Writing advice can be hugely influential. But it can also be damaging.
During my Creative Writing degree, I was taught by amazing lecturers, many of whom are published authors, and they gave some great practical advice. Things like the importance of varying sentence structure; how to use punctuation for effect; not to have too many characters; and, the age-old rule, to show not tell.
This advice taught me a lot. I personally think it’s made me a better writer. However, there is another brand of writing advice that floats about in the ether which I’m not convinced is ideal. It’s the subjective advice. The ‘this is how published authors do it so you should too’ kind of advice.
Let me preface this by saying that I will drink up any wisdom a published author has to give, because I know I can filter out what doesn’t relate to me. But there’s one piece of advice that I hear a lot and it really gets my goat:
‘To be a successful writer you have to write every day.’
A fistful of salt
I get the sentiment, I really do. I don’t doubt for a second that writing a little bit every day will help you develop the habit. It can encourage you to sharpen and hone your writing. It keeps you in the game, so to speak.
If writing every day works for you, fantastic.
But it doesn’t work for everyone. And trying to live up to it can be damaging. If you set this goal for yourself and you miss a day’s writing you can feel like you’ve failed. I’m a writer – I feel like I’ve failed every time I read a bad draft of my work. I don’t need another reason to get me down.
That’s why this little titbit has to be taken with a pinch of salt. A big pinch. Because let me tell you something: it is okay to not write every day.
It is okay to not write every day.
Capitalise on your good days. Forgive yourself for the bad ones.
I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo this year. It’s my first time. For the uninitiated, the aim is to write 1,667 words every day during November. By the 30th, you should have reached 50,000 words.
Have I written every day? No.
I didn’t even start for the first three days because I fell into the void of a blank document. As of writing this, it’s Day 26 and I’ve updated my word count on 20 of those days. But I’m still on target to finish on time. Why? Because on nine days I’ve exceed the 1,667-word target. In fact, on seven of those nine days, I smashed well past 2,500 words because I was in the zone and the words just wouldn’t stop flowing.
Sure, I could force myself to write every day but would I be as happy with those words I have to drag onto the page as I am with the ones that come willingly during a productive spike? I don’t think so.
It’s okay to not write every day
I’m saying it again because I want it to really sink in. You are not failing as a writer if you take a day off. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes your day job needs attention because you like being able to afford food and a home. Heck, sometimes you just need a break from your novel because you’re borderline ready to kill off a main character and you’re not sure whether it’s for the plot or for lack of sleep.
And that’s okay. Down tools. Take a nap. Eat cake. Your work will still be there when you’re ready for it.
The message here is don’t let yourself think that you’re not good enough because your process differs from how some ‘published authors’ do it. That’s their way. This is yours. You know what works for you and that’s the only thing that matters.