Write Every Day is an oft-given and basic piece of writing advice. If you want to be a Real Writer™ you must write every day, no matter your circumstances, no matter your lack of inspiration. Put that butt in that chair and sit there and write. Every day.

Even Jerry Seinfeld agrees, and he’s a huge success. (He has a productivity trick that helped him accomplish this that I use myself because it is quite motivational.)

The problem with Write Every Day as a dictate from on high is that it creates a huge amount of pressure. And, as author Daniel José Older explains, that doesn’t work for everyone.

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

Yes to that. Not everyone is motivated by deadlines and hard goals. For some, writing on your current work/s in progress every day might not be feasible, might not even be what you need to do. Older again:

Every writer has their rhythm. It seems basic, but clearly it must be said: There is no one way. Finding our path through the complex landscape of craft, process, and different versions of success is a deeply personal, often painful journey. It is a very real example of making the road by walking. Mentors and fellow travelers can point you towards new possibilities, challenge you and expand your imagination, but no one can tell you how to manage your writing process. I’ve been writing steadily since 2009 and I’m still figuring mine out. I probably will be for the rest of my life. It’s a growing, organic, frustrating, inspiring, messy adventure, and it’s all mine.

For myself, I find that I can’t always move forward in my work progress every day. Sometimes I need to work out why a scene isn’t gelling or a character isn’t behaving in a way I want in my own head before trying to do so in words. Sometimes I find I really need to get a bit of research out of the way to make the next chapter or scene flow. And sometimes I’m really busy with work projects.

The problem that arises for me is that I can’t not write for too long otherwise I run into trouble. Author Justine Larbalestier is the same:

If I don’t write for a month then I find it very very very difficult to get back into it. And the longer I’m not writing the harder it becomes. My writing muscles atrophy. I need to write—not every day, but at least three times a week—to stay limber.

In his book About Writing, Samuel R. Delany compares writing to an addiction:

“…your mind becomes… addicted to the pleasure of writing. …while the pleasure is there (it’s unique; very real; all writers experience it), the truth is, it isn’t that great. You need lots of it to effect the “addiction” that will keep you at it. Though the practice of writing has the structure of an addiction, it’s a mild one–one remarkably easy to wean yourself away from, even accidentally or through inattention.”

The way I reconcile this with the idea that you don’t have to write on your work in progress every day is that I make it my goal to do one ten minute writing exercise a day. Ten minutes is not a large chunk of time, so even in a busy life I can find the moment to sit down and do it. Even a short exercise keeps my creative brain engaged enough to make it easier to get back to writing on my work in progress when I can. And on those days I do an exercise right before I get to the main writing in order to turn off my horrid little internal editor.

I’ve used several different exercises and prompts over time, but the one I’ve been into lately is The Picture Game. It’s simple: find a picture, get out a notebook or open a blank word processing document, set a timer for 10 minutes, take no more than 30 seconds to take in the picture, write until the timer dings. No stopping to correct spelling or to think, just keep your fingers moving.

I used to play this game with other writer friends and I missed doing so of late, so I created a Google+ community for playing the Picture Game. Every day a new picture goes up (usually before 8am eastern).

The students in my Tuesday and Sunday short story classes are playing this, though they may not share theirs publicly. Any of you are welcome to come by and play and either share what you write or keep it to yourself. Start with today’s picture or scroll back through past posts and find one that inspires you.

Or find different writing exercises that keep you limber but won’t make you feel pressured. Find your level and what works for you and do that!

image credit: photosteve101 on Flickr