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The Importance of Daily Writing

Question of the day: I have just started my first draft to what I hope will be my first novel. I know what I want to write - I have had the idea in my head for about 2 years! I know its going to be tough, and keeping the motivation going will be more difficult - unfortunately writing only happens in the evening and already into the early mornings! Any advice for a very novice writer?  

I posted some more general tips last week, but the one thing that I'd advise to all aspiring writers who are starting a new project is that you MUST write every day. Okay, take weekends off, but other than that, I really think it's critical to carve out some quiet time each and every day.

Before you laugh at me and tell me that this is going to be impossible (I know - we're all super-busy - I get it, I do!), I think you need to consider a few factors. One: the vast percentage of novels that are started are NOT completed. The VERY vast percentage. Seriously, it is sooooooo easy to start a book. It is a heck of a lot harder to finish one, and finish one well. Why? Well, a) because writing a coherent plot for 90k words is tough and b) because that momentum which you're asking about is very hard to come by.

Which brings me to the second factor in my advice: Writing is a habit that you must learn to fold into your life. The analogy I always use is that it's akin to going to the gym. When you start on a new exercise routine, it's awfully easy to back out of. There are excuses, there are obstacles. And the only way that you get your butt to the gym is to find a way to ensure that exercise becomes part of your daily routine. I think experts say it takes something like six weeks for a new habit to stick, and there's no reason that writing is any different. When you sit down every day to write, it slowly becomes second nature, just another aspect of your day. When you DON'T sit down every day to write, it becomes that big bad thing (like the treadmill) that looms out there and causes dread and anxiety.

And this plays into my third factor: I think, at least for me, that I am a stronger writer when I write every day. The characters and their voices stay in my head, I don't have to play catch-up to remember where I was or what I intended to do next. In essence, everything is more fluid, and I create a lot less work for myself. Your daily goal doesn't have to be a big one! I know how busy life is, especially for aspiring writers who are juggling full-time jobs and/or parenthood. Try to write, say, for twenty minutes a night or 500 words a day - instead of logging onto Facebook, instead, open your Word doc. Little steps, just like with exercise. Once you get into the swing of things, I'm confident these little steps will turn into bigger ones.

Anyone want to weigh in? Do you write every day? If so, does it help you? Why or why not?

Reader Comments (14)

I totally agree! I take weekends off but otherwise I write each day. When I don't, I find excuses and get depressed and before I know it, weeks have gone by.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

I set my alarm to get up at 5am to get up before the kids do and before I go to work. This is why I am proud to be a Wannabe ( and why I call my blog WannabePride). Wannabes do everything everybody else does - clean the house, mow the lawn, work a day job, even raise a family ...then we keep going. We don't complain that we don't have time to pursue our dreams, we go to work on them instead. Im living proof that you can write a screenplay and a novel one hour at a time. No better time to start the writing habit than RIGHT NOW!

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Fausnet

Completely, absolutely, positively, unequivocally agree! I even write on weekends to help the habit stick (although not usually for as many hours, unless I happen to get on a roll). And sometimes I end up hating vacations (after the fact, of course) for disrupting my routine and resetting my Good Habit Clock, or whatever.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

I have a weekly word count goal. I let myself flex around that. Most weeks I write a bit each day to reach the goal, other weeks I find things that interrupt that plan and rather than feel bad about it (I have guilt issues which I blame on Catholic school) I tell myself I have to make it up later in the week. I've had Saturdays where I had to lock myself in the office for the entire day because it was the only way to reach my word count goal before the week expired.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

Totally agree! A magical thing happened when I got into the groove of writing regularly: My subconscious started to work on my project even when I wasn't at my desk. That's why I think that writing just an hour every weekday is much more productive than writing 5 hours on the weekend.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLena Coakley

