Want to be a Productive Writer? Do NOT Write Every Day

You want to be a skilled, productive writer, but you’re tired. Exhausted. Bone-weary.

You’ve got bills to pay, errands to run, demanding people to wrangle, a mind that’s about to give out on you, and a million other tasks clamoring for your attention.

You’re tired of hearing writing teachers, fellow writers (including yours truly), and your own inner writing conscience haranguing you about your failure to write enough.

The disembodied voices keep telling you that you have to:

  • Come up with a rigorous writing system and STICK to it. Forever.
  • Publish something on your Medium/Wordpress/Blogger account, daily.
  • Oh, and somehow come up with a minimum of 2,000 words EVERY day that ISN’T complete bull.

…Or else you are a bad, bad writer and you will never reach your writing dreams.

But guess what?

Those people are wrong. Or at least, not completely right.

The truth is, you don’t need to write every day.

In fact, you really SHOULDN’T write every day.

What the Jews Knew About Being Productive

The Jewish people are one of the only people groups in the world that takes the concept of rest very, very seriously: Sabbath comes every week, and religious Jews literally. stop. working. For 24 hours, sundown to sundown.

They do it for religious reasons, but studies have shown that taking breaks is good for your health — and productivity.

We’ve lost this concept of the necessity for rest in our 24/7 always-on culture, writers especially.

Writing is a mentally demanding job. And the brain, like the body, needs rest. Writer’s block is often a symptom of lack of rest.

People are not perpetual motion machines. We have biological rhythms, sleep cycles, and weekly rest is part of that.

Writing requires a working mind. Healthy minds require regular rest.

So if you want to be a successful AND HEALTHY writer, schedule weekly rest.

Ideally, do it the same time every week so that you can look forward to it on the bad days. Make it as non-negotiable as you can. Protect your rest time as you protect your writing time.

You Need Time to Fill the Well

You can’t write if you have nothing to write about.

And the best way to find things to write about is through a) life and b) reading.

Which means you need to take time away from your constant writing (output) to experience some life and read some good books (input).

Take a trip, take a walk. Talk to interesting people, read widely (and deeply). Without time to fill up on new ideas, you will run out of useful things to write about. So make time to fill your well.

You Need Time to Study

Filling the well is about generally absorbing interesting ideas and experiences that will knock around in your brain and come out one day in your writing.

Study, however, is all about intentional learning.

You see, writing well is not just about writing, itself.

Writing is a craft, and a craft involves intentional, disciplined work. A good writer doesn’t just do nothing but write all day — he or she also collects good writing to study, examines and edits previously written works, and hones his/her skill.

Learning and improving requires deliberate practice, and deliberate practice requires taking time to look back, to digest, to analyze and observe and see what you did right or wrong so that you can maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Remember: Life is Cyclical — And So is Writing

Just like the seasons cycle from the Spring of planting to the Summer of nurture to the Autumn of harvest and the Winter of rest, so does a writing career and lifestyle go through stages:

  • In the Spring season of writing, you will be sowing seeds (ie, plotting and writing like a madman)
  • In the Summer, you will be nurturing your baby plants (editing/refining, publicizing, sharing your writing)
  • In the Autumn you will be enjoying the fruits of your labor (getting feedback)
  • And in the Winter, well, you rest.

This “cycle of seasons” could happen over the span of a few months, if you’re writing a book, or even just a few days, if you’re writing articles.

There are days or weeks when you will be amazingly productive, and days and weeks when you feel like a Zootopia DMV sloth.

That’s okay. That’s natural.

Personally I have experimented with focusing on different aspects at different points in the year.

This year, I spent 3 months focusing on creative writing (a novel and songs for a musical), the next three months on short stories, the next on business writing, the next on blogging.

This is not a hard and fast rule, though. In the short story month, I also blogged. While I was working on business writing, I was also writing songs, etc. But I FOCUSED on one over the other.

You might choose to do the same, or come up with another rhythm of your own. It’s up to you.

Writing is Not the Ultimate Point of Your Life

If it is, I’m sorry.

Because not only will you not make much of an impact, you won’t even be able to write good stuff.

Writing is communication, which requires other people.

You need to love real-life people to write well. Which means you need to stop writing now and then and go interact with real-life people.

You need to know what they love and what they fear, what they lack and how you can help. Without that, you won’t be able to write properly, anyway.

So take time away from writing to interact with people you love, and people who need your help. You will find your writing grow all the richer for it.

Absence Makes the Heart Fonder

Everyone knows we take our loved ones for granted more often than we should. The same goes for our privileges, like writing.

When you are writing every day, sometimes you forget that “first love” feeling that got you into the business in the first place. You may grow lazy and resentful of the way writing takes up your time.

That’s when you know you need to take a break.

When you take some time to do something else, you may find yourself missing writing. When you come back, you will have a new fondness for the craft.

Remember: Every Writer Writes Differently

The goal of a wise writer is not merely “write a lot,” but to write WELL.

Some writers, like Stephen King, require themselves to write a certain number of words every single day without fail, producing dozens, even hundreds of novels over the course of a career.

Others, like Harper Lee, spend a lifetime writing only one or two books.

But every human needs to take a break at times. Even from good things. Even from writing.

So take breaks. Let your mind rest. Spend time with people you love. Read something for fun or for study.

Remember that there is a season for everything and that includes NOT-writing.

When you let yourself take regular guilt-free breaks, you will have a clearer mind, new ideas, and a fresh perspective.

You will revive the fascination and love for your craft that got you INTO this business in the first place.

You will grow as a writer, upgrade your skills, and maintain a long and satisfying writing career that will create a sense of joy and fulfillment to your life for years to come.


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6 thoughts on “Want to be a Productive Writer? Do NOT Write Every Day”

  1. Excellent ideas. I never thought to rest from writing. And, just the other day I realized I’m connecting less with people. This article came at the right time.

  2. Wow! This is great advice Sarah. Am just getting started and I ‘ve been haunted with this write-everyday stuff. Now I can take it slow knowing that there’s atleast one expert who agrees with me. Thank you.

    1. Hi Fredrick, absolutely! I do recommend writing 6 days a week, but you don’t have to write a lot every single day. There are phases we all go through 🙂 What are you working on?

  3. Thanks, Sarah–I feel so much better now about there being days when I don’t write. I really like your idea about scheduling rest. There will be days when I do have to do other stuff (run errands, pay bills, etc.), but I won’t be forcing myself to write too.

    1. Hi Rachel!
      Yes, learning to schedule rest is one of the keys I learned that helps make life better…but I can’t take credit for the idea, it’s been around since ancient times 🙂

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