Can you call yourself a writer if you don’t write every day?

Last Friday, author Lilith Saintcrow posted an essay about writing every day on the urban fantasy blog Fangs, Fur & Fey that I think caused quite a stir. In it, she flat out says that what separates a real writer from people who just call themselves writers is that real writers write every day. She says, “You absolutely cannot hope to come up consistently with a readable product if you don’t write every day.” Now, with all due respect to Lilith Saintcrow, I just don’t think that’s absolutely true.

I don’t write every day. Now, obviously, I’m not a published writer like Lilith, so I may not be a prime example, but I definitely don’t sit down at my computer every day and work on my current novel. Actually, let me rephrase–I move through phases. There are stretches where I write between five and fifteen pages a day every day for three to six months. Then there are stretches where I don’t write–actually write down words, sentences, paragraphs that contribute to the ongoing building of a project–at all. It’s just my cycle. And I’ve never felt in any way self-conscious about it because it seems to work for me. I have never (knock on wood) gone through a period of not writing when I should have been writing. When I wrote my thesis, I wrote every day for hours and hours, pages and pages, for six months straight. When I was finished with it, I turned it in, put the novel away to simmer, and pretty much took the summer off. I read a lot, watched a lot of movies and TV shows, worked and hung out with my family. I did occasionally draft stuff–I came up with the idea for the novel I plan to work on post-AUT over the summer, wrote a very long summary/plan for it last summer–but rarely did I sit down and actually type out words. And I didn’t feel guilty about it at all, nor did I think I didn’t deserve to call myself a writer. After reading Lilith Saintcrow’s post, even though I respect her opinion, I still don’t.

The thing is, just sitting down in front of a computer or with a pen and steno pad is only one way to define the act of writing. Most of the work I did on AUT over the past six years happened completely in the confines of my head. I play out scenes in my head way before I put them down on paper, I excavate my characters in my head, I work through possible plots in my head. I consider this “writing”–it’s Step 1. Sometimes, I do the head work (as opposed to leg work, I guess) and write at the same time, sometimes just the head work. In this way, I feel like I am constantly writing–I think about my projects during most of my free time, so whenever I’m not having a conversation, or reading or watching something, or working, or sleeping, I’m “writing”. I may not be churning out pages, but I’m working, and that’s why I think it’s untrue, for some writers, that not putting words on paper belies a lack of seriousness or makes them (us) unfit for the title of “writer.” Writing is an individual-type experience–what works for one writer might not work for another. I think it’s good advice to try and write every day, especially for someone who is just starting to write–writers write, don’t they say? And frustration brought on by inability to complete projects might be solved by forcing yourself to sit down and just write the damn thing, for sure. But I think that, ultimately, the statement that if you don’t write every day you don’t deserve to call yourself a writer is a little harsh. I’m sure there are plenty successful writers who don’t write every day and make their deadlines just fine. Someday, I hope to be one of them.

6 Responses

  1. I think that the ‘must write every day’ idea is a little silly. A programmer doesn’t program on his days off. Writing is often a more sporadic activity, but that doesn’t mean that an author can’t take a break once in a while. I’d hate to press myself so hard that I burn out on writing.

  2. hey anna, just a quick note, i recently started up a blog about my experiences writing a novel, with every post i’m linking to a writer / aspiring novelist and adding in a bit about the person and their blog. came across yours tonight so i thought i’d link to you, best of luck with the publication of your first book, i’d imagine it’s an extremely exciting time!

    i personally dont think you have to write but i do think you have to be as regular as possible, i think reading is almost as equally as important as the writing part. without reading your brain dries up at times, got to keep the inspiration flowing…

  3. Richard, I agree, reading is so important to the writing process. I consider it a continual education. Thanks for linking to me on your blog–good luck with all your work!

  4. Hi, Anna,
    I write pretty much like you do. I just finished a revision today and sent it off to my critique group for a quickie read before I send it back to my agent. So what? I’m not a writer for the next week or two? And what about once I send it to him and I’m on a break? Not writing is called refilling the well. And having a life! I mean, my husband is willing to put up with the last month because he knows he’ll get lots of attention, walks, good food, and just hang time now. Some people can write say…3 hours a day every day, but not me. And I’m a huge proponent of reading. I read 150 books a year and if I didn’t take out stretches to read, I’d never get that many read.

  5. I agree! Every writer works differently. Some plot out an entire novel in outline form before composing that first paragraph and others discover as they write. Some write fast drafts within a month’s time and others might take a year. You have to do what works for you.

    Writing every day doesn’t make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. I will say that writing regularly makes you a better writing. You are always improving.

    The practice of forcing yourself to write every day may be helpful to overcome writer’s block, as you learn to write when not necessarily in a “mood.” If you wait for a mood to strike you, you might have weeks without producing a single word. But that’s OK, too. Sometimes writers need a break.

    There’s no doubt that writing daily can help you produce surpising work, but it’s not an absolutely necessary ingredient to define oneself as a writer.

  6. I’m a published writer – 5 books in print, #6 due out next year – and I DO NOT write every day. So does that mean, according to Lillith Saintcrow, that I’m not a real writer? Hmmm, I think my royalty checks say otherwise. Rules such as “you must write every day” are touted by writers who strive to be elitist. I know lots of very good, very serious, very real writers who do not write every single day.

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