The idea that you have to write every day in order to be considered a writer is axiomatic at this point. I can’t say who came up with this dogma to begin with, but it was further popularized by Stephen King in his most excellent book, “On Writing.” If you haven’t read this yet, you should! The book has a plethora of tips and tons of inspiration for how to go about this crazy business of trying to be a writer. If you want to produce a lot content and make money with your writing, Stephen King isn’t a bad role model, and I certainly wouldn’t condemn any of his advice.
So then let’s get serious: to be considered a legitimate writer, do you really need to write every day? I’d give it a resounding…maybe. Hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing every single day. If you are already riding that ever-so-coveted train of paid, full-time writers that are actually making a living with wordsmithing, then you may need to write constantly just to keep your agent satisfied and your table filled with food. If that truly is your only job and sole source of income, then it makes sense to spend eight hours a day pounding the keys. But let’s be realistic, too: if you’re still holding down a day job, daily writing is actually quite hard. Writing big heaps of prose for hours on end might be totally unrealistic for your lifestyle, and that shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing your publishing dreams.
That being said, there are still some compelling reasons for trying to write something every day. However, I’d argue that the answer lies beyond just producing content. Most importantly, I think it has to do with habit. Humans have a penchant for procrastination, and if you’re working with zero means of accountability, it’s far too easy to put off writing until tomorrow…and tomorrow, and all the other morrows after it. With no habit and no schedule, taking days off from writing might leave you totally stalled. There are some relevant behavioral underpinnings to explore here, but Pavlov with his dogs and Skinner with his box will have to wait for another discussion.
With these concerns in mind, my answer to the question is just slightly adjusted: you should engage with your writing every day. What does engage mean? Well, anything from writing 50 pages in a feverish sprint of exuberance, to simply opening up your document and reading the last sentence you wrote. Do something, anything, to fulfill this daily commitment. Embedding this routine somewhere into your schedule is an essential move for busy professionals who are still committed to forging a writing persona in their spare time.
In my opinion, developing this habit is more crucial then forcing original content. When there just isn’t time in your schedule for lengthy daily writing, it’s easy to fall prey to incipient procrastination. This is why making a commitment to connecting with your novel each day is so important. Then, on those days when you do have time to put some serious work into your writing, it’s not like you’re on some awkward blind date. You already know your work in progress. You’ve checked its pulse every day. You know where it stands, and where it needs to go from there. Like a slowly incubating egg, you’ve kept it warm and alive, ready for the next stage.
And, once you’ve developed the daily habit of engaging your book, you may suddenly find it easier to carve out bigger bits of time for writing. You’ve already committed to sitting down and at least opening up your document, so you may as well do a little work on it, right? Then magically, one day you may find that your eggs have hatched, and that novel is finally finished, even though you weren’t “writing” on a daily basis.