Do I really have to write every day?
I've seen this question asked in a few different places over the past few weeks - on twitter, in facebook writing groups, on a writing forum I am a member of. Twitter of course did what twitter does - someone asked the question from a place of innocent curiosity, a couple of people answered, then a lot of people jumped into the thread to tell them all the ways in which they were wrong. Twitter has become a lot like that recently. I remember when it used to be fun, when it was short, silly comments and photographs of books and kittens. It isn't that any more. it's become a vicious, unpleasant place where people who like to argue go to find people to argue with. I
posted a couple of comments on a thread about English teaching in UK schools this week, and described the current secondary school reading list as being nothing but books written by dead blokes. Which it is. A less diverse list you will not find anywhere. A few comments later, a complete stranger jumped into the thread to tell me off for using the words 'dead blokes' because his father was a dead bloke and apparently a very nice man and anyway just because the list consists entirely of books written by dead blokes doesn't mean that those books don't have merit.
Obviously he's never had to listen to a 13yo spend an entire term complaining about being made to read Great Expectations.
I asked him exactly why he'd felt the need to jump into a conversation about education and criticize a complete stranger and then I blocked him. And then I began to ask myself, again, why I still use twitter and what I get from it apart from a stress headache.
However, I digress (as always), so back to the topic at hand. How often do you really need to write? Is it every day? Well, if your aim is to be a published, working writer, once a year probably isn't going to cut it. Productivity matters. You can't sell what you haven't written. You can't sell ideas, or conversations with other writers, or tweets for that matter (unless you are a Kardashian, in which case normal rules don't apply).
So. Do you need to write every day?
I don't. I used to, before my children started school and writing was crammed into half an hour a day. I had so little time and I felt desperately worried that if I didn't write every day, the desire to do so would go, that I would lose my hold on it and that it might not come back. But once they started school that obviously changed, and now I only write during the week when they're at school. I try to read as much as I can at the weekend to make sure I'm doing something writing related. I have to take a few weeks away from writing every year to mark exam papers, because that time is so hectic and intense that something has to give. Productivity drops during school holidays, because I don't have a desk or an office and my children are large and noisy, but I still try and push for a thousand words a day.
I think it's very important to write regularly. It needs to become a habit, a thing that you do, like brushing your teeth and eating lunch. This is particularly true if you want to be a published writer, and even more so if you want to be a published novelist. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward - you can't sell what you haven't written, it becomes easier to do something once it becomes habit, it gets the other people in your life used to the fact that at this particular time, you aren't available, and it gets you used to doing it. Like going to the gym, writing is a no pain, no gain activity. Writing only when you feel like it will not make you the next Ursula LeGuin, primarily because (trust me on this) once those first few pages are done, you will never feel like it. I had a conversation with Frances Hardinge at YALC this weekend in which she said that two thirds of the way in she always gets bored and wants to give up, and this is someone who writes huge selling books about magic cheese.
That said, what will work for you depends on your personal circumstances. Some people have a life that allows them to write 5, 6, 7K + a day. I am not one of those people. Some people have one writing day a week, or two evenings a week, or a Sunday afternoon, or half an hour before work, or their commute. It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as you make sure that write during that time. Some people try and write for a set amount of time, others work to a word count or a number of pages. I aim for a word count, 3K a day if I'm drafting. If I'm rewriting then I try and work for a set length of time, but rewriting often needs thinking time as well, and that can sometimes be more easily done away from the computer. But it will be tiring and it will be hard, life will get in the way, you will get in your way, and that's what the writing life is like. But if you keep showing up at those times, even when you don't want to, eventually you'll have something.
If you wait for the right time, you won't.
Don't do a Steve. It will only end in tears.