The Pitfalls of Writing Every Day: Why It May Not Work for Everyone

If you asked what the most common writing advice on the internet is, the answer would be to write every day.

If you’re a writer, you already know this. You’ve set daily word count goals for yourself, probably more than a few times, only to fall off the wagon. You have read articles from online writers about how they’ve been writing 1000 words a day since they were out of diapers, and you have felt the shame wash over your shoulders. You aren’t writing 1000 words a day. You aren’t even writing 1000 words a week. What kind of writer even are you?

The degree to which this advice is elevated borders on the ideological. Daily writing practice can be useful, but it is not helpful for all writers at all times. Almost nothing in the world is that cut-and-dry, let alone the artistic process.

This ideological adherence is doing many writers a great deal of damage. Writers who don’t thrive on daily writing practice feel shame for not doing what they’re “supposed” to be doing. This shame can and does drive writers to give up altogether, thinking if they can’t maintain a daily writing practice, they must not have “what it takes.”

Even if we manage not to give up, we still wake up in the middle of the night, convinced we’re doing something wrong and our punishment will be to never find the success we so desire. We compare ourselves to writers we admire who keep daily writing practices and psychologically lash ourselves for not doing what it takes.

Shockingly, this is not a mindset that lends itself to original writing.

But it’s OK if we don’t write every day. There are many famous, wealthy writers who don’t meet a word count every day. There are other things they do instead.

What Bestselling Writers Do Besides Write Every Day

If you sit down at the keyboard and write every day but do nothing else to develop yourself as a writer, you will become a better writer than people who are afraid of the keyboard, that’s for sure. But there’s no guarantee you’ll develop past that point.

While I maintained it, my daily writing practice did help me develop some writing skills, but it didn’t singlehandedly transform me into a bestselling writer (obviously).

Daily writing practice, in my experience, is good for the following kinds of things:

  1. Getting you over the fear of the blank page, if you have that. I didn’t, because I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but many people who are new to writing do. It takes them an enormous amount of emotional courage just to open a blank Word document. If this is you, daily writing practice is what I prescribe, because it will get you over that.
  2. Developing your voice. My personal theory is that what people call your “voice” is your habituated way of writing — the words you choose, the way you structure your sentences, etc. When you’re new to writing, you don’t have these habits. Lightly guided or unguided daily writing practice is a great way of building these compositional habits without sounding forced.
  3. Forcing you to stop waiting for the right time. Do you remember losing your virginity? How awkward it was? How it was such an event for you? That’s how writing will always feel to you if you’re too busy waiting for the right mood, the right situation, or the right time. Daily writing practice will treat you to teach writing like brushing your teeth instead of losing your virginity.
  4. Teaching you what you like to write about. You can learn a lot about what you like to write by observing what you choose to write about day after day. You will experiment with some topics and never come back to them, while you return to others multiple times a week. This is one of the reasons I recommend all new writers keep a blog — you can get to know yourself and build an audience at the same time.

All that being said, there are a number of things skilled writers do that don’t pad a daily word count.

  • Writing skills education. As much as daily writing helped me, reading The Sense of Style helped me more. If you’ve ever read my work and enjoyed the way I turn a phrase, then you’ve felt the impact of this book on my work. That’s to say nothing of On Writing Well or Brandon Sanderson’s Creative Writing Class.
  • Research & statistical education. Doesn’t matter how well you turn a phrase if you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Learning how to craft a tight argument and support it with reliable studies and solid conclusions is just as important as knowing when to show, not tell.
  • Outlining & narrative development. Much of the work of well-crafted writing happens before the writer composes the bulk of their final prose. People talk about ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers,’ but even pantsers have to come back after their first draft and do the structural work they deferred at the start. Nobody eats for free.

You don’t need to feel ashamed of yourself if you don’t meet a word count quota because you spent the day reading skills books or outlining and developing your ideas.

Think about it this way. Pro football players go to team practice — but they also go to the gym and learn about game time strategy. They don’t spend all their time on the field. If they did, they’d burn out and their joints would crumble to dust.

2 Kinds of Writers Who Don’t Need to Write Every Day

There are some kinds of writers who do their best work with daily writing practices. Brandon Sanderson is one of them; he is public about having two daily writing sessions, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon, and reports that this works well for him. He’s what we will call a schedule writer.

Some writers, though, are binge-writers. I wrote my first complete manuscript, 100,000 words, in less than one month. I wrote my next 50,000-word manuscript in a different month. Each time, I spent a number of weeks beforehand writing nothing, simmering on the story I wanted to write until I was ready. I wasn’t “plotting” per se, because I didn’t write anything down or have any concrete ideas, but I was letting the emotional drama of the story grow in my heart until it was ready to harvest.

Recently, I’ve become more of a plotter. Good novels have more than just the emotions of the writer guiding them, they also have effective plot structures and trackable character arcs. I was able to binge-write fanfiction without plotting, but original fiction doesn’t have any training wheels, and I’ve found my pants-ing binge style inadequate here. It’s just as well because I’m finding I really enjoy the process of mapping out interweaving plots and character arcs in preparation for my binge-writing.

Since the internet is crammed with people telling me this is a bad thing, I’ve spent the last few years trying to train myself not to be this way. Unsuccessfully.

Outlines have a lot of intellectual concepts crammed in, but they don’t have a lot of words. I can spend an hour working on an outline, and make a ton of progress, but have only written 200 words. To meet my daily quota, I must now go try to write a scene — but my outline isn’t even halfway done. I don’t know what scene to write. Inevitably, I end up writing something that feels forced and ends up being useless.

It wasn’t until listening to Sanderson’s creative writing class that I finally heard a writer say that it is okay to be a binge-writer. Sanderson mentioned several bestselling writers with whom he has relationships who are mega-successful authors and also serious binge-writers.

He did say that binge-writers tend to also be plotters, as they will spend months plotting in their minds preparing for the binge. That makes sense to me, as that has been my pattern from the start.

And that’s when I realized something.

Many People Who Give Writing Advice Don’t Even Know What They’re Talking About

Most of the people bloviating about writing on the internet are less conventionally successful than me. They do not have careers as professional writers, they do not have book deals, and they have not earned five figures worth of royalties.

What’s more, I’m a small fish in the professional writer’s ocean. There are countless writers who make my to-date lifetime royalties in a month. If you are a new writer looking to get started, I have a few neat tricks to offer, but for the most part, I recommend you seek out information from fish much bigger than myself.

So who are these people to lecture us?

If you google the very phrase “binge-writing,” what comes up is a series of cautious headlines. 3 Problems With Binge Writing7 reasons why you should avoid binge writingAre You A Binge Writer? Here’s How (And Why) To Stop. None of these are written by people anywhere close to Sanderson’s league.

If a dude who’s sold 20 million books worldwide says it’s ok for us to be binge-writers, then we can safely ignore random blogger #484,297.

In Conclusion

Schedule or quota writing works for some people. You should definitely give it a try for 3 months if you haven’t yet done so. Doubly so if you are a new writer.

But if, like me, you maintained a daily writing practice for more than 3 months at one point in your career and found it just doesn’t do it for you, don’t feel a need to force yourself. There are many ways for you to make daily or regular progress toward your writing goals that don’t involve meeting a quota, like studying the craft or doing research. The blank page will still be there when you’re ready.