How to become a better writer… by not writing

You must write every day. And you must write x number of words every day. This is excellent advice if your writing goal is to write every day and produce x number of words every day. And, by golly, if you follow this method you will indeed write every day and accumulate the required number of words.

But will it make you a better writer? That’s the implication of nonsense like this; if you force yourself to write every single day and write the above mentioned x number of words, you will become a great writer.

Maybe it works for some people. Perhaps all this writing and all those words magically accumulate to bestow expert writing ability upon the adherent. Some might find the discipline helpful and productive. But for others, no amount of days or words will help. They will be just as crappy at the end as they were at the beginning. Crappier even.

I can see how such a simplistic solution to the incredibly difficult and diverse journey to writing competence appeals to new writers. Literacy, imagination, technique, innate talent and intelligence are devalued or not required. Achieve greatness by simply scribbling every day and hauling in all those words.

Perhaps I’m merely jealous. When I started writing, advice came in the form of books I couldn’t afford or sharp, insightful responses from sympathetic editors. I didn’t have the internet or thousands of writers to instantly call upon when I didn’t know how to spell a word, needed a suggestion for a character name or the million and one other insignificant elements of the trade. I had to fend for myself (introduce violins).At the time it was horrible, but in hindsight it was the best way to learn.

But, alas, had I known the secret was to write every day and build an enormous stash of words, I could have done it all a lot sooner and by now have overtaken Dickens in fame, ability and word count. But it’s not too late, I hear you cry. Greatness is still possible with a daily diet of time and a side dish of ink.

But no. I refuse. My yearning for writing immortality is outweighed by my indifference. My contrariness exceeds my conformity. My… well, you get the picture. In other words, I’m lazy and prefer my own writing routine.

I write when I feel like it. Sometimes I don’t write for weeks. Sometimes I write twice a week. Sometimes I even get the urge to write every day. Of course, when this happens I lie down until the feeling passes. I refuse to write every day on principle. No hollow, fast-track to fame and success for me!

Sometimes – I love over-using that word, mainly because it annoys so many people – I spend a writing session staring into space thinking about everything except what I am writing. On occasion, I perform a very long writing session and end up with fewer words than when I started. In both instances, those sessions were incredibly rewarding. I solved editing problems and subconsciously resolved pressing issues in my stories. Not writing actually improved my writing.

My ultimate ambition is to produce a book without writing at all, so that I can counter the write every day rubbish with ‘never write anything, especially words.’

Until then I shall continue to write every year – I am, if nothing else, disciplined – and try to conserve as many of the planet’s word resources as possible.