Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Yes, it’s the writing advice every author gives and almost no-one actually follows. After all, modern life is busy, and who has the time to literally dedicate part of every day to writing? But wait! The reason that ‘write every day’ gets trumpeted so often is because it’s an effective way to write that isn’t actually as hard as it sounds.
That’s why, in this article, I’ll be telling you exactly how to actually write every day, with the guarantee that whoever you are, however busy your days or unconquerable your writer’s block, you can benefit from the simple instructions below. How can I be so sure? Because writing every day doesn’t mean what you may think…
Don’t set the bar too high
There are a lot of ways to make writing every day easier – and we’ll touch on them in a moment – but the key to making this approach sustainable is that you only actually need to write very, very little every day.
What ‘very little’ means to your life is subjective, but it’s probably less than you think. If you’re an ambitious writer who wants to move their career along, 750—1000 words is a good goal, but if you’re someone who just wants to steadily improve their craft, 100 words can work too. Of course, other measurements work – you could decide to write for fifteen minutes a day, or you might prefer to commit to one page of text. People perceive the world differently, so think in terms of whatever measurement feels most concrete to you.
You may be thinking that aiming so low runs counter to the point of writing every day, but that’s rarely the case. Take a low estimate of how much you could handle every day, then work out how much you’d get done in a year. Compare that to how much you actually wrote last year. I’m betting ‘write every day’ you is out ahead. Even if they’re not, the benefits of writing every day aren’t confined to words on the page…
The point of writing every day
Writing every day will help you literally write more words, but that’s not all it’s about. One of the main skills you’re developing when you write every day is the ability to quickly get into the writing ‘zone.’ While it often feels like you can’t force (or depend on) inspiration, you can teach your brain to go into writing mode on command. Spend a little time every day writing, and every day you’ll get a little better at being able to summon the state of mind you need to write well.
This is easier the more cues you can provide yourself that it’s writing time. Even if you don’t have much space, it’s worth creating a dedicated writing space to help this process along. Likewise, consider what sensory experiences you can rely on – specific music, the scent of a particular candle, even the feel of writing longhand. Find as many ways as possible to send your brain the message that it’s time to write. If this whole process begins to feel like a magic ritual then good, because the logic comes from the same place; you are trying to alter your mental state. The human mind is amazing at picking up on patterns, and once it knows what’s coming next, it reacts accordingly. Because of this, you need to send yourself as many signals as possible that it’s time to write.
A short burst of writing actually helps with this, since it promotes the sense that you need to change states quickly. This complements another benefit of writing every day, which is nurturing the ability to write even when you’re not inspired. One quality of writing that many authors miss is that it’s much, much easier to improve the words on the page than the words in your head. The words in your head get the benefit of your implicit understanding, but words on the page have to account for themselves – either they work, and you can figure out why, or they don’t, and you can learn from what’s wrong. Writing seven hundred bad words in a week is a triumph because now you have something real to work with. Write every day and you’ll find it easier and easier to harness inspiration, but even when you can’t, you get something significant for your time. The world is full of people who have the whole book planned out in their head, but the authors you’ve actually heard of are those who managed to translate perfect thoughts into flawed words… and then keep working.
Another benefit of writing every day is that you put your subconscious writer into full-time work. While sitting and writing is what gives you the actual art you’ll put out into the world, that art is the product of a constant subconscious churn of instinct and skill. We’ve all had the experience of writing out a chapter then going for a walk or a shower and realizing ten ways to make it better. Seeing the words on the page provides actual, practical insight, and writing frequently keeps this vital part of your mind on-task. Your subconscious writer will do amazing work for you, but they only show up when they can tell you’re writing. Write every day and, eventually, they’ll start showing up every day.
Making it easier to write every day
I’ve already given you the best tip for writing every day – only commit to a really low amount – but there are others to make your life easier. First, don’t get too hung up on a project. The aim is to polish your skills every day, not to meet the demands of a given work. In fact, even if there’s a particular project that you want to see through, it can be worth deliberately varying what you write. Spend Monday’s writing time on your project, use your busy Tuesday to just write about your day, give Wednesday to free writing, then use Thursday to get back to your project, bursting with ideas that have developed over the two days you spent elsewhere.
