This is one rule I can never make up my mind about. It’s pounded into our heads from the moment we become writers, from the moment we even think about becoming writers. Dear goodness, wouldn’t want to break the rule! Wouldn’t want to fail! Can’t be a real writer unless I do everything that the experts say!
I’m exaggerating of course, but that’s how it starts to feel. Like we aren’t allowed to do things any other way.
But I’ll be objective: On one hand, discipline is important. A writer has to learn how to keep writing, without inspiration, in spite of rejection, and through self-doubt. Otherwise the story would never get written. But trying to write every day – 365 each year for 20, 45, 60 years? – is insanity. You’d fail eventually. It would be impossible to survive that long free from burnout.
I’m reading Stephen Koch’s The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop (horrible name, fantabulous book.) In it he quotes Gabriel Marquez:
“One night at college a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka…The first line (of The Metamorphosis) reads, ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…’ When I read that line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.”
We are writers. We are allowed to do anything. As long as it works, as long as it resonates with readers, as long as it allows us to do what we want/need/love to do – we are allowed.
I’ve learned as a writer that sometimes, I’m supposed to be writing, and other times, I’m not. It’s that simple and that difficult. I may want to write, but need to recharge; I may have the block; I may be procrastinating. Or maybe I’m otherwise occupied –consumed with life, work, family, or emotional crisis. It would be possible to write in those times. But that would mean ignoring my other responsibilities, which I already do enough of, thank you-much.
I think most writers know all this stuff. One way or another, they realize there may be times when writing isn’t an option – but there’s still the drive. You still have The Rule.
Which makes me wonder why it’s so important to follow the rules anyway. Maybe it creates a kind of security? There are no guarantees in writing, no sure-fire way of making it. But we want the guarantees anyway. We need to know we can do this. So we look for rules that, if followed, promise to bring us success.
And in failing to follow the rules, we have an excuse for why we aren’t a Rich&Renowned Author yet. Of course we aren’t rich and renowned. We broke the rules! Again, that’s a hyperbole, but you get the point. We (or maybe it’s just me) start looking for permission to do things. If I have permission, I feel, I will have success.
Stephen Koch made me wonder if writing every day is really about establishing a habit, so that when you need the discipline, it’s there. You don’t need to write every day if you already have the judgment and discipline to do without.