Should Writers Be Writing Everyday?

This month I’m participating in a daily questionnaire for writers about their craft and work habits. It’s been a lot of fun thus far and I’m making some new friends along the way, but there was one question I wanted to explore a little more deeply.

Recently, we were asked to share the worst advice that we’d received as writers. Many authors immediately said that they hated it when people told them that they should write everyday. They said that this was an unrealistic expectation that just ended up making them feel bad about themselves. I was intrigued by that, especially since I’ve been encouraging my writing students to write everyday for years now.

I understand the feelings of those who are opposed to the idea of daily writing sessions. Life happens, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for focusing on more important things when they come up. I also understand that some people have writing rituals that require a certain amount of time or preparation that make them impossible to do at the drop of a hat. Still, I’d like a chance to clarify my position on the subject.

I don’t encourage my students to do a full writing session every day. My advice is to get a minimum of 100 words written every day, which usually takes 5 minutes or less for the average writer. Even doing this minimal amount of work will help establish your writing habit, and make it that much easier to take the time for a serious writing session when you have the time. Of course, life can still happen and you could miss the occasional 100 word minimum. That’s fine. But it’s important to make that effort and at least stretch those creative muscles, even if you don’t have time for a full workout.

I’ll end this by acknowledging that writing advice is subjective, and if you’ve found that you’re able to write better by not holding yourself to a daily standard, please keep doing what you’re doing. My hope is to speak to those writers that are still trying to find their own writing process, and to encourage them to lean towards goals and personal accountability, rather than the slippery slope of justification and excuses.

Ten Ways to Handle Writer’s Block

It doesn’t matter if you’re a best-selling author or a first-time writer. Sooner or later, every storyteller will find themselves staring at their computer screen (or notebook) without a single story idea. Here are some ways to break down those mental barriers and get back to the craft of creation that you love.

  1. Change your Mindset

We’re often our own harshest critics. We feed ourselves all sorts of negative self-talk. “Your ideas aren’t any good.” “You are wasting your time.” Make a conscious effort to remove these bad messages and replace them with positive affirmations. “This is just a first draft. I’ll revise it later.” “I set aside this time to write, so that’s what I’ll do.” You might even try saying these affirmations out loud before you write to help train your brain for positivity.

  1. Work on Multiple Projects

When something is hard, it’s natural to want to take a break from it for a while. But rather than walking away from your writing to check out what’s on Netflix, try writing on a different project. It could be another novel, a short story or even a poem. This allows you to continue to exercise your creativity muscles while giving your brain a break from that project that is bothering you. Who knows? You may even find that your secondary project becomes your primary one!

  1. Create a Writing Playlist

Music helps with so many tasks that we do each day, it only makes sense to listen to tunes while writing. Just keep in mind that the wrong music can be a distraction and actually make it harder to get your work done. Try to pick songs that will inspire you without pulling your attention away from what you’re doing. Movie soundtracks work well for this, as do playlists based on songs that make you think of the scene you’re currently working on.

  1. Brainstorm Your Way Through

Sometimes, when it’s hard to decide where to take your story next, it helps to brainstorm all of the potential directions it could go in, however improbable or out-of-character they may be. Take some time to list anything that comes to mind without worrying if it makes any sense. “His hairbrush comes alive and tells him what to do next” could be one idea. “They all turn into weasels” would be another. Give yourself permission to be silly. By relaxing a little and having fun with the problem, it becomes less intimidating and stressful. Eventually, you’ll get the wiggles out of your system and will be able to start brainstorming some real options for what to do next in your story.

  1. Change your Method of Writing

Sometimes a change of surroundings can reset the creativity batteries and bring fresh new ideas. If that’s not possible, try changing the tools you’re using. Whether it’s switching out a laptop for a pencil and paper or a tablet for a typewriter, many writers have found solid results by changing their preferred method of writing, even if it’s only temporary.

