Write Every Day: Take The Night Off

It's okay to take the night off. Wait, what?

Let me back the truck up.  Okay.  Let's start this from the top:

It's okay to take the night off.

Yup.

Write Every Day

Write Every Day

The purpose of Write Every Day, the reason we work to create the good habit of writing, is not to chain you to your desk.  It's not to punish you for missing a night; it's to create a sense of ownership in your work -- not the story you're writing, the book you're hammering away on, the article you're pouring over -- so that when you take a night off -- yes, when -- it's a conscious decision.

I've read it takes two weeks for a new habit to become ingrained.  Maybe that's true.  For me, the decision to sit down and write every night was the moment the habit began.  I wouldn't care to guess how long it took to take hold, but I'd wager serious money it was a lot longer than two weeks.

This is the long haul you're signing up for.  Writing a novel can be quick or it can be slow, but if you're serious about writing as a thing you do, you're not signing up for one book.  One short story.  One . . . whatever.

You're saying, "I'm a writer, and a writer writes."

That's the trick.  That's the secret.  You can have the most creative mind on the entire planet.  You can spin yarns that make the rest of us rock back on our heels in awe.  You can call down the thunder and make the angels weep, but if you don't tell that amazing story . . . well, you're not a writer, are you?

I don't write to be read.  I don't.  I write because this is the medium which functions best for me for storytelling.  But once the story is "told" it wants an audience.  And let me tell you, once you've put something out there and seen that people are enjoying it, you're going to want to do it more.

Because it feels good.

Not the good reviews (though those are nice) and not the sense that you've created something new which connected with people (though that's about a thousand times nicer), but the sense of having conceived your story and seen it through to its logical (or illogical, depending on the types of stories you're telling) completion.

And, for clarity: sitting down to write every day is absolutely valid even if your story is terrible.  It's almost more valid; because the only way you're going to get any good at this is by doing it.

A lot.

Over and over and over again.

And over again.

In a word: write.  Write write write write write.

Write.

Do it.  Own it.  Make it as much a part of you as breathing or eating or (one hopes) bathing.

That's why I say it's cool to take the night off.  If you own that night off -- a night with your husband or wife on the couch, a night watching your kid in the school play, even a night curled up with a good book or doing absolutely nothing at all -- then it's all good.  It's part of the habit of writing.

And something else: taking a night off does not make you  a failure.  Breaking the chain of writing nights (sorry, I keep writing "night" because that's when I do most of my writing.  If you're an early riser, go for it: the "day" part of "Write Every Day" could be translated more loosely into, "write at least once in every twenty-four hour period") does not put you back at square one.

It's a night off.  A day off.  It's cool.  Everyone needs to recharge their batteries, after all.  Everyone has busy days and sick days and days where it all seems to be going the wrong way no matter how hard you try to get it going right.

Take the night off.

Relax.

Write tomorrow.

But tell yourself that by consciously choosing not to write that night -- whatever your reason -- you're continuing the good habit of writing expressly by taking note when you don't write.

It must sound counter-intuitive.  But believe me when I tell you that moment where you look at your laptop and decide you've earned a night off, that's a satisfying moment.

Yes.

Because in that moment you'll realize the habit of writing has become ingrained.  Your default wasn't "watch television" or "see what's new on X-Box Live".  It was writing.  And you had to make a conscious, thoughtful decision to not write because that's what happens when we break from a habit.

Your decision to take a night off means it's working.

It also means you won't come to resent writing as a thing keeping you from doing, you know, other things.  Seeing your family.  Exercising.  Eating right.  Even playing that new video-game release.

Think of the person who falls into the habit of picking up "a snack" on the way home from work.  Maybe they go to the same place every day.  Maybe they have a routine -- McDonald's on Monday, Dunkin Donuts on Tuesday, Starbucks on Wednesday.  For that person, the habit of having a post-work, pre-dinner snack becomes ingrained.  If they skip it, their body tells them they've skipped something.  Where's that donut?  Where's that frappuccino?

Writing should be like that for you.  If you're serious about it, a night off will feel . . . weird.  The next day you'll be walking around trying to remember what you wrote the night before; you'll have to remind yourself you took the night off.  And that'll energize you for writing that night.  Because you'll be hungry to get back to your story, your characters, the little world you're making.

So take the night off from time to time.

If it's hard to do, that's how you know it's working.