In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King writes,
“If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind — they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.”
Do you really need to write every day? The short answer is YES.
People often think I’m joking when I tell them I write every day. I get a lot of responses like, “yeah, okay, sure.” It sounds good, but it doesn’t seem realistic. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes things happen. But if you want to be a writer, yes, I implore you to try to write every single day.
Writing every day does not mean you have to write ten hours a day, or five, or two, or even one. Writing every day is different for everybody, depending on work schedules, depending on family obligations. Although I wouldn’t advise you to only write for, say, ten minutes a day, it’s still, in my mind, a better practice to write ten minutes seven days a week than to write for a few hours just one or two days a week.
Think of writing like exercise.
You should think of writing like exercises (or maybe not, if you never work out). For me, I try to exercise for 45 minutes to an hour five times a week, if not six. This is rarely a hard work-out. It can be a run with my dog, or the elliptical, or free weights, or, when I’m really lazy, a walk to the park and back. The key is to do some kind of exercise and movement almost every day.
It’s the same thing with writing. You want to constantly be practicing. And it doesn’t have to be new fiction. To be a writer, you don’t have to pen 2,000 words of fiction seven days a week. You can mix it up if you want. Write fiction for a few days, then devote two days to just writing in a journal. Try writing a poem. Hell, take a month and devote your time completely to writing a feature-length screenplay! It’s important to do two things as a writer: write every day, and try new things in your writing. You don’t want your work to get stale.
But do you ever get a break?
Occasionally, sure, you need a break. There were a few years where I wrote three to four hours every day during the week, and then I would take the weekend off. I wrote a few of my novels like that. I would work super hard for five days, then take two days off and not write a word, just do anything else, travel, relax, and then come back to the laptop Monday morning refreshed and ready to resume my latest project.
But actually, in looking back at those novels I wrote only five days a week instead of seven, there was something missing. And King gets it absolutely right: the characters do get stale if you’re not writing them every day. They begin to seem like characters, they’re not in the writer’s subconscious as much as they could be.
So no excuses: the first draft of a novel should be worked on every day until it’s completed!
So for the last two novels I’ve written, I worked on the first draft every day, pretty much, unless there was an emergency of some kind, or a holiday. My newest book, a middle grade ghost story, I took off one day — Christmas. But for every other day that month I worked often three to four hours each morning writing new pages. The characters never grew stale, the story was always alive, surprises awaited me every day I sat down at my desk.
I’m halfway through the second draft of the middle grade novel now, and I can sense the ambition and creativity and fun I had while writing that first draft. Because I didn’t write for a day or two, then take a week off and come back to it. The story was written fast, in twenty-six days, and coming to the blank page every morning made my latest project more alive than anything I’ve written in a long, long time.
So here’s my advice: when you’re writing the first draft of a novel, work on it every day. It can be a small chunk of your day, that’s fine. An hour instead of four hours. 500 words instead of 2,000. Whatever works for you. But as long as you’re living in the world of your story a little bit every single day, the characters will feel like real people, your story will come alive more and more.
Writing every day allows you to take new chances… and better yourself as a writer.
When you finish the first draft, then sure, take some time off. You’re actually supposed to let your manuscript rest for a few weeks so that you come to the second draft with fresh eyes. But does that mean you shouldn’t write anything for four weeks or more? Absolutely not. Try to find something to work on every week. Revise another novel you’ve written. Write a new short story, a poem, a screenplay, an essay, Medium articles, whatever. Take a risk. Do something outrageous. Something you’ve never attempted before.
And then once you begin the second draft of your newest work, make that the focus of your next few weeks. My schedule for my current second draft of my latest manuscript is as follows: re-read the chapter I revised yesterday, then revise a new chapter. This process on average takes me about two hours every day. Not a whole lot. Certainly less time than it took me to write 2,000 new words every day. Yes, even on Saturday and Sunday. Again, I believe in working on the book every morning so that the world and these characters never escape me, always stay fresh, and offer new potential ways to better the novel.
If you want to be serious about writing, you need to write every single day, no excuses. Trust me, you won’t regret it!