[Transcript]

[Candice] You’re listening to But Is It Write? A podcast where we discuss, debunk and debate common writing advice.

[Maggie] There’s a lot of writing advice out there. But is it right?

[Maggie] Hey everyone, I’m Maggie Derrick and I’m here with my co-host Candice Lee. Candice is a full-time author, part-time procrastinator, relentless optimist, writer coach and karaoke star.

[Candice] And my co-host Maggie is an award-winning Wattpad Star, bisexual artist, young eldritch horror and dog friend.

[Maggie] Today’s topic is the piece of advice “Write Every Day.” That you have to write every single day if you’re going to be any kind of success, if you’re going to complete a project, whatever the case may be. We’ve all heard it, maybe we subscribe to it, maybe we don’t. We’re here to talk about it. But before we get into that, let’s just kind of start because this is our first episode and we need to welcome you and everyone to the very first episode of But Is It Write?

[Candice] First of all, I have to give a shout out to Maggie for coming up with the title. So punny.

[Maggie] I’m just really glad it worked out, because we were bantering back and forth and it was like “We’re so bad at coming up with names, but I’ve got this idea, but is it really bad? Is it dumb?” And I was like, “I’m just going to throw it out there and see what she says.”

[Candice] It’s perfect.

[Maggie] I just love the— I love it all. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much but I’m pretty proud of us.

[Candice] I’m proud of us, too. I don’t think people have enough patting on the backs for themselves, you know? A lot of us get really down in ourselves. I think we have to give ourselves some more credit.

[Maggie] I think we need to celebrate our individual victories, the things that make us feel good, and if that is coming up with a really punny title for a brand-new podcast then so be it.

[Candice] I agree. Okay, so, we should talk about why we started this podcast just for a couple seconds. Basically, because we are bombarded with advice from well-meaning people every single day and as writers it can get a little frustrating.

[Maggie] Yeah, if you spend any amount of time either with other writers or engaging in writing communities online, then— You see it all the time on Twitter. Twitter is the best for it. People are constantly sharing their best practices, their advice, things that writing instructors have told them throughout the years, whatever the case may be. And it always creates some pretty interesting conversation, some of it good, some of it bad. So we figured this is a really good opportunity to really break it down. Candice and I are both writers, we’ve been doing this for a while to different levels of— I was going to say, different levels of success but that’s not really true.

[Candice] You have so much success.

[Maggie] We’re both successful, we’re just successful in ways that other people would, perhaps, be like “schmuh?”

[Candice] I love how we have two completely different paths for our writing career and both are completely valid. And amazing.

[Maggie] Yeah, that’s right, dangit. I have to remember that I’m going to mind my language. Dangit is what I’m going to say.

[Candice] Thank you for the reminder because I might drop some F-bombs without meaning to.

[Maggie] We are professionals, this is a professional podcast.

[Candice] Is it though? Is it? We’ll try.

[Maggie] We’ll see. We’ll see where this all net out.

[Candice] Because, Maggie, I have known you a long time and I know this might be a struggle.

[Maggie] We’ve known each other longer than we haven’t known each other.

[Candice] I was literally doing the math on my calculator just a couple minutes ago.

[Maggie] *laughs* Your calculator?

[Candice] Yes, I did the calculations because I can’t do subtraction in my head.

[Maggie] That’s okay, neither can I. I’m not a numbers person. That’s why we’re writers.

[Candice] I’m a writer!

[Maggie] *laughs* Ohhhh… sad. That’s all right, this skillset has gotten us further in life than numbers ever would.

[Candice] I think so. Although, I am a fan of analytics and spreadsheets, not gonna lie. I can’t do arithmetic but the other stuff is pretty cool.

[Maggie] At least you have a valuable life skill. I’ve got nothing.

[Candice] Hey now.

[Maggie[ I’’m very good at petting dogs.

[Candice] Your skills are beyond compare.

[Maggie] I’m domestically challenged.

[Candice] Okay, if anybody hasn’t checked out— if you haven’t checked out Maggie’s Twitter you need to do it right now because girl is talented. It’s not fair that somebody should be a good writer and an amazing artist. But that’s you.

[Maggie] Thank you, that’s very kind of you, such a nice thing to say. I mean, it’s not feeding my family but it’s getting the job done. It’s fine.

[Candice] Does it feed your ego at least?

[Maggie] It does, thank you.

[Candice] That’s all we need.

[Maggie] That’s all that matters. Ohhh heck. Okay, well, let’s do this thing, let’s talk about the advice of “you need to write every day to be a writer.” But is it right?

[Candice] So that’s the thing. Is that piece of advice actually right? I have many, many thoughts on this.

