To Write or Not To Write

Often writers hear, “You should write every day.” Good advice…maybe. Writing is an out pouring of creativity. If a writer writers every day, when can the “creative well” be replenished? Are there times when a writer shouldn’t write?


Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests going a week without reading: no books, no newspapers, no backs of cereal boxes, no emails, nothing that involves mentally or physically forming words out of the letters on the paper or monitors. This (along with her other suggestions) is supposed to stimulate your creativity.

I tried to go without reading a few times. I never made it through an entire week. But, if not being able to read for a week supposedly improves creativity, what might be accomplished if the writer couldn’t write for a week—or longer?

If you can’t write, you wouldn’t be able to put that idea that popped into your head just a minute ago onto paper. (No cheating and recording your ideas.) The idea is going to keep running around in your head as you try to remember it. Maybe you get a phone call, and when the call ends you try to remember exactly what the original idea was. Will you remember it exactly? If it’s changed a little, is that bad? Maybe the new idea sounds better. Maybe you now decide that wasn’t such a great idea, but it’s led you in a new direction.

I have no scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure if I were told I couldn’t write anything down (or get the idea down in any concrete way) for a predetermined amount of time, I’d be really frustrated. Say I restricted myself to a week without any writing. What would my reaction be at the end of that week?

I think I would grab the nearest piece of paper or rush to the computer and start writing or typing anything I could remember that I thought was a great idea or that I figured I needed to change in the ms I was working on. I’d want to get down any and all plotting ideas that I’d played with in my head.

Actually, I’ve never had to go a week without working on any writing, however, I have been forced to spend long lengths of time away from working on specific stories. It’s frustrating. I have a short story I started back in November. I did a lot of work on it for a while, but for two months I haven’t been able to go back to the story. And yes, I’m frustrated, but I’ve also discovered, not being able to work on the story has forced me to think of a different direction I could take the story that might strengthen it. A new twist. I think when I finally can get back to the story, I’m going to be happier with the results. In this case, not writing may be good.

Have any of you tried to go for a length of time without doing any writing? If so, how do you feel it effected you?

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13 Responses to To Write or Not To Write

  1. There have been spoon many times when I’ve been pulled away from a project I was so ready to tackle. You’re right though. I think the – absence makes the heart grow stronger – principle would apply here. Being away from a manuscript forces us to think about it, calmly and collectively, and get back to it with a new and different angle.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I know, even though I haven’t had a chance to work on this short story, I’ve been thinking about it every day. I guess the Absence makes the heart grow stronger is a good analogy.

  2. Sorry. Not spoon, I meant sooooo. Darned old smartphone anyway. 😉

  3. True, being told you can’t do something makes you want to do it all that much more. When I worked full-time, I looked forward to the time I could set aside for writing. Now I take it for granted.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who experienced that. When I retired from KCC I thought I’d have lots of time to get oodles of books written. Didn’t happen/hasn’t happened. I seem to produce best under a deadline.

  4. Melissa Keir says:

    I’ve not tried to go without writing because even commenting on my friend’s posts are reading and writing. 🙂 I suppose there must be a program for those like me who can’t go without…. Author’s Anonymous??

    • Maris Soule says:

      Well, I certainly haven’t gone without writing in some form or another. It’s like the reading. A week doesn’t sound long until the second day.

  5. Diane Burton says:

    I couldn’t go a day without reading or writing (if only FB posts or answering email). Because I’m trying to finish a book, I’m writing every day. But when it’s done, I won’t write for a few days and play catch up on everything I’ve let go. I think a writer needs to do what works for her.

    • Maris Soule says:

      What I’d like, Diane, is to go off for a week and just write. I’m afraid I’m my own worse enemy. I book my days up and then wonder why I don’t have any time.

  6. ann bennett says:

    I can’t imagine going a week without reading. I would not even try. I do think a break from writing is good and a break from reading is good too.
    You do need the time to refill the well. I took a break from blogging. Well I have taken several.
    One thing I noticed is that some people were posting up to two times a day. What I have noticed is that most, not all, stop blogging. I can see the same thing with writing a story happening.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Ann, as I said, I always failed when I tried to do that week without reading. As for a week without writing, I think I’d have to be on a deserted island for that to happen (and even then I’d probably be scratching out ideas in the sand). However, I do find breaks from my “creative” writing help me think of ways to improve the story rather than just putting words on paper.

  7. I have been pulled away from fiction projects when life gets in the way, and I agree that it often helps me look at the story in a new way. But in general, being able to write every day sustains continuity, especially in longer work. I appreciate the reality check of people who no longer work the day job. I imagine I’ll write all day every day when I retire, but I can see that may not be realistic. : )

    • Maris Soule says:

      Catherine, I was so excited when I retired. I was sure I would now have gobs of time to write. What I didn’t count on was having my husband retire at the same time and suddenly having him wanting to do things (together) when I had hoped to be writing. We’ve compromised, but my output isn’t anything close to what I’d hoped to achieve.