Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
Did I get your attention with that title? Perhaps get you riled?
Let me state that those words are not my opinion.
For the second time, at the least, I’ve seen this statement from an experienced writer who was counseling other writers.
This time it was in a book on writing. The other suggestions and information in the book seemed solid, telling writers what would help them as they wrote and what would help them write better. As I said, pretty solid information. But that one line . . .
The first time I heard a writer say that you must write every day to be a real writer, I was in a session at a writing conference, the first I’d ever attended. Even knowing that the statement was wrong, I was still bummed out. Maybe there was a bit, just a bit of truth in what he was saying. Maybe I’d heard him wrong. Maybe . . .
No. He’d said it, and more than a hundred aspiring writers had heard it. And there was no truth to it, no matter how dogmatically he’d asserted it.
Were the other attendees disappointed? Discouraged? Encouraged to carve out time from each of their days? Maybe. I hope they weren’t so discouraged that they gave up on their dream. I hope each decided they’d show him they could be successful without being forced to such a schedule.
As for me, I parsed every other piece of advice from that writer, not wanting to take in suggestions or ideas that wouldn’t benefit me. If he’d gotten that one so wrong, who knew what else he’d offer.
Back then, as now, I knew such counsel to be wrong. And perhaps detrimental to the lives of countless writers.
You do not need to write every day to be a real writer.
Pilots don’t turn into non-pilots if they don’t fly for a day or a week. Surgeons are still surgeons after a week’s vacation.
There’s nothing magical about writing daily that endows the title writer yet takes it away if a writer doesn’t put pen to paper during a 24-hour period. Writers may be different from other folk, but writing is no wooey-wacky profession. You don’t have to give more to it than is required to do the job, to fulfill the contract, to finish the manuscript.
Writing as Business
To those who make a living from their words, writing is a business. These writers may work 9 to 5, five days a week. They may write more often, they might write less often. When they’re on a deadline or struggling with problem areas or have ideas that just won’t stop, they may write every day and night for weeks.
But they don’t have to write every day.
Writers have lives. And that means time following other pursuits. That means friends or family or schooling. Hobbies, sports, travel. It may mean a demanding day job.
You can be a writer even if you don’t write every day. If you have a life outside of words. If you don’t think of story or plot or character or dialogue or whatever every moment.
There are, of course, caveats.
You actually have to write something at some time to be a writer. To be a working writer, you actually have to work. At writing. You have to produce something with your words.
Yes, you can spend time with the stuff of writing—research, the acquisition of skills, knowledge of craft—but to be a writer, you do have to write.
How often? That’s up to you. And what you want out of the experience. And what’ve contracted for.
A writer is an entrepreneur, a small business unto himself. And sometimes the business owner works every day—that’s the reality of doing it all yourself. But it’s not a requirement that a business be open every day.
Writing is a mix of art—experimentation and creativity—with the very mundane skills of grammar and communication.
We tell stories. We want them to be enticing and different and memorable. At the same time, they have to be clear; a reader must be able to understand our words.
Writing, then, is not some magic pursuit, different from other vocations or avocations or hobbies or passions. (Yes, what is a passion to one might be a job to another. And the one who makes a living from his writing and the one who can’t help but write are both writers. Both can be quite skilled at the craft.)
In case you’ve heard such a pronouncement about what a real writer must do from a writer or writing professional you trust, I wanted to be one voice from the other side reminding you that no, you don’t have to write every day to consider yourself a writer.
Don’t be discouraged if you hear such advice. Don’t think that you can’t pursue a writing career if you obviously can’t give yourself to the profession seven days a week. Such sacrifice is not required.
Now, while you’re deep in a story and feel you shouldn’t take a break, feel you might lose your momentum, then by all means, keep writing. But don’t assume that you have to. If your spouse says it’s time to take the kids to the mountains or to some cultural attraction in another country and you haven’t had a family vacation in 10 years, go. And don’t think you have to take notes on what you see or jot down conversations to later mine for dialogue.
If you get ideas for a story or for a character, that’s great. But you are allowed to take a break. You won’t be stricken from the rolls of writers if you don’t write for a while. If you don’t think about writing for a while. If you do something that has nothing to do with writing and words.
Of course, most writers are thinking about plot or character or style choices much of the time. Or they’re elbow deep in research for the next book. Or they’re helping other writers develop their craft. So it’s pretty hard to get away from writing and all that goes with it.
But it’s okay if you do; doing so doesn’t make you less of a writer. If you don’t write for a long, long time, you might be a less prolific writer. But if you are a writer, you are one. And you don’t have to prove it to someone else by chaining yourself to your desk every day.
Write, but don’t be a slave to it. You are the master of your gifts and skills. You are not at the mercy of them.
Remember that the power of writing and words and story isn’t lost if we don’t write daily. Words are there waiting for you. Story worlds and characters and adventures need you, but you don’t have to live with them every day. Not for the purpose of making yourself a real writer.
You write to pay the bills or to free stories from your imagination. Don’t worry if some stranger wants to define you by your adherence to some arbitrary decree; just shake your head and keep writing. If you write, you’re a writer. You may not be a published author, but that’s separate issue. We’ll deal with that one another time.
For now, know that you can be a writer without the practice requiring every day of your life.
Write, yes. But live as well. And do both with enthusiasm.