by Phoebe Quinn (originally posted on ryanlanz.com)
My Twitter timeline is awash with urging. Write every day. Even if it’s for ten minutes. Just write. Write well and often. And so on.
But, should you really be writing every day?
Getting the balance right between craft, routine, and chore is hard. We all struggle. As much as I dream of being a full-time writer, it’s more likely I will have to continue juggling it round work, socialising, and other (neglected) hobbies.
But I suck at committing to something once a day. I limped part way through one of those one-line-a-day journals–two, actually, because clearly I enjoy seeing myself fail–and tried, really tried to think of something each day to put. I would always have a day where I forgot or was too tired or was out, and once I missed a day it felt like–well, what’s the point now? May as well give up. My bullet journal has lain neglected for several weeks now, because it required my attention every day. Sometimes I pass out from exhaustion before I’ve even brushed my teeth, so I can’t even keep that up.
And, no, I don’t open up my Google Drive every night without fail, with that expectant marker blink-blink-blinking away where I last left off.
I probably should. The most common analogy is that writing is a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. I’ve no doubt that’s true. But some of my best work has been done after days, maybe weeks, of drought or absence. Some of my worst was when I set myself a daily 1000 word-count goal (2000 at weekends); don’t even get me started on my abysmal NaNoWriMo efforts.
An everyday habit is overwhelming, and until I move and get a better job I just don’t have the time or energy to spare some evenings. I tried getting up earlier in the mornings, but all that’s done is highlight that I am a classic night owl while Boyfriend happens to be a lark. He springs out of bed at 6am and gets to work almost straight away. I starfish, face down on the pillows, until the last possible moment. It’s not that I won’t drag myself up, it’s that I physically can’t. (I’ve tried just about everything but if you have any tips I’m all ears.)
When I’m not writing, I am thinking about it. Plotting out new stories, thinking of changes to my current draft, listening out for tidbits I can use later on. Maybe I’m planning a blog post or listening to a storytelling podcast. (Does buying new notebooks count?)
Which means I approach the keyboard with a little more purpose, a smidgen more excitement. The balance between craft, routine, and chore for me, personally, leans heavily in favour of craft. There’s not much structure to it, and I don’t feel downtrodden when I open up my work in progress. But when I am able to sit down to it–when the stars align and the world hasn’t been as soul-suckingly horrendous as before–it’s a pleasure. I don’t get to do it as often as I would maybe like or certainly should, but when I do it’s a treat.
Perhaps my ego is a wildly huge yet fragile thing, but sometimes it can be demoralising when I know other writers are able to go at it more often than I can. Not because I begrudge them any time, success, or drive they may have, but because it means I am lacking. I know I am capable of writing – not only that, but writing well – and the impotent rage from trying and failing to squeeze it in is beyond frustrating.
Now, though, I am thinking of it as more like a theatre production. The behind-the-scenes work takes up the most time: set design, learning the lines, blocking the scenes, testing the lighting. The rehearsals–gradually structuring your story and joining the dots, the terrible first drafts and edits we all loathe–are bitty, frequent things, repetitive but necessary components. The final production–finished drafts, the final edits–is a singular, spectacular goal, a culmination of everything else involved.
It’s a month today that I move, trading the city I have called home for five years for financial stability and being closer to my family. So at the moment, I’m doing a lot of work behind the curtain. Rehearsals have been placed on hold recently but are due to start again in earnest. All I need now is Freddie Mercury bursting into the room and singing The Show Must Go On. What could be more motivating than that?
If you are struggling to write every day, know that you’re not alone. It’s definitely worth aspiring to. But when things get in the way or you just can’t face it–that’s fine too, and you’re not any less of a writer for it. When you stop writing altogether, that’s when you stop being a writer.
Guest post contributed by Phoebe Quinn. Phoebe is a writer of fiction with a collection of short stories released in 2016.