It may seem wasteful not to give your daily writing allotment to your favorite project, but writing every day is ultimately a form of mental exercise, and you don’t work the same ‘muscles’ every day. As much as possible, try to embrace your daily target as its own goal. Did you write your allotment? Then congratulations, today was a win, and if you accomplished anything else on top of it, that’s a bonus. Writing every day will improve your craft in a hundred small ways.
Some sources suggest keeping track of the progress you make writing every day, and this can be a great source of motivation, but make sure your goals match what you’re actually doing. If you’re writing a different thing every day but only tracking the word count of your main project, you’re going to get a depressingly skewed version of your accomplishments. Instead, try a binary ‘yes/no’ approach. If you hit your target today, record that you did so. If not, try and find the time (or, if you’re failing more often than you’d like, adjust your minimum word count.)
Adjusting your goals is a sensible way to get the best out of writing every day, but it helps to put this in the context of a larger commitment. For example, it’s often useful to decide that you’re going to employ a technique for a significant amount of time. You might decide that, while the amount you have to write every day could change depending on what you learn by trying it, you’re definitely going to write every day for three months. These different levels of commitment will help you work within the system rather than straying outside of it – it’s always going to be more tempting to say ‘okay, there wasn’t time today’ than ‘okay, there’s still time to write one hundred words,’ so it’s helpful to have a larger reason to settle on the latter.
If you find that you’re struggling more than you thought, then it may be that you’re just finding your level. The amount we write every day has to be feasible on even our worst days, and many enthusiastic authors pitch their initial goals a little high. If, even after adjustment, you’re still struggling to meet what you think are sensible goals, then consider the techniques described in How To Stop Decision Fatigue And Burnout Hurting Your Writing, where I talk about making writing easier by planning in advance. Remember, having a minimum daily word count doesn’t mean you can’t write more when you feel able, so keep that number low.
Adding to your daily writing is a great way to make extra progress on certain projects, but keep in mind Ernest Hemingway’s instruction to never ‘empty the well.’ That is, don’t write until you’ve exhausted your creative drive, because that will leave you nothing to draw on tomorrow. Authors who engage in this type of ‘binge writing’ get addicted to the satisfaction of netting 8000 words in one day, but then it can take weeks or months before they write anything again. It feels great, but it doesn’t really get things done any faster, and by breaking up the writing process over such long gaps, it fails to develop craft and adds a host of problems in terms of consistent tone, voice, and insight. Build on what you write every day when possible, but always keep something held back to get you started tomorrow. Once this process clicks, you may even find that the small amount you write every day is better than other ways of writing, since your small bursts are so much more likely to be motivated and to fully benefit from the attentions of your subconscious writer.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that ‘write every day’ refers only to actual writing. Editing is a different skill that requires a different mindset, and the same is true of planning a story. These things should be done in addition to writing and be treated as their own activities, though they don’t need to be done to the same daily schedule. An author who writes three hundred words a day and then spends two hours on Saturday editing their work is doing great.
Finally, try to be deadly serious about your writing time. This may be another force that drives you to reduce your daily target, because you need to be able to tell yourself (and others) that this process is vital. Many amateur authors will struggle with this – taking yourself seriously as a writer is its own process – but it’s an important part of improving your craft. If it doesn’t truly matter whether you get better then, eventually, something that does matter is going to steal the time you needed for writing. Find a target that’s small enough that you’re going to feel justified insisting on it every day but large enough that you feel guilty blowing it off. That’s the sweet spot.
Little and often
Write every day and, eventually, you’ll finish your book, but that’s not all this technique is about. Mostly, it’s about altering your perspective, turning you from someone who writes to someone who is always engaged in the process of writing. Stick with it and, slowly but surely, you’ll become a better writer.
Do you write every day, or do you have another technique that you think is just as effective? Let me know what you think in the comments, and check out Can The Pomodoro Technique Help Your Writing? and 4 Creative Writing Exercises That Will Improve Your Craft for more great suggestions.