Is Writing Every Day A Must?

Lots of authors worry about the number of words they write per day. Some even post the tally on Facebook as if they’re in some kind of competition.

And if they’re not writing at least 500 or 1200 or 2000 words or whatever quota they’ve set, they feel miserable. Why aren’t they working harder? Why are they stuck? What’s wrong with them? How come everyone else is racking up the pages?

If that kind of system works for you, fine. But I think too many writers believe that if they’re not actually physically writing a set number of words every single day, they’re not just slacking, they’re falling behind and even betraying their talent. Especially when they read on line about other people’s booming word counts.

How do they get caught in that kind of dead-end thinking? It’s thanks to the endless blogs and books that urge writers to write every day and make that sound not just doable, but the norm. Some days, though, it’s simply not possible. Hell, for some writers it’s never possible. And why should it be?

And if you can’t eke out your daily quota, the advice sometimes goes that you should at least re-type what you wrote the previous day. Well, even if I weren’t a slow typist, that’s never had any appeal for me, either, or made much sense. I’d rather switch careers then do something so mind-numbing.

I don’t urge my creative writing workshop students to write every day; I suggest they try to find the system that works for them. I’ve also never worried myself about how much I write every day because I’m almost always writing in my head, and that’s as important as putting things down on a page.

But aside from that, every book, every project has its own unique rhythm. While recently working on a suspense novel, my 25th book, I found the last chapter blossoming in my head one morning while on the treadmill at the gym. Though I sketched its scenes out when I got home, I spent weeks actually writing it.

Some people would call that obsessing. They’d be wrong. What I did was musing, rewriting, stepping back, carefully putting tiles into a mosaic, as it were, making sure everything fit right before I went ahead, because this was a crucial chapter. I was also doing some crucial fact-checking, because guns are involved and I had to consult experts as well as spend some time at a gun range. It took days before I even had an outline and then a rough draft of ten pages, yet there were times when I had written ten pages in a single day on this same book.

The chapter was the book’s most important one, where the protagonist and his pursuer face off, and it had to be as close to perfect as I could make it. So when I re-worked a few lines that had been giving me trouble and found that they finally flowed, it made me very happy.

And if I didn’t write a word on any given day or days, I knew I would be, soon enough. Because the book was always writing itself in my head, whether I met some magical daily quota or not. I don’t count how many words or pages I write a day, I focus on whether what I’ve written is good, or even if it has potential with revisions. That’s enough for me.

Lev Raphael has been teaching creative writing at Michigan State University, and you can study with him online at writewithoutborders.com.

Word Count Tyranny

You’ve all seen it before on Facebook: the jaunty post from a writer of some kind who says, “Guess what, dudes?  Today I wrote 7500 words!  How did y’all do?”

There’ll be a chorus of praise: “Wow!”  “I’m impressed! “Awesome!”  “You rock!”

And a few people will admit to feeling inferior: “I only wrote 500.”  Only?  Why is that something to apologize for?  What’s wrong with that?  It’s only “inferior” when compared to 7500 words, which is suddenly the new Gold Standard for daily production.  Why should anyone apologize for writing any amount?

You can be sure that there are other people who won’t post at all in response to the Word Count Wiz because they feel really embarrassed.  Maybe they weren’t able to eke out much of anything that day, and a total of 7500 words feels like mockery.  But they shouldn’t be embarrassed or put off.

word-pileCrowing about how many words you’ve written may feel super in the moment (and Facebook is often about moments), but think about it.  A post like that could have the unintentional effect of shaming people who are blocked, or write slowly, or who don’t write every day.  These might be writers who’re just starting out, or who’ve suffered traumatic rejections of their work, or were dropped by their publishers, or who for any number of reasons just don’t produce a lot, or write fast–or both.

But even if if doesn’t, and even if you did write those 7500 words in a day, so what?

Who says writing fast and copiously is a guarantee of anything?  Those 7500 words could be 100% crap.  Writing that much and that quickly only proves you can type fast, nothing more. Remember Cold Mountain?  Its National Book Award?  The millions of copies sold?  The movie?

slow writerWhy is the on-line writing world so obsessed with churning out words every single day, day after day–and tons of them? Why should it matter unless you have a contract and you’re under deadline? Why should you measure yourself as a writer by the number of words you write per day?  And seriously, why should other writers care?

What about revision?  Experienced authors know how important revision is to a finished work.  But revision isn’t necessarily about how much you get done–it”s more about what you get done, how you re-shape your project, whatever it is.  A major revision could ultimately involve very few words but make a huge difference.

Why don’t people post more about that or about the work itself? Whatever happened to caring about substance?  Like honing dialogue in a scene?  Deepening a character’s motivation?  Or building the arc of your narrative?  What happened to caring about anything other than how many words you spew out in a day–and then posting the total in some kind of victory lap?

scowell-smug-ross-kingsland-how-to-deal-with-hatersLev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel about militarized police.  You can find it and his other books on Amazon.