Some writers say you should write every day, set aside some time to write something whether it’s in a journal or crafting a poem or working on the latest chapter of your novel. Some use this mantra as a way to gently encourage vigilance in writing. Others believe that if you miss a day, it’s akin to pigging out on chocolate cake while you’re on a diet.
For a long time, I had a hard time buying into this conventional wisdom of regularly writing. I’m one of those people that walks to the beat of my own drum and feel that writing should be something that comes out when you’re inspired. I would read about writers who say you should write anything, even if it comes out as gibberish, and then go back and clean it up later. Ironically, I preferred to let the words take form into a nice shape before I put them in a word document, and the reason I say ironic is that, if you ever saw the disarray in my home, you’d wonder why I wanted to be so “clean” with my writing.
My first few books were completed with no real schedule in mind. Things were a little chaotic as I transitioned from having a publisher, which focused more on e-books than paperbacks, to self-publishing. In fact, during that transition, my first book published first as a self-published book was the second installment in the A Cure For Hunger trilogy, which I held off on publishing until I had the rights to publish the paperback and e-book for the first book. Ironically, I was finished with the third installment by then, so I published that book one month after the second book came out.
My shift toward structure started when I decided to write the Zachary Gagewood Mysteries. Besides the trilogy, this was going to be my first attempt to write a series, so I knew I wanted to be consistent. I didn’t want someone waiting six months for one book to be waiting two years for the next one, so I set a goal of turning the book around in nine months.
When I started writing the fourth book in my mystery series, When Beef Jerky Met Cherries Jubilee, it seemed like an easy goal to reach. However, about two months into the project, I received an inspiration to finish up another book I’d been working with off and on and fell full throttle into finishing what would become Bittersweet in the Shadows.
Once I finished, I was less than three months away from the due date for Beef Jerky. I still had six chapters to write, not to mention rewrites and edits, with time running out. Even worse, it had been so long since I’d written a word for that novel that I wasn’t sure where to go. It took a couple of days for me to reread the first few chapters and determine the path I’d laid out, but once that happened, I knew I needed to hit the ground running and do some major writing if I still planned to come out on time.
I set benchmarks for myself—three chapters a month, meaning I had 10 days per chapter. I set a goal of about 1,000 words a day, even though most of my chapters hover around 5,000. I met my goals and finished up with a month remaining for editing and rewriting.
Once Beef Jerky was in print, I knew I needed to continue to keep writing constantly and not let myself fall behind like I did. When I started the fifth mystery, Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles, I set benchmarks of two chapters a month with 500 words a day. It allowed me to maintain a level of writing but allowed me slight breaks in between if I kept up with the daily goals. I not only met those goals, but occasional waves of creative inspiration caused me to write three chapters in one of the months, and I had so much time left for rewrites and edits that I got the book out a month ahead of schedule—an eight-month turnaround instead of nine.
I’ve set similar goals for the sixth mystery, the one I am currently working on. I’m meeting those goals, as well, although I’ve had a couple periods where I didn’t write 500 words per day for 10 days straight, and therefore needed all 15 or 16 days to finish writing a chapter. Still, it’s good to maintain the discipline, and I’m hoping to continue.
I’m not to the point where I would recommend that every aspiring writer force themselves to write every day. After all, many of them are like me, where a day job still pays most of the bills. If I was able to write books all day, every day, I might feel differently. Still, having goals and working to meet them step by step is a good thing to strive for. Obviously, it took more than a dozen books for me to evolve into this philosophy. If this works for you, I say go for it, but if not, find your own path to being a successful writer.