I see two major schools of thought about writing when not on deadline, and I mostly see them dichotomized.

The first is that one must write every day, just plant butt in chair and get words done, get them out. Polish later, but write every day, no matter what. The discipline will mean you produce more and more easily and improve.

The second is to write when you feel like it, and to forgive yourself when you’re not up for it for months on end. I’ve seen it mostly as a reaction to the first one, particularly from the chronically ill. A friend with arthritis goes through periods when writing is physically horribly painful; a friend with depression feels blank and flat and hates everything they force themselves to produce.

And the first is more popular generally, but the existence of the second is incredibly important: especially with mental illness, it’s imperative to acknowledge that sometimes one’s ability will not be the same as a well person, and to not beat oneself up about it.

The dichotomy of the two schools of thought kind of bothers me, in large part because the idea of not writing for months on end makes me feel kind of panicky. I write almost every day, even if it’s just a little, and I write for work, and I write for school. I don’t have a set word count or time. I just leave a story or two that I’m working on open in tabs (I usually only have five or six tabs open). If I have a thought, I’ll go noodle in the document. Progress gets made eventually.

So writing daily – or at least having a constant reminder that I could be writing – is important to me. But not putting a minimum requirement on it is also important. I’m a full time student and paying my own living expenses. During midterms I had an hour-long breakdown over soup one day. I don’t need the stress of a self-imposed writing requirement on top of that.

For me the starting point had to be that it’s okay to try and fail. I can try to write every day, or try to write five thousand words a week: I can set any goal I want, but if I don’t make it, it’s okay. I haven’t failed as a person, I’m not doomed as a writer for my lack of discipline. It’s okay.

I think we have too few messages that it’s okay to fail. So the second school of thought, the idea of forgiving yourself and taking care of your needs first, is desperately important. But it’s not a terrible thing to also go to the first school, and set goals. We just need to be able to get off each other’s – and our own – cases when we don’t meet those goals. Because it’s okay.

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