In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
One serious problem with writers’ workshops is that I hafta becomes the rule. You didn’t come, after all, to wander lonely as a cloud, experiencing the beauty of the woods or the grandeur of the mountains. You’re supposed to be writing, dammit.
If you want to get serious about writing, you should try to write every day.
I’ve been writing almost every day since April 2010. It’s how I’ve completed nineteen novels. It’s how I survived five years of graduate school. It’s how I keep improving (hopefully) year after year.
If you practice anything every day for a long, long time, you’ll get good at it. You might even get great at it. When it comes to writing, you’ll find that your use of language improves, along with the rhythm of your sentences and the pacing of your paragraphs. You’ll take more chances, too.
I’m lucky to get up every morning and not feel forced to write anything. I look forward to the writing part of my day.
Of course there were periods during graduate school where I was forced to write a research paper or something, and those writing sessions were always kind of deadly.
Because the truth is this — forcing yourself to write when you don’t want to write can be painful.
As soon as writing begins to feel like work, you’re in big, big trouble. It’s why on Medium, for example, I like to write about topics I have some expertise in, and that I enjoy writing about.
I keep seeing recommendations to write about technology, and artificial intelligence, and business, and so on and so forth.
I might try an article in each of these topics in the weeks to come, but the problem is I just don’t have a lot of passion in these topics and I feel like spending an hour or longer writing a story about one of them might feel like work, which is never fun.
I believe readers can feel when you have passion in what you’re saying. And as soon as the writing begins to feel passionless and dull, the reader can sense it. Then you have a writer not having fun writing and a reader not having fun reading, which is always a shame.
Forcing yourself to write if you don’t feel like writing isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Sometimes I’m not in the mood to write, but I sit down at the desk anyway and start writing something and after a few minutes I get into a groove and begin to enjoy myself.
I recommend you try this if you’re stuck in your latest story. You might want to avoid writing because you have no idea what to write next. Trust me, I’ve been there.
But still sit down and start writing anyway. You might write twenty terrible sentences in a row, but maybe the twenty-first won’t be so bad and then you’ll find a rhythm and end up with 1,000 glorious words by the end of the session you never thought you’d achieve.
On the other hand, forcing yourself to write can lead to problems, too.
What Stephen King is specifically talking about in that quote is how writers’ workshops essentially force you to produce time and time again, and there’s no getting around it.
I love to write fiction, I write fiction all the time, and yet in more than one of my graduate writing workshops I had a short story due in a few days’ time, and I did not want to write it. That’s not to say I didn’t want to write anything. In fact sometimes during graduate school I was hard at work at revising a novel or adding new articles to my personal blog, and I didn’t have any use for a short story at the time.
But I had to write something, especially for the professor who only accepted short fiction and no novel excerpts, so I had to produce a story rather quickly, and some of those stories were good and some of them weren’t.
Occasionally being forced to write something I didn’t necessarily want to write in a way made me resent the entire writing process. It made me loathe the blank page more than usual.
And as soon as I turned in the story to my class, I wanted to avoid writing for a few days, because I was upset I’d been forced to write something I didn’t necessarily have any passion for.
So try to write every day if you can, but it’s okay not to force it either.
I still maintain the philosophy that if you’re serious about writing, you should try to write something every day. It can be for just ten minutes if you want. It doesn’t have to be four hours writing something you don’t want to.
But if you wake up on the occasional morning wanting to do anything but write, if you want to leave the house and go on an adventure and not even look at a laptop, then go on that adventure, do what you need to do.
Not writing here and there isn’t going to hurt you. It’s not going to make you a terrible writer.
Just write as much as you can, and try to enjoy the process! That’s why we do this, after all. Keep rediscovering your love of writing, and there’s no telling how far you can go.