By Katie Lewis
You would get a hundred different answers if you asked a hundred authors how often and how much writing we should all be doing daily. From conferences to advice blogs, the recommendations vary widely. Some claim you can only improve your skills by sticking to a daily writing habit, while others say it’s a recipe for burn-out. Personally, I believe that writing is like any other creative endeavor in that everything comes down to individual preferences.
Writers are like snowflakes: no two are exactly alike.
With that in mind, I’d love to share what works for me while being mindful it may not work for you.
First, we need to establish whether or not do you really need to write every single day. In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, six days a week.
In January, Shelley Widhalm offered writing tips in her post on resolutions, suggesting creating a weekly writing quota of time or word count. Personally, I do write every day, though admittedly, some of those days end up being personal journal entries rather than fiction. With all that in mind, I like Shelley’s approach the most.
Even Stephen King thinks you deserve one day off, at least. It will only benefit you to create a habit of writing regularly. However, if the constraints become too much, they can lead to writer’s block or depression. So, when it comes to how often you should be writing, I would advise taking the time to ask yourself how much you can realistically accomplish. Every day. Every other day. Two or three times a week. Whatever works best for you will be the best answer for you. That said, there are tools to help build a daily writing habit.
Remember, it takes an average of sixty-six days to build a habit. Start with a routine, see how it works. Make adjustments, and then buckle up.
Building A Routine
Around a decade ago, I discovered a nifty little website called 750words.com. The website is a browser-based word processor that came about after the creator read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the book, Cameron suggested writing “morning pages,” or three pages of writing completed in the mornings.
In a double-spaced manuscript, three pages are about 750 words, so 750words.com was born. The purpose of the site: write 750 words every day. There are a lot of fun features I like about this website, like badges and streaks and lifetime word count, but I’ve always just used it for its base purpose. And yes, I do use it every day.
HOWEVER, before I go any further, we need to back up a step. The answer to “should I write every day” is not necessarily. And here I am talking about doing just that and skipping straight to word counts. So allow me to slow down. I find benefit in writing every day. Even when I’m sick. Even when I’m on vacation.
I start to feel rusty and antsy if I don’t write something. That’s how I personally operate. It’s also an ingrained habit from years and years past when I would rush home from school to fill a journal or write on the family computer. As I said before, though, that can sound like a daunting task for many people. Therefore, once again, I just want to stop and reiterate that if writing every day isn’t for you, that’s perfectly fine.
Now, word count. Oh, word count. The dreaded topic. Though Stephen King tells new writers to write 1,000 words per day in On Writing, he admits that he holds himself to a 2,000 words per day minimum. Famous writers throughout history have reported widely varying daily word counts.
Ernest Hemingway was happy with 500 words a day, while Michael Crichton felt more comfortable with a mind-numbing 10,000. I’m more in line with Stephen King, though that’s out of necessity. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Putting something on the page is always better than nothing at all.
Crunch Mode Activated
I will stress just one more time that how often and how much you write should be tailored to your own life. It doesn’t make you a bad writer if you can’t squeeze in time to write every day between work and family duties.
It also doesn’t make you a bad writer if you write a few hundred words at a time or thousands, expecting to delete half of it in editing later. There’s no golden rule about any of this, just a lot of highly opinionated people (as authors tend to be). Got it? Really got it? Good.
I’ll give you my whole routine now that you’re feeling reassured. As I said, I utilize 750words.com every day, but Saturday and Sunday are the only days of the week where I allow myself to stop at the 750-word threshold. Monday through Friday, I write a minimum of 2,000 words a day. I mentioned this earlier, but the reason for that is more necessity than anything else. In short, I have deadlines I have to meet.
I self-publish novellas monthly and have been doing so for about a year now. I shoot for about 30-35,000 words per novella, which means that if I want to have weekends off, I need to write at least 2,000 words per day to finish a book in three weeks. This is a non-negotiable goal if I want to meet my monthly publishing deadlines.
If I’m being honest, I think that deadline “crunch mode” helps me accomplish this. Suppose you’ve ever completed NaNoWriMo or had to submit any writing by the submission date. You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes the simple fact of knowing “this is due on such and such a date” can almost equate to a runner’s high.
At this point, having done this for a solid year now, I can find the Writing Zone and just, well, keep going. That’s a skill I learned and honed through daily practice. In fact, when I started, I was only shooting for 1,500 words per day. However, that amount of writing was cutting things too close for comfort, so I decided to just try adding an extra 500 words. 2,000 words sound scary at first, but increasing from 1,500 to 2,000 felt doable. So far, it’s worked out great.
That brings me around to what I suppose is my thesis: try setting any writing goal, and if it isn’t working, you can change it. If it’s too challenging, reduce the hours or word count. If it’s too easy, increase one or the other. As I said, everyone has different opinions, but I’m curious what yours are. If you have any daily or weekly writing routines, share them in the comments! I’d love to see them!