I see this one a lot.
The short version is no, and the longer verison is that it might be harmful to your creativity, depending on how your brain works. Let’s get into this.
The prevailing advice from the world is, “Yo, you should write every day. Every! Day! And twice on Sundays.”
I’m not 100% sure where this craziness comes from, but it could be misguided thinking around the power of habituated behaviours. Habits can be good! Humans love habits. Making and breaking them takes effort, and while a crack cocaine habit is most likely bad, a fitness habit is probably good. You’ll have heard how habits take 21 days to form, and while it’s a little more complicated than that, doing something often, perhaps on a schedule, can be good for building the habit.
So, says the Internet, write every day, and your writing habit will be awesome.
Except, it’s not true, and on multiple levels, but lets start with this one: you don’t need to do something every day to habituate the behaviour. If you’ve got a three-day-a-week gym habit, are you doing it every day, or three days a week? Yeah, it’s useful to always do it on the same day (Monday, Wednesday, with suckfull Friday as leg day, amirite?), but once you’ve built the habit, doing it more doesn’t do anything different. You’re already there.
Continuing with the sportsball metaphor, doing something every day can hurt. Ever tried to do extreme exercise every day? Unless you work yourself up to it over a number of years (hello, Olympiad training), you’ll more likely find it harmful. You’ll wear out. You could get something pretty bad like rhabdomyolysis, which is super unlikely with writing, but bear with me.
If you build a habit – say, writing every lunchtime during the weekdays, or four evenings a week – you’re onto a good thing. The trick is to build a habituated behaviour that’s sustainable, and supports your writing goals. These can be things like:
- Not sucking. Writing more frequently builds your narrative muscle; you remember the rhythm of storytelling if you do it often. I find writing at least three days a week is sufficient for this, but YMMV.
- Building an epic word count, so you can finish your damn manuscript. If you need to put 80,000 words into something, and you can write 1,500 words a day, then you need to write for about 54 days to knock that sucker out of the park. Writing weekdays is more likely to attain that goal than, say, writing in the weekends only.
But what about the harmful part I mentioned?
Most people have a natural let’s-call-it-a-reservoir of words. If your name’s Rachel Aaron, it could be 10,000 words a day. For most mortals on our plane of existence, it’s much less. The reservoir is recharged by restful activities, but also not writing. If you give yourself time to refill the reservoir, words come faster the next time you sit to write (…assuming you haven’t taken such a long break you think, “Werds r hard”). Your writing is likely to be faster and of higher quality.
Once you empty your reservoir, wording is harder. The flow stops. Writing gets stilted. If you’ve never encountered this, you might not have hit your output limit (…or you’re not great at self-criticism).
FWIW, my daily word count tends to tap out about 5,000. Sometimes it’ll hit 7,000, but that’s rare. A super-bad day is 3,000. But! That’s with taking weekends off. I write weekdays, and use Saturday and Sunday to recharge. I’ve tried writing through the weekend, and it slows me down overall.
You can test and measure this to find your ideal pattern if you use a tool like Scrivener. Use the Writing History function (Projects > Writing History). This journals how many words you write on which days. Try writing for a month, doing it every day, then try the same trick but on your preferred five days of the week. Measure the results at the end of the two month span. Did your word count alter much? How about the quality? Did you enjoy it more, or less? When you get enough data, you can make your own decisions about how often to write, and what the benefits are. Some people will find writing daily gets them to their goals faster, and if you’re one of those, grats! You’re a pretty rare breed.
Once you’ve measured your own process, you’ll have data to support your best you. Next time someone lectures you about the “importance of writing every day,” you can tell ’em to fuck off.
Bonus: this can also showcase which days are bad for writing. If you find Tuesday’s word count blows, and have a lot of meetings on Tuesdays, maybe shuffle some of those around.
Note: this isn’t some kind of pass to write one day a week while bemoaning the trials of being a writer. One day a week isn’t going to help you with your habits or your goals, just like one day a week at the gym isn’t going to make you Hercules. Put in reasonable effort, over reasonable time, and you’ll see results. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, hurt yourself over it. This isn’t a flagellation contest. It’s the crafting of worlds, and it’s meant to be fun.