Do I Need to Be Writing All the Time?
It was a crazy year. I had just started Inkling Creative Strategies and was doing the leg work to get everything off the ground. I was also still working another job as a copywriter and dealing with some ongoing issues in my personal life.
I knew I was doing good work. I saw what Inkling was capable of becoming. But the downside was that I wasn’t really writing anything. Really, the last time I’d written something I was excited about was a young adult novel I finished in 2016, which ended up not being very good and I eventually lost interest in it.
I don’t feel like a real writer,” I told my counselor. “I’m helping other people write, but I’m not doing any work myself. I’m a hypocrite.”
“You’re not a hypocrite,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I am. I have no routine. I’m sleeping too much. I’m working on everyone’s creative stuff except my own. I don’t understand why I just can’t be like Flannery O’Connor—she was up every morning for church, then came home and wrote for three hours, like clockwork. Why can’t I be that productive?”
My counselor was silent for a long minute. He pursed his lips.
“Kori,” he said quietly. “She had to have that schedule. She was dying.”
Our culture worships the cult of productivity. Churning out books is seen as a sign of success. Winning NaNoWriMo after weeks of cranking out thousands of words a day is celebrated as an achievement. Perfectly curated Instagram posts of people writing and drinking coffee get dozens of likes.
I’m not saying these are bad things, but we constantly send an unhealthy message that if you aren’t always being productive, you’re a failure. Therefore, creative acts that should be a source of delight become a source of discouragement for people who feel they aren’t “doing enough.”
You rob yourself of the joy that should come with using your gifts.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I went to The Habit writer’s retreat early this month. As part of the program for the weekend, author Helena Sorensen appeared as the guest at a live recording of The Habit podcast with Jonathan Rogers.
You can (and should—it’s tremendous) hear the full episode here, but here’s a rundown in case you can’t drop everything and listen now.
Sorensen talked about the prevailing narrative that writing is a linear process. You finish one project, you immediately move on to the next one, and so on. You keep up with the demanding marketing schedules and publishing expectations, cranking out one book after another. According to this narrative, this is how you succeed as a writer. This is a lie and it’s not how the natural world functions.
Writers aren’t robots that churn out beautiful work at the drop of a hat. We’re human beings, which means we need to feed other needs besides creativity.
Sorensen was speaking primarily to women and moms in this talk, but this concept applies to everyone. We’re all fed the idea that if we aren’t writing all the time, if we don’t have a project going at every moment, if we aren’t writing every single day, then we aren’t really writers.
I was going through a creative dry spell about ten years ago, just a few years after graduating with my Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing. Three years of nonstop writing, lectures, and collaborations with colleagues finally culminated with my thesis defense and graduation.
But instead of feeling thrilled at all I accomplished, I was just depressed and empty when it ended.
During that time, I reached out to a mentor from college to address my frustrations. His email reply contained a sentence that has continued to haunt me for a decade:
Don’t let it slip, Kori. Please. You’re too talented to let it slip.
When I read that email, I instantly felt guilty.
I was letting it slip.
I was losing my abilities as a writer because I wasn’t writing anything meaningful.
If I didn’t use it, I was going to lose it.
And it would be all my fault.
I talked a couple of weeks ago about being able to silence the voices that haunt us. I understand now that this phrase is one of mine.
My mentor surely did not mean to cause any harm. I know him too well to believe that. Truthfully, he probably thought he was giving me encouragement.
Instead, his words triggered my people-pleasing, perfectionistic flaws, and I was consumed with a sense of failure.
Why do we allow this to happen? Why does creativity—one of the most beautiful attributes of being made in God’s image—have the potential to lead to such shame and guilt?
I think it comes from a few lies creative people are prone to believing:
You have to write every day.
So many writers have tossed out this axiom that many people just take it as a requirement. It honestly does work for some writers—it creates a sense of routine and discipline, which many of them thrive on to do their best work.
But that isn’t the case for everybody. For some, writing every day drains the process of spontaneity and builds an attitude of legalism that has no place in the creation of art.
Writing becomes just another notch in the day’s agenda and it’s a mark of failure if you don’t “show up.”
Don’t get stuck on “writing every day” if that isn’t your thing, or because your life genuinely has too many other amazing things in it—like children or marriage or ministry or a job that provides for your basic needs—to allow for daily writing. There is more than one way to be a writer, and it doesn’t always look like consistent daily writing.
If people aren’t reading your writing, you’re a failure.
If you don’t have a book on Amazon, if you’ve never been published, if you’ve scrapped a project because you think it sucks, if all your writing is stashed away in a secret folder on your computer and you aren’t ready to share it, then I have good news for you.
You are totally fine. And you aren’t alone.
I wrote a blog post last year about how to write about traumatic or difficult events and mentioned that I have a stack of prayer journals that I’ve been keeping for twelve years.
Those journals are the most important thing I will ever write. And no one will ever see them.
Yes, some forms of writing take on a special meaning when they are shared with an audience. But while that’s the end game for some writers, it might not be where you’re at right now.
I have to write something that will be commercially successful.
One of the reasons Inkling Creative Strategies focuses primarily on independent authors is because the indie publishing sphere has opened up so many spaces for writers whose work doesn’t neatly fit into a box.
We live in an exciting era where it is possible for artists of all kinds to make their work available to the public without needing gatekeepers to make it happen.
Let me say this loud and clear:
If you do not have an agent or a publishing contract or a nationally-released book from a major publisher . . .
. . . if you choose to use Amazon or Lulu or another indie publishing service instead of working with an established publishing house . . .
. . . if you keep sending out your work only to be rejected over and over . . .
. . . your work still matters.
This is a hill I’ll die on. It’s why I’m committed to helping writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers.
I had a former colleague message me once and say, “Why did you self-publish your thesis? You were SO talented. Why didn’t you hold out for the big leagues? Why did you settle?”
When you choose to publish your work yourself, you aren’t “settling.” You’re putting a stake in the ground and saying, “I Believe in What I Create.”
Write what you want to write, because you are passionate about it, because you find it delightful. Someone out there will be delighted, too.
So right now, you’re probably thinking, “Gee Kori, this all sounds really nice, but how do I apply it?”
I’m so glad you asked.
If you’ve got questions about your project, your writing life, or specific aspects of craft, I invite you to book a totally free Zoom call with me to talk about it.
I like to call it a Virtual Meetup. Because isn’t that what writers do? Meet up and sometimes drink coffee or tea?
If this sounds good to you—and considering how much many writing consultants charge for something like this, I bet it does—let’s get you scheduled in.
Here’s a link to my personal calendar. My actual personal calendar, not something that looks like it that a virtual assistant manages.
Click the link, pick a time that works for you, and let’s talk.
Did I mention it’s free?
Also, if nothing on my schedule fits your availability, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can work something out!