This is the time of year when many people plan to start a book or a story or a screenplay, some for the umptieth time, some for the first. It’s also the time of year when resolve flags and we think “what was I thinking, imagining I could do this?”
So I want to revisit one common piece of advice, “write every day.” In fact, some people say that’s a rule, maybe even the only rule.
It’s good advice. I certainly heard it when I was starting, twenty-five years ago. (Hand to forehead.) But it didn’t fit my life back then, and it might not fit yours. Let me tell you this: Consistency is what counts, even more than the length of your writing sessions.
I was a single woman lawyer, newly divorced, working in a small litigation firm about a 35 mile drive from home each way. We were handling cases bigger firms wouldn’t touch, which meant long hours and late nights. The internet was on the horizon, but still a ways off, so communication and research required time in the office and our law library. Laptops were just emerging – I didn’t have one – so writing, whether for the firm or myself, meant sitting at a desk. During one stretch, I was able to take Fridays off, and that’s when I wrote. The rest of the week, I might be able to jot down a few notes or read craft books and magazines, but I didn’t have the mental energy to write. On those Fridays, though, I made my coffee, went to my home office, and turned on the computer. Switched on the desk lamp. (I still have it – the one in the picture, with the green shade.) My three dogs loved spending the day on my office floor, taking a break or two for a walk. (The cat didn’t care.) But most importantly, my muse – my creative drive – always joined us. It was as if she knew that when I showed up, she needed to be ready.
We wrote an entire manuscript that way, my border collies and me, on Fridays and the occasional Saturday morning. Then we wrote a second, and a third. They didn’t get published, but they got me an agent and a good amount of editorial interest. They were my practice novels, not just because I was trying out my skills, trying on the craft, but because I was developing my writing practice.
It was that writing practice – that consistent showing up, ready to work – that eventually got me to the point of thirteen published books, with two more novels coming out this year. When I’ve let that consistency waver, the work has wobbled, and so has my confidence and sense of myself.
Merriam-Webster’s defines practice as
“1 a: CARRY OUT; APPLY b: to do or perform often, customarily or habitually c: to be professionally engaged in 2 a: to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient b: to train by repeated exercises”
There you have it. Fifteen minutes a day with your lunch in hand. An hour every morning if you’re bent that way. Fridays. Whatever it is, do it “customarily, habitually” “to become proficient. Don’t go more than a week between sessions – I am not sure a muse, no matter how loyal, can keep track of every other Thursday afternoon or the first Saturday of the month. After all, they need to “perform or work at repeatedly,” just like us.
Do what you can, when you can, as often as you can. May the muse be with you.