Sunday, May 05, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Write Every Day

I know some writers who are binge writers.  Every few months, they drown themselves in their stories.  Sometimes they check into a hotel or go on an intensive writer's retreat.  More often, they shut themselves in their office or plant themselves in a cafe all day, every day.  For several weeks, they put the rest of their life on hold, and they hammer out a novel.  Then they return to the world, take a few months off from writing, and let their creative well refill until it's time to binge-write again.

That's a perfectly valid writing process, and if it works for you, yay!

It doesn't work for me.  I can't put the rest of my life on hold.  The rest of my life would FREAK OUT.  And besides, if I took a few months off writing, I'd be miserable.  In fact, if I take a few days off, I'm miserable.  So that brings us to one of the biggest things I've learned about my own writing process: I need to write every day.

I need to write in the same way that I need food, sleep, and shelter. 

You may think that sounds all cutesy and artsy.  "I need to write like I need to sleep."  Seriously?  Melodramatic much?

Seriously, yes.  And it's not so much "cutesy" as annoying.  Just ask my husband.  If I skip a night of sleep, I am as grumpy as a raccoon in daytime.  And if I skip a day of writing... exact same thing.  Whether I write or not directly affects my mood and my worldview.  It doesn't even matter if the writing goes well or not.  If I don't write, the world feels out of balance, and the glass looks half empty.

Stupid thing is that I often forget this.  Life will intrude, and I'll miss my chance to write, and there I'll be, feeling out-of-sorts, with no idea why.  My husband will come home from work and within ten minutes he can diagnose my problem.  And sure enough, as soon as I go string a few sentences together, I feel better and the world feels brighter and the birds are singing and tra-la-la-la-la.

So to maintain my own happiness level, I need to write every day.

The act of writing every day -- even if it's just for five minutes -- has several other great benefits:

1. It makes writing less scary.

It's easy to put "write a novel" up on a pedestal as this grand, lofty goal that can only be accomplished when everything is perfect (i.e. you have a lovely stretch of free time, solitude and silence, and lightning-bolt-level feelings of pure inspiration).  Thinking of it this way can lead you to push it off again and again.

But if you write every day, it makes the act of writing not such a big deal.  You don't have to write a novel today.  Really, you don't.  You just have to string a few sentences together.  Just like you did yesterday, and just like you'll do tomorrow. 

2. It decreases the throat-clearing time.

If you write every day, then writing becomes a habit like brushing your teeth.  You don't get nervous when you have to brush your teeth.  You don't wait to be in the right mood.  You don't play mood music or give yourself pep talks or take deep cleansing breaths.  You just walk into the bathroom and brush those pearly whites.

Writing is not so different.  When it becomes a habit, you will find that you need less prep time at the start of a writing session.  You won't need as many rituals to get in the mood.  Plus the story will be fresh in your mind, as will the character's voices, since you just worked on it yesterday.

3. It invites the muse.

If you write every day, instead of waiting for inspiration, you are inviting inspiration to come join you.  I believe that if you show up to your desk (or wherever you write) every day, then the muse will know where to find you.

Happy writing!

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At 10:13 AM, Blogger E.C. Myers said...

Wait, you're supposed to brush your teeth every day?!

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Now that I DO write every day (, thank you), how do you decide what to write? What takes the biggest priority? Or is that related to bite-sized goals?

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Eugene: Perhaps that should be the subject of another blog post...

Priya: Definitely relates to bite-size goals. I tend to write chronologically so for me it's usually "write the next scene," at least in the early drafts. For later drafts, I work on whatever aspect is bothering me the most. Sometimes it's actually easier to address the lower priority parts and sneak up on the biggest priority items. Other times, you can't do certain parts until you address the big issues. Very glad to hear you're writing daily!

At 8:07 AM, Blogger LinWash said...

You're right. Daily writing helps exercise the writing muscle. Only . . . when I exercise, I'm not constantly telling myself, "You can't do this." I need to silence my inner critic too.


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