Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Should You Write Every Day?Posted: November 23, 2020
Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.
The cure for common burnout?
I’m not a long-haul writer. I’ve tried to live by the adage a writer should write every day, and to be perfectly frank, there are monasteries in the world that live by less draconian standards. My best writing gets done when I work in spurts, crank out a project of one kind or another, take a break of weeks or even months, and then get back at it feeling refreshed.
By traditional standards, this is a pretty lazy and dysfunctional way to go about it. These things were determined long ago by the writing powers that be, and as far as they were ever concerned, it’s a bad idea to rest on your laurels when you could be mass-communicating incredible beauty and truth.
Milage varies on that last point, of course. Because after all, how can we communicate much of anything when we’re dog tired and in need of a rest?
If you’re like me, keeping up with a daily, monthly, yearly word count is hard work. For sure, being a writer is hard work anyway, so if we can make our jobs easier, even just a little bit, I think we owe it to ourselves to do so. But be warned, the advice which follows is not for the faint of heart. If the idea of going long-term without putting any words down sends you into an apoplectic fit, maybe stick to the way you’ve always done things.
I do, however, think you’ll find my method of working allows for much more personal freedom than the long-standing tradition of writing till you drop. Yes, you may get less done in a year. That is a distinct possibility. But do you want to know something funny? When polled, most writers who also work a typical nine-to-five job say they wish they had more time, and that if they did have more time, they’d produce far more writing.
But what if some of those writers are wrong? What if, somewhat counter-intuitively, more free time on our hands doesn’t always equal a higher rate of production? The thing about being an author of any kind is that it requires incredible creative and intellectual energy to pull off on a regular basis. Yes, taking breaks might damage your output. Then again, it may just boost it. You may also find that the quality of your writing improves the more slack you cut yourself.
I’m big on cutting writers slack. I think it’s incredibly important, and in my experience, most of us are simply too hard on ourselves. That’s really why my writing habits have developed this way. By nature, I’m hard on myself, which means if I don’t take breaks every now and then, I’m liable to tear myself down instead of fostering a mental attitude that helps me build myself up.
Now, the first thing to realize is that taking a break from your writing means your skills will not atrophy so much as cool down a little. Writing is not unlike riding a bike. You never forget how to do it. But let’s say you take a five-month hiatus, simply because you’re feeling worn out or you’ve got more important things going on in your life—happens all the time. After that five months, you might return to the craft a bit dismayed at your apparent lack of talent. Whatever you’re working on needs to be rewritten from page one, and it’s all because you took the lazy advice of that awful Bowles guy.
One key thing, of course, is that I never said to quit entirely. If you know you’ll be taking a siesta, if you can schedule that in for yourself, why not also schedule in some light exercises so you don’t feel like a total louse?
For instance, I write for this blog three times a month even when I’m not writing a book. Producing content for the internet is a great way to keep your skills in tip-top shape. You could also work on a short (and I do mean short) story or two, or in the very least, engage in some weekly finger exercises. It doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t miss the point. Rest, recuperation. This is the point.
Conversely, and this is always a good idea, you could increase your reading load. The worst kept secret of the craft is that reading a lot tends to make us better writers. And the good news is it doesn’t really matter what we read. The basic engagement of our minds in this way seems to keep our intellectual and communicative abilities primed. Reading’s good for you. It keeps the stupid at bay (it is to be hoped). Honestly, you should be doing it anyway, and if you’re not…
Another piece of advice I can offer is to decrease your writing load rather than to cut it off altogether. For a little while at least, try transforming your 2,000 word-per-day average into something more like 500 words-per-day. That’s not a bad count-up when averaged out over an entire year. If you could write a scant 500 words per day, you’d end up cranking out about 15,000 words in a month. That’s the equivalent of a novel or two in a year, and the best thing about it is that 500 words per day means you’re only writing for about an hour or so, half an hour if you’re quick. That doesn’t sound too daunting, does it? If you’re feeling burned out, this might be just what the doctor ordered.
And the truth of it is people do get burned out, fed up, exhausted, and all sorts of other tired-sounding descriptors that equal one thing: you’re a human being, not a machine. If you’re struggling with your work right now, if you’re having issues with confidence or anxiety or anything of the sort, try slowing down. Trust me on this, don’t even fret, your desire to write will return in all its power and glory, and then you’ll be ready to crank out another masterpiece.
You’ve got a masterpiece or two lurking inside you, right? That’s what I thought. Happy writing, everyone. Or perhaps I should wish you a happy vacation. I’ll be back with more Craft and Practice next month.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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