“Writing is like a muscle. Just like reps in the gym, you have to write every day — even if it’s a blog post, free-writing, etc. Keep that muscle working.” — Cristin Harber, RWA2018
In my last post, I spoke about a 'rule' that's often shared with aspiring authors, which maybe needs to be taken under advisement. This week, I'm looking at another of those rules - the one that says we should write every day.
More than any other, this is the one I hear proscribed and dissed in equal measure. I've lost count of how many established authors I've heard scoff: "I only write Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I'm a professional author so this rule is nonsense."
But as with last week's 'rule' you need to understand why this advice is given to newbie writers in order to understand when to follow it and when to break it.
Many new writers (me included, back in the dawn of time) write when the mood takes them and they have a little spare time. A snatched couple of hours one Saturday afternoon, another few hours a couple of weeks later, then three months pass before they spend another afternoon on their writing. This is not productive. Each time you have to start by re-capping what you've already written, and reminding yourself what you were doing. Because it's natural to edit as you read, and because you've had all sorts of bright ideas on how to improve the story during the three month break, instead of adding new chapters, you get sucked into a loop of re-editing the same few opening chapters and never getting any further. Been there, done that - I spent five years working on just five chapters that way!
Instead, the best way to be productive is to keep the story fresh in your mind. If you were working on the story just one day ago, you're more likely to remember exactly where you were and what you wanted to write next, so when you sit down to write, instead of re-reading, editing and changing, you just sit down and write. It's quicker, and you're more likely to finish a whole book this way.
This process gets a little easier with experience, but even now a whole week away from my manuscript sets me back.
There's another advantage to writing at the same time each day - you train your brain that this time is writing time. Instead of waiting for the muse to descend, your brain says "Oh, it's 8pm. that must mean it's time to work on this story. So let's get to it!"
When I was still full time employed, that time for me was 7.45am - 8.30am Monday to Friday. I'd drop the kids at school, then sit in the car in the school car park with my laptop on my lap before driving to work. Those 45 minutes nearly every day (disrupted only by the occasional early meeting or film shoot) were how I wrote at least four full length novels. In the beginning, I could only manage about 300 words in 45 minutes. Within a few weeks, I was achieving 1,000 words in 45 minutes. Because (a) the story was fresh in my mind and easy to pick up, and (b) my brain knew this was writing time so it knuckled down and wrote. No waiting for the muse required.
So now that you know why this rule exists, you probably have a pretty good idea why it's considered good advice. And you can probably see that it can be broken.
The 'rule' is there to persuade writers to write regularly and consistently. It isn't proscriptive, and it isn't literal. Everyone is allowed days off - even writers.
Maybe you only have 3 afternoons a week free to write. Maybe you take weekends off (as many full time writers do). Maybe you're in the middle of writing a book when you need to take a couple of weeks off to spend a vacation with your family. This doesn't make you any less professional as an author.
The important thing is that you don't step away from your book too often or for too long, and that you set a regular routine, even if that routine is writing one hour a day or writing one day a week. Consistency is not only professional - it's also the way that you will finish a book and get it published. If that isn't a great incentive, I don't know what is!
What other 'rules' were you told as a beginner writer that you now know need to be bent or broken on occasion? Share them in the comments below, and I'll dedicate a post or two to them.