Committing Author Blasphemy

The second you say ‘I’m writing a book’ a well-meaning person (or jackass selling a course) will pop up to tell you, “You’re not a real author unless you write every day.”

“Oh no, if you take a day off your word count will start dropping. Whatever you do, write every day. Even if it’s all rubbish you throw away later you must write, write, WRITE!”

I got my start doing NaNoWriMo wanting to see if I could knock out a full novel. NaNo is a challenge where authors try to write 50K words in November, often having to barricade themselves in the bathroom during Thanksgiving to hit their daily word goal.

From that boom and bust mentality, I emerged slightly singed and holding my first novel.

But is that healthy?

How will you get out of the hole unless you write every day?

All the writing advice, the trite quotes in curly script decorating journals, and books on how to book claim it is. That you can only be a true author if you write every day, at least 2K words, without stop.

Twenty published books later I declare that to be bullshit…at least for everyone.

Writing advice is like underwear. You can try on other people’s for fun, but—in the end—you’re going to thrive in what fits you best.

Maybe you are the type who has to write every day. Maybe there’s a tiny demon living under your desk that must be fed words or it will devour your heart. Great for you (I mean, aside from the demon curse. Might want to get that looked at).

When I began, I wrote only for the months of NaNo (November, then Camp in April and July). I would push myself to write every day. Even if I was sick. Even if my head ached from yet another damn migraine, I would glue my ass to the chair and hammer out the words.

But as I shifted from three to four and five novels every year, exhaustion set in. I found myself loathing the very idea of writing. My brain didn’t have the downtime it needed to plan out scenes. I’d find myself writing worthless circles until I got to the meat of the story. It made every session feel more pointless and increased my exhaustion and hate of writing.

I realized I was on the Highway to Burnoutsville.

Writing advice is like underwear. You can try on other people’s for fun, but—in the end—you’re going to thrive in what fits you best.

There’s another phrase that gets tossed around at the self-pub and small press authors that’s also doing serious damage—rapid release. It’s a common thought that in order to overpower the Amazon algorithm you MUST put out a book a month.

Twelve books a month with twelve different covers, twelve different blurbs, twelve different plots, and twelve different couples. Then do it all again the next year because the algorithm is a fickle beast that will destroy you in a heartbeat.

You stop being an author and become a machine that spits out words. If you don’t hit your 50K this month then you’ll fall behind. You’ll have to do 75K words to make it up. Except, then you lose another day, your body exhausted or mind cracking, and you’re even further in the hole. How will you get out unless you write every day more and more and more…?

Is it any wonder that prolific authors are falling into a burnout hole? This isn’t something a person will escape with a few weeks off. Burnout can destroy your drive for years, maybe even decades. It takes away that spark that was needed to hammer through plot holes, to delve beyond the surface of a character, to write a piece of their soul into the book. Once it’s gone, that spark may never light again.

I decided to do the most radical thing a Millennial could — I gave myself the weekends off. Maybe not the entire two days. I am still as trapped in the hustle culture mentality as the rest of my peers. But for one day I decided I wouldn’t write at all and use that time for other things. (All that’s required for book promotion would take another five articles).

What happened once I let myself take breaks? Did I completely fall off the wagon? Abandon my books to forage alone on my desolate hard drive? Become a lazy troll that hid in the dark and refused to type a single word ever again?

In my daring to break the author’s aphorism, I discovered that…I wrote even more words the following Monday. I gave my brain time to think, let the plot breathe, and was able to listen to the characters. With the grind mentality there just wasn’t time for any of that. The plot and characters couldn’t figure themselves out when I needed to be putting their actions to print that very second.

Once it’s gone, that spark may never light again.

We are a broken generation, trained from kindergarten that we’re lazy for needing a break. We’re not machines. You can’t put a quarter into a writer and have them spit out ten thousand words—though corporate wishes it worked that way. If you need a break, take it!

If you have a rare beautiful afternoon and would rather spend it in your garden, go smell those roses!

If you discovered an awesome chocolate cake recipe and just have to bake it this very second, break out the beaters!

Because, guess what, your manuscript will be waiting for you once you’re relaxed, refreshed, and ready to take on the world.

I propose we change that tired, dangerous writing advice. Forget writing every day.

A real author writes when they need to

2 thoughts on “Committing Author Blasphemy”

  1. Can I hear an AMEN?!? Yes, this. I often have to take time off, because otherwise writing becomes just another chore I have to check off my to-do list. And then it stops being fun. Since I’ve realized I’ll never get rich from my writing, at least I have to still enjoy doing it. Otherwise there’s no reason to keep on doing it. Thanks for validating my choice!

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  2. I love this! And it is so true. Burnout is real and too many authors feel pressured to perform but one has to maintain boundaries for one’s mental and physical health.

    Liked by 1 person

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