Can You Be a Successful Writer Without Writing Every Day?

Shannon Hilson

If you struggle with daily writing, this is for you.

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“Write every day.” If you’re a writer, there’s a 100 percent chance that you’ve received that advice before, and with good reason. It’s really good advice that will take you far, just as it has thousands of other writers before you. It’s also easier imagined than achieved unless you’re either a full-time writer already or dead serious about becoming one soon.

As some of you may realize, I’m a full-time writer. I’m a self-employed copywriter and content creator who’s earned a full-time living writing for a wide variety of different clients for the past 15 years. I also write my own content across several different channels. Sometimes, when I’m feeling extra-artsy, I even bust out some poetry or fiction.

I absolutely write every day, but that’s relatively easy for me to do. I don’t have a day job across town, devouring a massive chunk of my time, energy, and emotional bandwidth every day. I don’t have kids. I do have personal responsibilities and maybe the occasional social obligation, but I deliberately don’t take on very much in that regard because I’m not about that life.

Your mileage almost certainly varies, and you know what? That’s OK, and it doesn’t have to stop you from making whatever you want of your writing, even if it feels like it will sometimes. Here are some things to consider if daily writing is something you struggle with and can’t seem to master for the life of you.

Consistency is the ultimate goal here.

The biggest problem with resolving to write daily is you’re going to screw up sooner or later. There will come a day when you’re sick, or depressed, or just plain unable to glue your butt to the seat of your writing chair that day. There’s going to be a week when things are crazy at work or when you need to focus on your family.

It happens, even to full-timers like me who write for a living. Sometimes you even wind up in a funk that continues for longer than you’d like, and it can be discouraging. That’s why I tend to advocate for establishing a writing habit, as opposed to obligating yourself to write every single day. The last thing you want is to turn writing into a drudge that you dread with every fiber of your being.

So, no, you don’t have to write every day. However, you do need to write often and consistently if you ever want to be any good at what you do. This goes double if you’re also looking to make money or build a readership anywhere.

  • Decide how often you would like to write — every other day, every weekend, twice weekly, etc. Just make it relatively frequent, because once or twice a month isn’t going to do much to hone your skill or build discipline.
  • Take a good, long look at your life and everything you’ve got on your plate right now.
  • Create a writing schedule that’s realistic for you, all things considered.

Remember, you can always start small and raise the bar later on. If you know you can handle a standing 30-minute writing session once a week, start there. Once you’re used to doing that, make it a twice-weekly thing and write for 45 minutes or an hour each time. Add more sessions and more time when you’re ready. You may still never become a daily writer, but you can get close enough for government work with that approach.

Set up a realistic system for keeping yourself accountable.

There may be more sophisticated tools out there for organizing your writing schedule and staying on top of deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, but good old Google Calendar works like a charm for me. It’s easy to use, it’s free, and it’s readily available to everyone. You can sync it with ease across all the devices you use. You can use it to create multiple schedules and even share them with other people if you need to.

I set up client deadlines, meetings, and similar obligations as events that are anchored to specific days. However, I enter items like writing milestones as reminders instead. Events will eventually come and go, allowing you to forget about them the minute they begin to retreat into the past. Reminders, on the other hand, need to be manually marked as “complete” before they go away. They will follow you from day to day until you do this, making them a lot harder to ignore.

That exact Google Calendar feature did the trick for me when it came to writing tasks I wanted to be better about, like posting consistently on my blog or here on Medium. It made those personal goals feel as serious as any client deadline, but it also gave me some flexibility to work with. If something stops me from marking a reminder complete on the day I’m supposed to do it, no big deal. I just take care of it the next day.

Establishing a similar system for yourself can help you turn writing into a habit without also giving you the impression that you’re doomed to fail the first time you screw up. No writer is perfect about staying flawlessly focused every second of every day. Yes, you should take your goals seriously, but beating yourself bloody because you need to make adjustments sometimes is unnecessary, unrealistic, and unhealthy.

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Use rituals to turn your writing time into an event.

Let me tell you a little secret about myself. I’m not a terribly serious person. I didn’t swap my day job for a full-time career working for myself out of my home because I was particularly driven to build a business or become some wild human success story. I did it because I need my life to be as fun as possible.

Working for someone else according to a schedule that serves their needs instead of mine and being told what to do all the time isn’t my idea of fun. And waiting on people all day or running myself ragged doing work I don’t care about downright sucks. For me, staying home is fun. Writing is fun. That’s the sole reason why I started doing what I do. I also do my damnedest to keep writing as fun as possible for myself, and personal rituals are a great way to do that.

I play music for myself — music that I enjoy, and that puts me in a terrific mood. If it’s cold, I put on these little electric hand-warmers that look like pieces of toast, because toast hands! If it’s the weekend and I’m writing in the morning (like I am today), I make myself a little plate of something yummy and healthy to munch on while I work.

As much as I still love to write, writing is hard work sometimes. I get writer’s block, just like everyone else. I wind up with client projects on my plate that I regret signing up for because they turn out to be more time-consuming than I anticipated. I also have days when I plain don’t feel like it. My rituals help me feel like it. And when they fail at that, they at least help me power through, and that’s a win, too.

Any time you meet a deadline or follow through on a goal you set for yourself, it’s a win. Figure out what helps you get there and do that. Don’t worry about it if it’s not what Stephen King or Anne Lamott is telling you to do. Your writing routine doesn’t have to work for Stephen King or Anne Lamott. It only has to work for you.

Experiment with different types of writing.

I have a lot of friends who are writers, and let me tell you. Some of these people are absolute machines. Not only do they spew out content every day by the mile, but they somehow manage to do it without burning themselves out. Quite a few of them focus on only one type of content, too. They just write copy for clients, they only write fiction, or they write exclusively within one niche on Medium.

I used to wish I could be like them. Then I woke up and realized how unrealistic it was to want to be anything other than the best possible version of myself.

I still live in total awe of my friends and everything they can do, but I’m my own person with my own needs. Variety is one of those needs when it comes to how I function best as a writer. I would, quite frankly, die if I tried to force myself to compose one specific type of material every time I sat down to write, so I mix things up a lot.

I have writing that I do to order for clients. I have other writing that I put out there to entertain or inform an audience. There’s writing I do, never intending to show it to anyone, (like journaling) and writing I do that I might show someone eventually if it turns out awesome enough (like fiction or poetry).

Doing things this way keeps me interested in my craft. It also keeps my writing muscles super limber. At this point, there are few types of writing that I haven’t explored and don’t do at least occasionally. Each of them taught me to express myself and get my point across to an existing or potential audience differently.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be said for specializing and dominating a particular niche, but don’t sweat it if you’re not about that. Being a super-varied writer has its plusses, as well.

Like most writers, I’ve read a lot of advice on being good at what I do and how to become successful as a writer. The vast majority of it — especially the kind you’ll get from an established master like Stephen King or someone similar — is excellent. This includes: “Write every day.”

Even the best advice will only get you as far as you’re able to follow it, though. At some point, you’re going to have to deviate from the established path and make some adjustments that work for you. It’s all part of the process.

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Professional copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. Evergreen content on self-improvement, fitness, food, relationships, dating, freelancing, and productivity. Occasional hot takes on news, trending topics, movies, music, and television.

Monterey, CA
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