I’ve heard it said (and seen it written) that a writer should write every day.
If only it was that easy.
I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve written diligently every day for months on end, and I’ve had months on end when I haven’t written a thing.
I don’t believe it’s that desperate. When I hear (or read) someone saying you have to write every day, I can’t help but think they’re worried somehow that if you don’t you’ll lose your passion or forget how to write or some other frightening fate will befall you.
But quite frankly I believe if you’re a writer you’ll always be a writer. And if your passion or skills are so precarious that not writing for a day, or week or even a year will put them in jeopardy, then perhaps you’d be better off (and a hell of a lot happier) not writing at all – because seriously, being plagued by a need to tell stories and not being satisfied until you’ve gotten them down on paper (or onto the computer screen) is a sort of torture in itself.
If you can escape that, I say run for the hills, my friend, and be free.
No, often being a writer means having to find time to write around the rest of your life. And being flexible. And also realising that writing isn’t just about the physical act of putting pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard) – it’s also about thinking and dreaming and pretending, and a whole bunch of other things (like listening and watching and experiencing).
And (because I am so enlightened hoho) that’s how I approach it.
In 2009, when I first began to write seriously, my eldest (and at the time, only) son was in school. This was a wonderful arrangement because I could, and would, write (pretty much uninterrupted) between 10am and 4pm daily. I’m so thankful and sentimental for those early years as I did a lot of my learning and experimenting back then. And I don’t think I would be the writer I am today without them. I wrote the first 140k version of my vampire novel during this period.
In 2011 and 2012, my two littles came along, and boy did my writing life change then. I went from writing consistently day-in and day-out, to writing sporadically whenever I could find the time. That meant maybe getting an hour or two of writing in while they napped (if I was lucky enough to have them both napping at the same time, that is), or sneaking in half an hour of writing in the afternoon if they happened to discover an activity interesting and novel enough to capture their attention for more than 10 minutes.
I remember being heartened by the writing journeys of writers I admired – Laurell K Hamilton, for example, crafted her first novel in the hours before work every day, two pages at a time, and Maggie Stiefvater set aside Wednesday’s once a week (and some Sundays) to work on Lament – the moral of the story being that over time, if you plod away and keep at it, the words start to add up. And it’s true. During this period, I managed to write the second version of my vampire novel (all 105K words of it), and complete revision after revision after revision of the damned thing (until I reduced the word count to 88.5K).
Then in 2014, when my hubby and I started up our own little law firm, I found myself evolving into a night writer. And let me tell you, that was a pretty phenomenal feat for me – my ideal time for clear thinking and creative expression is early in the morning, after a long night of sleeping on ideas and dreaming up scenarios.
But it was either write at night or not write at all – so of course night writing it was. And over the course of six months I plotted and wrote the first draft of my fantasy novel, while dreaming up the premises of two other novels I’m still dying to write.
But like I said before, writing is not just about the physical act of writing. So even when the demands of my non-writing life dominate my usual allotted writing time, I “write” in other ways – I plot novel number three in my head, I rework novel number one on my iPhone, I listen to songs on my playlist and imagine my characters in various scenarios.
And I know when I turn around the next corner in my life and my time for writing once again changes (and hopefully expands), I will have done so much preparatory work in my head that my next two novels will come flying off my fingertips onto the screen.
And I can’t wait until then.
As for my ideal writing life (a writer can always dream, right?), this is how it would be…
Wake up every morning, grab a nice hot coffee, sit down at my desk, and write. All day. With no interruptions. Well, maybe a break or two to grab something yummy, but that is it.
Lol I know I’m dreaming. With one child in high school and two others under five, I have quite a wait on my hands until my life will be anywhere near my own again. And that’s okay.
In the meantime, I will live like this: every chance I get, I will write – five hundred words here, one thousand words there – and before I know it, I’ll have a dozen works to my name. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Oh, and I’m going to enjoy every single step along the way – both in my writing life, and the real-life I have with my family – no matter what.
In the immortal words of the lovely Nancy Sinatra (and yes, if James Bond can live by them, so can I), you only live twice – once for yourself, and once for your dreams.