“You fail only if you stop writing.” —Ray Bradbury
I’ve always known I was a good writer. Teachers complimented me on my writing and encouraged my creativity. A high school teacher once commented “Ever considered becoming a writer?” on one of my last essays senior year. My mom proofread my essays and papers throughout grade school and high school, pointing out every mistake; at the time, each red pen mark pricked me, but now I realize that I must have been a good writer even then, because the details she picked out were small.
With this praise came pressure: pressure to…write.
I knew that the one piece of writing advice that nearly all authors agree on is very simple: You must write every day.
You must write every day. It’s as simple as that—15 minutes when you wake up, or a page, or whatever you can spew out in a preordained number of minutes. But you see, that’s a must. I must write every day to be a writer.
What if I don’t write every day? Does that make me not a writer?
In high school, I mostly stopped writing creatively. Then in college, as I weaved in and out of the required writing classes, I tried to force myself to be a “writer.”
I tried. The summer between freshman and sophomore year, I tried to write every day, anticipating a fiction writing class in the fall. I tried to write at least a page or so, preferably in the morning. I tried to make myself write stories or short stories or even poetry. I tried to continue this habit into the fall semester, forcing myself to scrawl some nonsense on a notebook page from my bottom bunk before I even put in my contacts.
I felt like a failure. Not in the sense that anyone was expecting me to be a writer, but that I was trying to set an impossible standard for myself. College life isn’t exactly known for its set-in-stone routine, and writing every day just wasn’t working for me. For three more years, I struggled with the question “Am I a writer?” and often concluded, no, I was not. I graduated college optimistic about my career in editing, especially as it meant that I didn’t have to worry about trying to write daily.
I’d given up on the idea.
And then something strange happened.
I was supposed to be working on editing tens of thousands of words for a freelance book editing project. I didn’t want to, so naturally, I procrastinated. But interestingly, I procrastinated by…writing.
I had been writing blog posts once or twice a week on a volunteer basis the whole summer, but in August, I started writing more and more. I finally started writing book reviews. I wrote blog posts. I wrote articles to submit to online publications. I even dreamed up a pitch for a twice-monthly career advice column with my college newspaper.
And then I wrote every day for the entire month of September.
It was an accident, I swear.
It happened because I was having fun. I liked publishing stuff on my blog, somewhere where I had complete control over every aspect of it—style preferences, headline, cover image. But I also liked publishing an article with The Financial Diet and tapping into a bigger audience; I liked publishing a column with The Sower to give advice to students.
It happened because for some reason, writing for blogs and such didn’t feel like “real” writing to me. I didn’t feel like writing that sort of stuff made me a writer; it made me a marketer, a blogger, etc., but not a “writer.” And that allowed me to take the pressure off myself and enjoy writing.
That’s not to say that there’s a different pressure I put on myself to write book reviews and blogs and articles. That’s a very real—but distinct—pressure from feeling like I’m a failure for not writing creatively every day. By allowing myself to write stuff about books or my career or the blog I run for an elementary school, I allow myself to just write instead of worrying about being a “writer.”
It’s not like I wrote thousands of words each day. Some days I wrote a measly 68 words; one day, I wrote 2289. But I kept track of my words, and I did it every day. I didn’t set a time or a word count, but focused on the essence: take some time every day to practice the process of writing, whatever that looks like.
Of course, this streak quickly dissolved as I got serious about that editing project and then traveled in Europe for a few weeks. I went weeks without writing; I enjoyed my freelance projects, and I enjoyed letting myself just read on vacation instead of working or even writing blog posts. Even though I knew I could be writing every day, I didn’t get down on myself. Instead of feeling bad for “failing” by not writing, I remembered how good it felt to write. I also remembered how good it felt to take time off and not write.
Even now that I have the time again to write every day, I’m not putting pressure on myself to do it. I look forward to challenging myself to writing every day again, but for now, I’m focusing on other things that matter. I can still be a writer and have other priorities in my life; it doesn’t have to be my main focus every day of every month. I can still be a writer and not write every day—and not be a failure.