you, sometimes I begin looking ahead and planning the next books in the series. Because The One That Got Away is meant to be the first book in a kind of shared universe revolving around different members of the US Marshals Special Operation Group, doing this allows me to delve more deeply into the characters’ personalities and traits.

If your problem is that you have not yet developed the habits or commitment necessary to dedicate yourself to writing the story you want to tell, then “write every day” is really good advice. But writing for the sake of writing is not the solution to every problem. It isn’t a panacea. Sometimes, not writing is the best thing you can do for your story.

2 comments

  1. Interesting post. Personally, I try to write something everyday not just for habit building but because I believe that practice is one of the best ways to improve at something. I guess part of it is my background in music, but writing (or something close to writing) will always help your writing style and your writing in general, even if it’s not directly involved with your WIP. Writing is just like any sport or instrument, you need to practice, and practice doesn’t always involve the piece you are working on. There’s exercises, etudes, and even just going back and playing old stuff. It helps. The same is true for writing.

    Like

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