No, you don’t have to write every day to be a successful freelance writer, but you do have to write often.
“So,” you ask, “how often do I have to write to be successful?”
“Ah,” I respond, “another how long is a piece of string question. It depends.”
I can feel your frustration, but in truth how I answer this question and describe my writing habits tells you more about me than it does about what you should do. There are all sorts of ways to approach this question. Things like what are your personal writing goals? What do you think it will take to get there? What other obligations do you have? Three small children at home allows a whole different writing time than early retirement into a paid-for home, for example.
A real, hard, truth about writing is that nothing will happen until you put words on paper or the screen.
A real, hard, truth about writing is that nothing will happen until you put words on paper or the screen. Nothing. This is true of poetry, essays, your grandmother’s life story, the results of the scientific paper you want to publish, your book of recipes, the article for the church newsletter or the series you’ve proposed for a prestigious magazine. It’s true of every single kind of writing there is. If you don’t write, what you get is no writing.
You’ll need to make some choices
You’re the only one who can decide how important writing is to you, and how much effort you’re willing to put into it. Those choices will change according to the season of your life and what else is going on. There’s no right or wrong in this — if you really want to write you’ll find a way.
If you’ve decided, and I mean seriously decided, you want writing success, however you want to define that, means you’ll choose in favor of the writing more often than not, hopefully lots more often than not.
Which might mean that on the days you don’t want to write, you write anyway.
Get in the habit of writing
I had no idea when I began to write five days a week, building my writing schedule around when my kids went off to school that I was forming the habit of writing. Looking back I realize that’s what happened. During the school year writing when the kids headed out became a must-do for me, one that’s stuck in a variety of forms for many decades and continues to be my go-to. When they were home from school I did my best, but it sometimes meant I didn’t write that day.
And that may be what people are trying to get to when they say you have to write every day, or at least five days a week in order to become a successful writer. They recognize at some level that once you’re in the habit of writing, once you have a fairly predictable routine, it’s much easier to write.
This might mean that if you haven’t yet established a firm writing habit or routine you push through and write today no matter what.
Maybe you needn’t write today
On the other hand — this is the ‘it depends’ part — maybe you don’t need to write today. If you’ve established a reliable writing routine that’s working pretty well and you wake up hating the idea of writing today it only makes sense to ask yourself what’s going on. Part of being a grownup writer is recognizing you have choice. You might ask yourself gently some of these questions:
Part of being a grownup writer is recognizing you have choice.
- Are you sick? If you’re feeling ill, get well and then write. At least get well enough to write. Sleep and recovery may be the most important thing. I’ve lost tons of writing days to migraine headaches for example.
- How long has it been since you’ve taken some time off? If you’ve come through an intensive period of writing, perhaps days or even weeks long, you may need some recreation — re-creation. Maybe instead of writing today you loll about reading mysteries to refresh yourself. Or you take a long weekend and allow yourself to write or not while you explore.
- When something hugely important is happening, like your son’s wedding, or you're moving, or someone you love is in the hospital, you probably won’t write. There are times in life when writing simply doesn’t make sense. So don’t.
The trick is being honest with yourself. You know, for example, if you have a truly good reason not to write today or not. An honest “just because” is fine as long as you don’t overuse it. And if you think you don’t know, become still and listen to your inner being. Accept what that still, small voice is suggesting and act on it.
Successful writing does require discipline. I love that word sometimes because it’s got disciple in it… and in many ways I’ve become a disciple of getting my writing done. It’s a choice I make often, and often happily.
Write well and often,