Doing it wrong part two: On writing every day


Part one is here

Pick up pretty much any ‘How To Write’ book and they’ll tell you that in order to be a proper writer you should write every day.  Some suggest getting up an hour earlier than you need to and write for an hour.

Get out of bed a whole hour earlier than you need to?!

My brain is mush in the mornings – takes a while to get the motor running and I constantly seem to be sleep deprived anyway as my natural inclination is to stay up late, and sleep late. But I’m not allowed to sleep late as I have a day job…

But a great many ‘How To’ books advise that the morning is the best time to work – before the brain is cluttered. I intellectually get that, but it just doesn’t gel with me. Admittedly some books do say that some writers are night owls but even those tend to say that you should write every day.

writers write 1

I can see the logic here. And what this is meant to inculcate – if you write every day then writing becomes a habit and therefore easier.

I lead a pretty busy life. We all do. As well as having a day job, which often includes foreign travel, and writing I also organise a writing group as well as help organise 3 large events (Bristol Festival of Literature, Bristol HorrorCon and BristolCon – and plans are afoot for a new event from next year: WestCon). But that’s not why I don’t write every day.

What I learned from NaNoWriMo and Clarion Write-a-thon; as well as writing Sick City Syndrome in a couple of months to hit a tight deadline. Is that the well runs dry pretty damn quick for me. I’m a battery not a dynamo. I have a limited amount of energy to put into a project at any one time and once it’s exhausted I then have to recharge. It’s not energy that’s available every day.

writers write 2

I’m also a sprinter not a marathon runner when it comes to doing tasks. Ironic as I was rubbish at sprinting and was much more a long-distance runner in my youth. I’m pretty bad at maintaining momentum and doing long tasks. My interest/attention isn’t with daily increments. Hence I’m bad at e.g. exercising/dieting. I’m a fairly intuitive learner, and learn by doing but if I don’t get something the first few times my brain kind of switches off and it becomes very difficult to motivate myself to continue learning.

I think I’m naturally a short story writer because of this – that’s more of a sprint than a novel (although I have been known to work at a short story for weeks at a time).

Different strokes for different folks. So why do 90% of writing books insist that you should write every day?

Some of this is linked to two other pieces of advice/received wisdom that are often counterproductive:

Splurge then cut & writers get antsy when they don’t write.

Firstly I get the – proper writers get antsy if they can’t write. I’ve observed this phenomenon. But personally, as ably demonstrated that I only started writing in 2013, I’m not one of those people. I remember reading an essay by a novelist and literature lecturer which started out by saying that he was only interested in writers that had a fever to write. I’m the direct opposite – I have to be dragged kickign and screaming to the word mines – I’m Douglas Adamsesque in that regard (although I’m better at hitting deadlines). But many of my writer friends report that they become ‘not nice to live with’ if they haven’t written for a while.

On splurge then edit – I mentioned this in the first post wrt King’s On Writing. I’d taken it as gospel that real writers create a first draft then have to cut it by 25%. Now I’d prune, sure, everyone creates flabby prose, but I’d also have to add stuff. When I first started – a lot of stuff. I tend to brevity & had the unfortunate beginning writer quirk of – ‘it makes sense in my head so no need to explain it to the reader.’ As I said previously it wasn’t until I was at a workshop and under-writing was explained that I twigged that I wasn’t doing it wrong, it’s just that I was a very different writer to Mr King.

I do wonder if the ‘write every day’ crowd are also on the splurge then edit kick too?

If you’re a writer, drop me a comment – do you write every day? Do you feel guilty if you don’t, but secretly know that writing every day isn’t good for your process?




Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

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