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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The One Thing Writers Must Do Every Day — It’s Not What You Think

Do you think writers must write every day? We don’t.

Daily writing is a must for some writers; freedom to not write every day is a must for others.

Do you think writers must read every day? Reading is essential for writers, but it is not a daily requirement. The same is true with daily walks, daydreaming, mastering grammar and punctuation, and a host of useful practices.

The only thing writers absolutely must do every day is breathe. But that’s not what I was referring to in the title.

There are a multitude of ways to write. Just because something works for Stephen King or your cousin Steve doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for you.

No one knows better than you what works best for you — as long as you do your research. This means trying different methods, observing what works for you now (this will change over time), adapting and practicing your own best writing practices. 

The bit about observing what works is essential. You may choose not to write every day, but you must track your writing every day. Even the days you don’t write. Especially the days you don’t write.

Track your writing progress, aka observe what works, is the one thing I recommend writers do every day. Without daily tracking, it’s far too easy to fall into…

Unrecognized Resistance

Maybe you don’t put pen to page or fingers on the keyboard because you’re in a stage of the creative process where “writing” means extensive research or mind-mapping. Maybe you don’t write because you’re taking a creative restoration break.

Maybe you don’t write for a day or two because you’re freaked out about something you wrote three days ago. Or because someone just complimented your writing and suggested you take the next big leap. Or…

It doesn’t really matter why. If you don’t write for a day or two AND you don’t track what you’re doing with your writing habits (aka, Process, Product Time and Self-care) for those days — because why bother to record “zero minutes planned, zero minutes done” — two days can stretch into three or four. Since you’re still not tracking — because why start recording zero minutes now?– you start to get hazy about how long it’s been. You slowly sink into quicksand and don’t even notice.

The only way you can ensure you won’t get to the end of the week (or month, or longer) and suddenly realize the quicksand is up to your waist (or your neck, or higher) is to track what happens with your writing habits every day. Even on the days when you don’t do anything. Especially on the days you don’t do anything.

If you write “zero minutes” in the spot for Product Time in whatever tracking system you use (more about this coming soon) on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday and Thursday, you can’t really be surprised when Sunday rolls around and you haven’t put in the five 15-minute sessions you intended.

I’m not telling you to do this to make you feel guilty; I’m telling you to do this so you will know what’s going on. If you notice when resistance is pushing you away, you are in a position to push back. You give yourself the awareness you need to do what you really want to do.

Track Every Day

I track every day and I track throughout the day. I write down what I did right after I complete a session. So if I spend an hour writing and posting a blog, I record “1 hour blog” as Product Time. If I spend 45 minutes reading while I’m on the treadmill at the Y, I record “45 minutes research” for Product Time and “45 minutes exercise” for Self-Care as soon as I get back to my office.

At the end of the day, I think about what I’ve accomplished and what I need to focus on the next day. After years of consistently practicing Process and Self-Care and checking-in each week with the students in my Loft classes, these are deeply ingrained habits.

Even though the neural pathways for my writing habits are well myelinated and pretty much self-sustaining, I still track my Product Time.

If you want sustainable writing habits, you need to track what you do every day. Read more Tricks of Tracking in upcoming posts and/or learn more in my Creative Process classes at the Loft Literary Center. (I typically teach one class in the fall at the Loft, so you might want to get on their email list. After all, I’m just one of a multitude of talented and dedicated Teaching Artists offering classes at the Loft.)

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4 Comments on “The One Thing Writers Must Do Every Day — It’s Not What You Think”

  1. karmatakola November 23, 2019 at 1:12 pm #

    Thank you

    I am feeling a lot of resistance to getting started to write. But I will try to pay more attention as to why or what I am feeling when I resist.. As of now my only real writing happens on my phone laying prone in bed. That is a habit I like to break but it is the only way I write.
    What should I do ?


    • rosannebane November 25, 2019 at 2:42 pm #

      Hello Karmatoakola,
      It is easier to modify an existing habit than to build one from scratch, so instead of trying to eliminate writing on your phone in bed, make very minor adjustments over time. You might start by writing on your phone while sitting on your bed, or if that seems to be too big a change, start by writing on your phone laying prone for a few minutes, then shift to sitting while continuing to write whatever you started while prone. Do this for a few weeks until it feels natural to write while sitting up. Then, start writing on your phone while sitting on your bed for a few minutes before shifting to writing on a tablet or laptop or with a pad and pen (whichever seems easier to you) while sitting on your bed. Alternatively, you could shift from writing on your phone while sitting on your bed to sitting in a chair in your bedroom while writing on your phone. After a few weeks, you could move the chair to another room.
      The key is to start with what is already habitual for you and make easy, minor shifts that gradually bring your current habit closer and closer to where you want to be. Don’t worry if it takes weeks or months to make the small shifts — it’s better to take time to achieve what you want than to rush to failure.
      Also, use an app to track how many minutes you show up for “writing time” every day. Don’t worry if there are a lot of zero minute entries. The point is not to score huge numbers of minutes; the point is to take a moment every day to think about your writing. Entering “zero minutes today” is an accomplishment; showing up for zero minutes and not noticing is where you’re moving from.
      Please let me know what small shifts work for you and if you have questions along the way.


  2. kperrymn October 17, 2019 at 9:24 am #

    Thanks for this, Rosanne. I am pretty good at tracking my time using the three habits. I’d like to go a bit deeper and track the kinds of things that lead to my resistance. Is it missing targets, for example? Writing “tough stuff?” Feeling isolated? One goal for this week–go back to my copy of “Around the Writer’s Block” to refresh my memory and see what I may be overlooking.


    • rosannebane October 25, 2019 at 10:14 am #

      Great idea Katy! Let me know what you discover – I’m eternally curious. This could be a great guest post – just sayin’


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