The Struggle to Write Every Day
If you are trying to write a book, you will know that there is an undeniable truth about writing: it’s hard work. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, even years slaving over a single short story or poem, let alone a novel. Writing is tough, and the larger the scale of the project you are working on, the tougher it gets.
The first thing I wrote was a novel. Before short stories, before poetry, before non-fiction, before anything else, I wrote a book. It took years, but I reached the final point where I typed ‘The End.’ Then I put it aside and went to learn about how to write well. I wanted to understand the craft so I could redraft it better, stronger, leaner. What I learnt was that I had a lot to learn, and I’ve spent years since honing and improving. I’ve read books on writing books, listened to other writers talk about writing books, asked questions and received advice and had my writing read and critiqued by writers far better than I am, with much more knowledge and greater skill. I have learned from peers, from mistakes, from readers, from practice, and I am still learning. Every writer is.
Learning facilitates improvement, but it hinders actual words-on-page progress. The only way to write a book, after all, is to write it. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words—millions, possibly—and I keep writing more. Every sentence I end makes me a better writer, even if only by a minute degree. It is with volume, along with focus and learning, that writers get better.
I’ve heard from a few poets that you need to write a thousand bad poems before you can write a good one. I’ve had authors tell me you need to finish at least one rubbish book before you can start a brilliant one. I’ve written—and then removed—my fair share of writing. Still I write, and still I make progress.
Spend enough time around writers and you notice there are certain pieces of stock advice that are banded around so much they almost become cliché. One of these, without doubt, is to write each and every day.
The problem with this comes with the act of writing. It’s hard work, and why would you subject yourself to hard work when you don’t want to? On some days the words flow, and you’d have to drag me away from it, but others just involve a blank page in my head—and often on my desk—so I can’t write. It feels masochistic to sit there, not writing.
Yet every day, just like the advice you hear all too often, I write, or at least try to. Even if I don’t actually write any words, I am thinking about what I am going to write. What I don’t do—and it took me a while to figure this out—is sit there thinking about how much I’m not writing.
Blaming yourself for not writing, feeling angry or frustrated, or allowing your mood to become melancholic because you’re not physically writing will not do you any good. If anything, it will make things worse on all counts; as a writer and in your life outside the page.
During your writing time, if you’re not writing, think about the next thing you are going to write. Every day I spend time either thinking about the next scene or writing it. I let it grow in my head, let the characters find their way, let them choose their own decisions within the constraints of the consequences of their previous actions. It’s like fermenting alcohol: you can’t just open it straight away, you need to let it brew, so you give it time.
In her book Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande recommends taking fifteen minutes each day to sit and write, or at least meditate and focus on the next scene you are about to write. This needs to be a habit that you stick to.
“If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write.”
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
It’s amazing how motivating it is to set aside a quarter of an hour each day, when you consider that not doing so would mean you really don’t want to write.
I do want to write, I enjoy it, but sometimes I feel like I don’t have time, or life gets in the way, or it just doesn’t happen. To combat this, I bought myself a word processor that turns on within seconds and allows me to type using a proper keyboard into what is basically a calculator with an autosave function. I can pick it up and type out a scene in minutes—no waiting for the laptop to load, no need for a plug socket—and then carry on with my day. I’ve written whilst the kettle is boiling, or during an advert break on TV, or as I’m cooking dinner. I write late at night when I should be going to bed, or first thing in the morning when an idea has hit. I write in the moments between life.
I also spend time considering what happens next. Whenever I am walking anywhere—even from the car to the front door—I think about the next scene. I let it live in the periphery of my mind, so I can always turn and look at what is going on, until I am ready to write it.
Adding up the last few weeks, on some days I’ve spent a lot more than fifteen minutes either writing or thinking about writing, whereas others have barely scraped ten. Of course, I could average it out and come up with a number, but instead I am going to focus on the success: every day I have spent time either writing or considering the next thing I am going to write. Every day.
Writing is hard work, and it is completed a little at a time. Make that time a daily commitment and slowly but surely the progress begins to show. You cannot carve a sculpture from a block of marble in an afternoon. It took Michelangelo two years to carve ‘David’ and he worked at it full-time every day. Similarly, to create your masterpiece is going to take time, effort, and lots of chipping away. Keep going, you’ll get there.
© 2019 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.