A guest post by Holly Heisey.
When I decided to write seriously, I learned that I should write every day. So I did. After a month, I burned out.
Did that mean I wasn’t a real writer? Of course not.
Natural writing strides are a lot like sleeping habits. Some people are early risers, some are night owls, some fall in between. A person who’s a natural night owl won’t function well as an early riser, or vice versa. The same with your writing stride: if you naturally write every day, awesome! If you naturally don’t, awesome! The only thing that matters is that you’re writing and enjoying the process.
If you don’t know your natural writing stride, you can start by paying attention to how you feel about your writing time. Are you excited to write? Do you feel stressed, or are there times you’re more motivated than others? Maybe you don’t have a lot of energy during the week, but you’re very productive on the weekends. Or, your weekdays might be great for writing, but the weekends are for family. Or, you might like the freedom of a loose weekly goal. A weekly goal is great if daily wordcounts don’t work for you.
Another thing to consider is fear. The premise behind “write every day” is that when you make yourself do something every day, you’re not letting fear get in the way of creativity. The problem with this rule is that people deal with fear and creative problem solving in different ways. Guilt is also a factor in understanding your writing stride; guilt over not getting things done can be every bit as paralyzing as fear.
Here’s some things to watch for in your daily writing habits:
The Shoulds: Do you think you should write every day? Shoulds often have roots in others’ expectations—from friends and family, or from looking at other writers’ accomplishments, or from the pressure to be a “pro.” Shoulds are often an indicator that you’re going against your own grain.
Panic: Does the thought of writing today make you feel panicky? We all have different ways of dealing with this, but if you’re feeling panic, it might help to jump in and write anyway. Often enough, you’ll find that you can do it.
Procrastination: Let’s call this passive-aggressive panic. If you’re procrastinating, it’s probably a good idea to write anyway.
Motivation: Are you excited about what you’re writing today? If you’re excited but still afraid, awesome! That means you’re doing great things.
Apathy: This isn’t fear, but a lack of interest (though I’d look closely, as apathy and fear can masquerade as one another). This might mean your subconscious isn’t ready to work on the next part of your story. In which case, let your subconscious do its thing. It’s pretty smart.
Frustration: Does writing feel like pushing through molasses? You might see if any sparks ignite, but if it’s driving you into deeper frustration, it’s best to take a break.
If you’re frustrated or not feeling motivated, that’s okay. It’s natural, and it’s usually your subconscious saying, “hold on, wait, I’ve got a better idea!” You’re not blocked, you’re just incubating. Go do something fun, take a walk, watch a movie. Your writing will be there tomorrow or the next day, and you’ll likely find the excitement growing again. It’s like taking a writerly nap, and you “wake up” with your creativity renewed.
If you find you’re wanting to take too many days off, step back and ask yourself why you don’t want to write. A lot of times, it will be because of fear. Just ease back into a schedule, no big deal. Celebrate every page or paragraph written, because they’re always something to celebrate.
Once you do find your writerly stride, it’s okay to break the schedule and take a day off.
That’s worth repeating, because it’s where guilt often hits the hardest: It’s okay to take a day off.
Really. Take care of yourself. When you’re stressed about creating, it lessens your creativity. Your body, mind, and emotions are your most important assets. You are very worth caring for.
As writers, we’re in this for the long haul. “Professional” does not mean the lack of fun. Try things out. Be a little crazy. Be kind to yourself.
Your writing will love you for it.
Holly Heisey launched her writing career in sixth grade when she wrote her class play, a medieval fantasy. It was love at first dragon. Since then, she’s been a multiple finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest, and her short fiction has appeared in Escape Pod and Aoife’s Kiss. Holly lives in Pennsylvania with Larry and Moe, her two pet cacti, and she is currently at work on a science fantasy epic. Her website can be found at http://hollyheisey.com