  1. Introduce a Recurring Scent

The human mind can be conditioned through stimulating a variety of senses, and one of the strongest is our sense of smell. After all, when was the last time you walked past an aromatic restaurant and suddenly realized you were hungry? Similarly, if you regularly introduce a particular scent into your writing space (stepping into a coffee shop, lighting a scented candle, etc.) you’ll eventually notice that you feel like writing just because there’s a certain fragrance in the air.

  1. Research

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for your story, you may be suffering from a lack of background information. Ask yourself if learning more about some aspect of your story would help give you more material to work with. If nothing comes immediately to mind, pick something minor out of the scene that you’re currently stuck on, and research that. You may not get anything useful for that specific scene, but there’s a good chance that you’ll learn something new that could give you that creative spark to get things going again.

  1. Dress to Write

Some writers take pride in the fact that they can exercise their craft while still wearing the clothes they slept in the night before. But other artists feel the need to dress for success before the ideas start flowing. You may even consider having a “writing hat” or similar article of clothing that you always wear while working. This has the double benefit of establishing another level of conditioning to train your brain on when it’s time to write, while also sending a visible signal to those around you that you are busy and not to be disturbed.

  1. Short Outlines

If you’re a plotter (a writer that plans a story before writing it) then you already know the benefits of having a roadmap to follow as you work. But even if you prefer to just jump in and see where the story takes you, there is an advantage to sometimes doing partial outlines of your current project. If you’re stuck, try creating an outline of what will immediately follow the current scene. By planning out the next few chapters or scenes, you’ll have a better idea of where you need to get to, and may get an idea of how to connect those dots.

  1. Set Modest Goals

Too often, we choose to measure ourselves against some other person’s yardstick. We hear that a successful author writes 2000 words a day, so we figure that that’s what we have to do. Or we become impatient with ourselves and set an unrealistic deadline that temporarily feels good but inevitably becomes a source of guilt and private shame as we realize that we’ll never achieve it. Instead of filling your mind with negativity, try setting smaller, more conservative goals. This will build your confidence as a generative artist, and give you a better idea of what sort of long-term goals are truly within your reach.

 

Do you have any other techniques that have helped you with writer’s block in the past? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Tips for Handling Writer Blindness

Have you become blind to the mistakes in your manuscript? Are you in that limbo of eternal editing without really getting anything done? Here are a few tips to break you out of that ongoing cycle.

Change Your Font, Color, and Text Size

Oftentimes, we become blind to the errors in our stories because we’ve seen this vast collections of sentences so many times that we mentally fill-in what a section should say, rather than actually looking at the words in front of you. One way to deal with this is to make your story harder to read. Changing things like the color of the page or the font will force your brain to focus on the words in front of you and snap you out of that editing reverie.

Listen to Mildly Distracting Music

This can be tricky, as you run the risk of becoming so distracted that you can’t work. But if you can find the right combination of volume level and genre, you can achieve the same kind of results as the previous tip without additional eye strain.

Read it Out Loud

This is an old tip, but it works. Reading your story out loud can help with the flow of the narrative and the believability of the dialogue, among other things. Be careful of reading the story too fast however, as you can run the risk of seeing one thing but saying something else out loud.

Read it Backwards

This method is best for when you’re trying to proofread your own work. If you read the story from back to front, it’s impossible to fall into the natural rhythm of the narrative, keeping you focused only on the words in front of you. I recommend taking it in paragraph-sized chunks, as anything smaller gets really tricky when going backwards.

Get Help

Whether it’s an editor, a beta reader, or just a friend looking over the manuscript, a second set of eyes may be your best way of dealing with your writer blindness. Just don’t rely solely on someone else to find and fix all your mistakes. This is your story, after all, and you should have the final stamp of approval on every line of it.

 

These tips come from part four of my writing course “A Novel in Four Drafts”. If you’re interested in taking this class, registration is currently open to the public through the continuing education program at South Puget Sound Community College. The course begins June 22, so be sure to register soon.

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