Most novice writers view themselves as active in their craft, regardless of how frequently they write. When we spend a week or a month or a year not writing, we are still loosely engaged in the writing process by reading, taking classes, and thinking about writing. Although those activities may not equate to putting words on the page, they are necessary to cultivate a healthy creative mindset to write.
But at the end of the day, writers write. And writers who write infrequently are less likely to meet their personal and professional writing goals. Regardless of whether one’s goals are to write a series of love letters to a spouse or to write the next bestselling novel, writers need to put words on the page to make progress toward their writing goals.
Many of the professional writers recommend writing every day, 7 days a week 365 days a year. Stephen King’s non-fiction book On Writing is a popular read with novice writers. King covers his development as a writer and the tools he uses to crank out a minimum of a novel a year.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”
Most writers produce a lot of terrible writing and a little bit of high-quality writing. The time spent producing the terrible writing is part of the process that opens us up to the possibility of creating the good stuff that we want to share with our audience. We need the time and space to practice our craft.
“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”
Although writing takes time out of the day, and setting aside that time can be challenging for many writers, daily writing is the path to successfully meeting one’s goals. Writers do not improve their abilities without engaging in a regular writing routine, and for many people that means writing every day. Just as we take our professional careers seriously and take part in professional development, pursuing advanced degrees, and keeping up with the research in our field, that same level of seriousness is needed to write well.
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”
OK, King produces a lot of writing and functions beyond the realm that most of us are able to do and only a few of us could keep up with his pace. This is true, but all writers can engage deeply in the writing process. Even though most of us will never write 2,000 words a day, we can write 200 words a day or even 50 words a day. The key element of writing every day is more about connecting with one’s writing on a daily basis as much as it is about writing a lot of words on the page.
So, how does the novice writer improve one’s writing practice without becoming overwhelmed by King’s high expectations? Think about it this way, King writes for a living. He doesn’t pack a lunch, take the train an hour each way to work, sit at a desk for ten crushing hours, then commute home before despairing that his children are growing up without him. He writes for a living. Most of us do not have that luxury. So, for a writer whose sole professional obligation is to write and support his writing (i.e., marketing, speaking, and engaging his readers, etc.), for him the time is easier to schedule.
For those of us who work full time, volunteer in our communities, raise children, and live generally chaotic lives, 2,000 words a day may feel like an impossible task and for many, it may feel like a goal so lofty it isn’t worth attempting. So, adjust the goal.
If King writes 2,000 words a day, what can your schedule manage? Can you swing 500 words a day? 200 words a day? 50 words a day? At just 50 words a day, a write would pen 18,250 words a year, which is a quarter of a novel. Pick a goal that is manageable and works for you. You do not have to be King to be successful.
For me, I work on my writing every night for one to two hours before bed. My family falls asleep around 8pm and I stay up in the living room and write until 10pm. On a good night, I can write 1,000 words in two hours, but usually I am closer to 400-500 words a day. As well, I spend that time editing, revising, submitting my work to publications, editing my writer friends’ pieces, backing up my writing, and researching ideas.
Regardless of what specific task I focus on each day, I focus on the writing process and the task at hand. Just spending this amount of time on my craft daily makes me feel successful because I am making consistent progress towards my goals of completing my writing projects.
So, if you are not writing on a daily basis, what is the hold up? Can you carve out 15 minutes a day? 30 minutes a day? Maybe you can set aside more time than that? Writing on a daily basis keeping your writing mojo flowing and helps you maintain a high level of creative energy to put towards your work. And the consistent practice can go a long way to raise your confidence level and will certainly improve your writing skills over time. So, if you are not writing every day, start.
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