I whole-heartedly agree. No matter what else is going on, even when things are at their busiest and most stressful, I make sure to set aside writing time every day. For me, that's early morning, when all is quiet. Honestly, I can't think of any better way to start the day - it allows me to get swept up in the project again and again, and instead of it feeling like work, it feels like a gift. I'm making a conscious effort to take weekends off this time (didn't at all last time!), but beyond that, I'm always hanging out with my characters, both when I'm writing and when they come creeping back into my thoughts :-)

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShari

I think writing everyday is totally necessary. It doesn't even have to be your WIP A blog entry or a journal will do. I need something to keep the creative juices flowing and my mind sharp. For me, I don't take weekends, or certain days off, because I have a day job and any free time I have becomes writing time. I think it's even more important to write everyday when you have other commitments because time slips away from even faster. If you stick with every day (or at least five days) no matter what, some writing is bound to get done.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara Grambusch

Allison, as usual, great advice! By doing just what Allison recommends, I've written and finished a book. It took me a long time and several revisions, but completing it feels great. But, I swear, every time I look at it, I know I could change something, fix something, or make it better. Allison, how do you, and other authors, know when the book is good enough to send out to your editor? How do you know "it's as good as it's going to get." Does it come with experience?

When I'm writing well, I'm writing every day. Right now (ahem) I'm not; time to break that bad habit!

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

I try to write or revise every day. It doesn't always happen, and like you said, Allison, it does derail things somewhat to "move out" of your characters' heads, even for a day or two. Even when I'm writing every day, it takes me a little while - anywhere from a minute to an hour - to make the shift from real world to fiction, and when I've taken a few days off, I know that shift will take much longer.

The one thing I will add, though, is that there's no reason to panic if you hit a busy period and can't find time to write for a day or even for a week. When the rush dies down, just pick your WIP back up. You can and will get your motivation back. Sometimes busy periods when I don't have much time to write actually do great things for my motivation - I get to where I really, really miss my WIP and can't wait to get back into it.

Good luck!

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStaceyW

Oh, and one more bit of advice. When I hit a period where I simply don't have time to write, I have a little trick that keeps me "in the book," so to speak. It's my writing playlist. All the songs on it are ones that relate to my characters or story or inspire my writing in some way. All I have to do is turn on the music, and my head's completely with my characters whether I have time to write that day or not. I've come up with some great dialogue/scenes/ideas for the book on "off" days by turning on the playlist while I drive or exercise. For what it's worth! :)

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStaceyW

You guys make me feel like a freaking slacker! I work full-time and have a young daughter who runs us ragged with tennis, soccer, horse stuff, orchestra, etc., etc. I use holidays and vacation time to get away and write -- so it's always in great big swaths of time instead of the daily stuff. My manuscript turns around in my mind in between, and I make notes and really do look forward to getting it down on paper.

The Undisciplined One

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindy A

I agree that habit makes for both better writing and finished projects. For those who have a hard time getting started, I found committing to something intensive but of short duration to be a great jump start - kind of a way of tricking yourself into doing it. Something like NaNoWriMo, for example, which does have its fans and detractors. I'm in the fan camp, for sure. Writing 50K words in one month is such a jolt of confidence -- and provides so much raw material for the next several months of revising- that I at least found I couldn't help but keep plugging away. I just completed the third draft of the novel I wrote during NaNo 2010 last November. If you had told me last October I would spend the next seven months waking up at 5-5:30 to write, it would have been too daunting. A month was doable, though, and the momentum turned out to be self-perpetuating.
Have I made any converts?;) If you don't want to wait til this November, they just started something called Camp NaNoWriMo, which essentially moves the concept to the month of your choice.
PS - Thanks for the blog, Allison!

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCari Noga

I like the "page a day" philosophy when I'm feeling swamped. At a reading, a writer pointed out that if you write one page a day for an entire year, you have a novel. It made me realize, "Hey, that's not so bad!" And whenever I write more than that one page, I feel like I'm pulling ahead. :-)

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiana
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