Writers are not machines. As much as we would like to press a big red button and have the words typed onto the page for us, reality is not so obliging. Writing takes time, patience, liters of tea and coffee, then re-writes, re-reads, feedback, more re-writes – you get the idea.
I have yet to meet a writer who hasn’t, at one point or another, taken to the internet in search of a cheat to this system. Or, at the very least, tips on how to get the creative process moving easier from day-to-day. However, in my searching, there’s one piece of advice which I see crop up time and again: “Write every day.”
Routine builds habit. Writing every day helps to overcome our fears and get words down. It gives our creative muscles a regular flex. The daunting task of putting pen to paper becomes a little less scary when you’re used to it – right?
Not always. For me, I’ve found that this mantra of ‘write every day’ can quickly change from an encouraging pat on the back to a whip on my creative process.
I have to write today.
If I don’t I won’t make any progress.
My story won’t be as strong as it could be.
Why haven’t I written anything yet?
I’m wasting time.
However, when I take the time to think about it, I know I shouldn’t be so paranoid. It’s okay for me to not write every day. Why?
Because even when I’m not writing, I’m always writing.
Have you ever taken a walk? Slipped on some headphones and let your feet carry you wherever? And when you do this, do you see your characters in your head? Think about that plot hole for the third time? Go through your thoughts on poetry or script-writing? Imagine wonderful worlds to the rhythm of the music?
Congratulations. You’ve been writing.
But, I hear the metaphorical voice cry, I haven’t put any words on paper!
Much like how writers are not machines, writing itself is not mechanical process. It’s a puzzle with a thousand pieces – language, voice, characters, plot, rhythm, pace, to name a few. Sometimes they fit perfectly, but most of the time each piece is just as misshaped as the last. Churning out words to meet the daily word quota, unfortunately, won’t always make the picture any clearer.
I know how frustrating that can be. When I’m in the clutches of a bad writing day, I’ll tell myself to just get over it. I force myself into my chair, turn my laptop on and tell myself to squeeze out the words from my head.
It’s as effective as squeezing a lemon with my bare hands.
Everything I write looks awful. The scenes don’t work. The characters are boring. The language cliched. The longer I sit there, the more the criticism feeds my frustration. I can see the story play out in my mind – pristine as a movie scene – yet all I have to show is my chicken-scratch attempt at writing it.
I know I can edit it later. The mantra “write it now, fix it in post” has certainly worked once or twice, especially when deadlines have loomed. But to enjoy my writing. I need to let it flow. And I don’t mean waiting for the muse or the ‘mood’ to write (neither muse nor mood ever comes.) What I mean is, I have to allow myself enough space to step away from reality. To let go of what concerns me here and immerse myself into the world of my work.
Writing every day doesn’t achieve this for me – it chains my creativity to the criticisms of my work ethic.
Yet when I step away, to visit the library, to visit my friends, I have room to play the scenes over in my head. It’s in the idle time of the “real world” where I have the space to ask: “what if?” By simply letting my imagination breathe, I’ve managed to work around plot holes, patch up dull characters and, frankly, ignite the excitement of storytelling rather than dread the act of writing it.
It’s important to get the words on paper, but it’s equally important to remember that you have a life to live. If you can write every day, then you have my respect and admiration. If you can’t, then that’s okay. Go do something else for a while.
And if, during that time, a character or scene comes knocking at your mind, take comfort in inviting them in.
You are a writer: observe, imagine and, when you’re finally ready, bring them to life with your words.