When I started writing back in college, the prevailing advice was to write every day. And to be fair, at the time, that was very good advice. I was just getting started on my writing career and had a lot of learning to do. My writing improved by leaps and bounds as I strived to make progress on my WIPs every day.
Now, though, I’m not so sure that writing every day is the best thing to strive for.
It’s not that I’m against the idea of practice. Writing is one of those rare creative professions where people don’t think you get better the more you do it. Of course, that’s flat-out wrong. The best musicians put in hours and hours of practice, as do the best chess players, or the best soldiers, or the best sports stars. Writing is no different. If you don’t put in the time and effort, you won’t get the results.
At the same time, there’s a tendency among aspiring and even journeyman writers to become consumed with guilt because they missed their writing goal for the day. This is counterproductive. Goals don’t exist to give you satisfaction or guilt, but to give you direction. Satisfaction comes from what you achieve in pursuit of a goal, not in the goal itself.
So that’s one aspect of it. But there’s another aspect, and that’s how effective it is (or isn’t) to write every day.
Between high school and college, I worked as a gofer on a masonry crew. One of the things my boss used to say was “work smarter, not harder.” He often said it rather tongue-in-cheek, but it’s still an important concept. It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you’re doing it wrong.
This applies to writing as well. What does it matter that you write every day, if you’re just going to throw out most of it anyway? Is that really the best use of your time and energy? If by taking a week to establish things like plot, character, world-building, etc, you could write a much cleaner and better first draft, does it matter that you technically weren’t writing every day during that week?
Write smarter, not harder.
Now, I’m very glad that I did write every day back when I was starting out. My first (and possibly my second) million words were mostly crap, so it was better to put in the time and get through it as quickly as possible, just for the learning and growth.
But now that I’m an established journeyman writer, I find that the results are much better if I take the time to do some basic prewriting before I attack the first page. My first drafts are cleaner. The story comes together easier, with fewer problems. I don’t have to do “triage” revisions, where I’m throwing out characters, subplots, or even major plot points simply because they don’t work.
In Brandon Sanderson’s writing class, I once asked what I needed to change so that I could write my WIPs straight through without getting stuck in the middle. Brandon asked me if I was still finishing them, and when I said yes, he basically said don’t worry about it. That was good advice then, but it isn’t anymore. I’ve reached the point where writing smarter is more important than writing harder.
Anyway, those are my thoughts at the moment. Things change a lot when you’ve been writing for 10+ years, and unlike all the resources available for aspiring writers, there isn’t a whole lot of stuff out there to help guide you through the later phases. I’m basically figuring it out as I go.