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.