Should You Write Every Day?
Should You Write Every Day?
From my own experience, I believe there is an alternative to obsessively grinding away on a manuscript seven days a week.
Taking a day away from the manuscript, but using the open day wisely to stoke creativity, may substantially improve your writing in the long run and reduce burnout and resistance at the same time.
The conventional wisdom, from Stephen King and other giants of the craft, is that you should write every day to maintain the habit and keep up the creative flow. That certainly works for many writers.
But for us mere mortals to whom the Muse bestows her gifts more sparingly, I believe in dedicating one day a week away from the manuscript to brainstorm and research without the dreaded writing quota bringing up resistance that hurts innovative thinking. It allows me to hear the Muse whispering new ideas without the thunder of the negative critic’s voice getting in the way.
Taking one day a week to get some distance from my manuscript allows the previous week’s creative efforts to consolidate and gives my brain a chance to percolate pattern recognition processes so that new ideas emerge. But not working on the manuscript doesn’t mean that I’m not using my time productively. Or as an excuse for writer’s block. I simply substitute another structured process to jump start my brain.
How it works: On Saturday night, I write down the main topics — writing related or anything else — that might benefit from brainstorming. Then each Sunday, I put the manuscript away and devote a significant part of the day to brainstorming to prime my mental pump for the upcoming week’s writing schedule.
The brainstorming process: I wake up at my regular time on Sunday, get appropriately caffeinated, then review the previous night’s list, prioritizing each item by relevance and importance. I then start brainstorming the highest priority items by mind mapping on my iPad Pro using the Procreate app.
The more ideas generated the better, even if they lead nowhere. You never know which bunny trail leads to true innovation. Twenty ideas are better than ten because once you get past the easy and automatic responses, you have to mine deeply for new alternatives. Fifty ideas are better than twenty. When you start sweating blood, that’s where the vein of gold is. Each node on the mind map may lead to the creation of more mind maps.
Once my mind mapping runs its course for the day (I can tell when I feel fatigued and new ideas aren’t arising), I exercise or go for a long walk to let my mind work in the background as the day’s brainstorming is processed in the background. I always keep a digital recorder with me to keep track of additional ideas. Obviously a smart phone with a recording app works too, but I find it too cumbersome to open up the phone, the app, and then dictate a short note. But I do know that if the idea isn’t captured immediately, it probably won’t be there by the time I get home.
The final phase is to take the best of the ideas and create a new note for each in the Evernote app where I expand the concept in written form. This note making phase is my opportunity to flesh out the concepts in more detail. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software to speed up the process. I use tags within Evernote to organize the notes. Usually the tags are more helpful in searching for an item rather than looking into the notebook categories themselves. Optimizing Evernote is a huge topic and I’d recommend Udemy courses or something similar to pick up the basics.
If I have extra time, I’ll look at my recent Kindle highlights and notes and work with them in the same way. And the same with basic research - for the current manuscript or a future one. I take the most important items and craft a note that expands on the idea and how I might use it. Some people use Scrivener for the same approach. I like Evernote because all the information is available on all my devices no matter whether they are ios or Windows based.
I try to finish no later than noon, so that I can rest up for the next day by doing something utterly different. (I love to create digital art in the afternoons to rest my brain.)
Do I ever break the rule and work on the manuscript in the afternoon? Of course, if I’m really excited about a new idea that came up in the brainstorming process. But I never force myself to. Sundays are for creative growth and subconscious cognitive processing based on the hard work I do in the morning.
Bottom line: the once a week brainstorming day is an effective way to improve your manuscript by not writing. Although that sounds counterintuitive, it really works because it generates innovative ideas you might otherwise have missed. Your readers will thank you.