I really want to be a writer, and I love to write, but I heard that if you want to do it for a living and get good, you need to write every day. I don’t always have time to write every day, and I worry that I don’t have enough to write about. Do you think that it’s essential to write daily? How often do you write?
– Wrist Cramps
Dear Wrist Cramps,
Writing is like working out—you don’t have to do it every day but you do have to do it regularly. That means you don’t sit around and wait until you feel like writing, because that will probably never happen—any more than you will just feel like putting on your running shoes and going for a 5-mile jog. (Congratulations if you are the kind of person who can’t wait to lace up her running shoes, but you are not normal.)
The key to getting fit—and to becoming a writer—is to put it on your schedule. I mean this literally: put it on your Google calendar. Set a reminder on your phone. Write it in your diary if you are an analog person. When and how often? There’s no one-size-fits all answer. Maybe you like to write when the house is quiet, so you write four times a week from 6-7 AM. Maybe your imagination is most active in the evening, so you put in a couple of hours between 8-10 PM.
Whatever your schedule, if you’ve already made the decision to write, then you don’t have to use your willpower to psych yourself up every time you write. It’s a habit. You just do it, the same way your CrossFit sessions or cook dinner or take out the compost.
You may be wondering why I am comparing penning the Great American Novel to dumping out a container full of banana peels, globs of oatmeal and other gunk. It’s because writing isn’t always fun. In fact, it can be downright unsatisfying and unpleasant. But if you’re a real writer, you just sit down and do it, even when you would rather lick the bottom of that compost container than pound out another word.
But here’s the good news. You know the “runner’s high”? Writers get a writer’s high: you enter the magical world of your own creation and everything else falls away. I call it being in “the Vortex” and it’s one of the best feelings there is. You won’t get that high the first few times. You have to put the practice in. And then one day you’ll realize that you’ve written far past your allotted time and your bedroom is a mess and you haven’t had a shower for three days and your last two meals have been stale tortilla chips eaten out of the bag. Congratulations: you are a writer.