Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Writing Every Day

These days I think a lot (and I know my fellow writer and former roommate Randall does too) about whether it’s better to write every day, or whether some days are just not worth squeezing creativity from.

“Do you write every day?” George Packard asked me once.
“Um,” I said, “I try to.”

I’ve heard from books, teachers, and peers that writing every day keeps us sharp, focused, motivated, and—most importantly of all—moving toward a goal. Being busy, they would say, is no excuse. If I really wanted to write, I would find the time. (I find that most of the things I really want to do I eventually get around to doing, and those I don’t get around to doing I don’t want to do all that badly in the first place—like visiting Niagara Falls or reading Crime and Punishment.) Being busy is no excuse. Or is it?

When I was unemployed, I didn’t write every day (see this blog post as to why ), so I don’t think it’s a simple matter of free time. Rather, I look at my ability to sit down at the computer (or notepad) with confidence. If I have something clear to say, if I believe in whatever that something is, and I have confidence in my ability to express it well, then it’s less daunting for me to switch into creative mode and make it real. But on days when I’m fearful, pessimistic about the future (much less often now), discouraged, lack confidence in my prose, or afraid that a certain project will never amount to anything greater than a blog post, I find myself lying petrified on my bed unable to develop the ideas, in their place a swirling fury of worries about my very real existence, and not the fictional one I’d like to be working on. Some of these are days when I would very much like to write, and I become frustrated when I cannot.

Other days I find myself too burned out and tired to even think about writing, if I’ve worked late or had a long week, or just been through some exhausting ordeal. Is it better to fight through the fatigue and force the words to come, like an angry lover after a long night of fruitless intercourse? Some of my worst work has come on days like this, but some people might argue that bad writing is better than no writing at all.

On still other days, I have things that I would like or need to do. The April Fool’s Mix CD Swap for instance, while a lot of fun and creatively satisfying, takes up a tremendous amount of time. I write a lot of e-mails to friends now, but am still forgetful about communicating with some. I also read less often than I did in high school, which is something I’m trying to change. Last week the school where I work had a snow day, and instead of writing, I touched up the paint on the door panel of my car. I enjoyed doing it, and the Volvo certainly looks better now, but was it a good use of my time?

I think the ideal solution lies in settling all this other stuff—whatever it may be—so as to leave as much time, energy, and confidence to allow productive writing time. If I lack free time, I should cut back on other activities. If I’m low on energy, I shouldn’t work as hard. And, if some outside factor is affecting my ability to focus positively on writing, I have to fix it.

Perhaps writing every day is less of an ultimatum to be adhered to and more of a goal worth shooting for.

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