[Maggie] I think everyone’s got a lot of thoughts on this because it’s one of those pieces of advice that seems straightforward and maybe even simple in theory. Words: Of course, it’s a thing I love to do. We’re talking about sitting down to put words on the screen. It shouldn’t be that hard.

[Candice] And a lot of, when you talk about, you know, I’m a writer, it’s my job or my career, I want to make this my career… When you have a job you get up and you go to your job every day. So shouldn’t you write every day?

[Maggie] It creates this expectation, that— exactly, if you’re comparing it to your day job, that you go do every day, well heck, if this is what you’re getting paid for, you want to get paid for it, why wouldn’t you do the thing every single day? And so theoretically it kinda makes sense.

[Candice] I wouldn’t say it doesn’t make sense. It has some valid things.

[Maggie] And I think this is probably going to be the case across the board with every episode. With some people that advice probably does work. There are probably plenty of writers out there for whom, magically, they don’t have a problem with sitting down every single day making words happen. And to those people I say good for you. That is impressive. What the heck.

[Candice] Please tell me your secret.

[Maggie] Because here’s the thing: outside of writing fiction and writing, for Wattpad or whatever else—My whole day job is writing. I’m a content writer professionally and I can tell you even in my day job I struggle to write words every day. And it means that I have to kind of spice things up a little and so sometimes instead of writing new content I spend time revising or thinking.

[Candice] Thinking is a lot of work. It’s real work.

[Maggie] You talk for a second, I’m going to look something up. I forget what it’s called. You tell us what you think.

[Candice] I have many thoughts. So, I am a full-time writer which means I should get up every day, go to my desk, write the words and then finish the work day and then go off and do whatever. But of course that’s not what happens. I feel like there’s a fine line between making it a writing habit and waiting for the muse to strike.

[Maggie] That’s a really good point.

[Candice] Both of those are on extreme ends of the spectrum and I feel like, yes, it’s easier if you write every day. I have found that the longer I do a writing streak, the more days in a row that I’ve written, it’s so much easier the next day, and the next day. It’s just a breeze. I don’t have to struggle. The words come. But then something will derail me and I won’t be able to write for days, a week, more sometimes. And then I get back into it and it is such a struggle. It’s like— Ugh, it’s the worst. I hate it. Writing the first sentence after you haven’t written for a week or two is impossible. It’s real hard.

[Maggie] Well, and I think, that’s the thing with any habits, right? If you’re getting into exercising, the beginning is always hard.

[Candice] Oh, how do I know this. I started working out recently and it sucks. Do you know how much it sucks to work out? A lot.

[Maggie] Trying to get back into writing, it’s like, it hurts a lot. No, not writing— well yeah, writing too. Every time I get back into running I’m like, I ran half marathons, what is this so hard? But that’s just— that’s it. That’s a thing people need to remember, that writing, like any other habit, is something that takes time to form. And yes, writing every day helps. Writing every day creates that habit. But I think what happens, when people put that kind of pressure on themselves they start to— what am I looking for here…

[Candice] They get down on themselves.

[Maggie] Yeah. And so suddenly on those days where the creativity’s not coming, you’re just finding it’s a struggle, people start to feel really bad about themselves and start to feel like “I’m not a real writer because I can’t make this happen or because real life got in the way and prevented me from doing the thing” and suddenly people start to feel bad about themselves. And that creates a snowball effect. I’ve known so many writers who were just like, “I haven’t written in two weeks, I don’t know if I’ll ever write again, I’m a terrible person.” Where is this coming from? But it’s coming from that echo chamber of other writers. And you’ll see the occasional person be like, “it’s not hard, I can do it, why can’t you?”

[Candice] I gotta tell you, it’s hard.

[Maggie] I went through this phase of being like, you know, if all you ever did was write 500 words a day you could— within a year you could have a first draft. And that is not untrue. Do the math. You could absolutely have— more than, I think, a first draft if you wrote 500 words a day. And you sit back and think, okay, 500 words a day, that’s not a big deal. I can do that. But— I was doing that for, I think, a month and they say a month is a good amount of time to create a habit.

[Candice] I think they say— some people say 21 days and some people say six weeks to eight weeks, but something around there. Close enough.

[Maggie] And yet the moment I fell off, in the end I almost felt worse about myself. Because I was like— 500 hundred words? I couldn’t manage 500 words? What the hell? I couldn’t manage 500 words. And then I was really kicking myself because I thought, that was the bare minimum and I couldn’t pull that off. But here’s the thing: life happens.

[Candice] It does.

[Maggie] And so I think we can create this vicious cycle of that hustle culture, needing to do something every single day.

[Candice] We need to have an episode on hustle culture because I have thoughts. And I am pretty much one of those workaholic perfectionists and the hustle concept just— I rage. So that’s a topic for another day.

[Maggie] I guess the advice there that we would be breaking down is just that you need to hustle every day. It’s very similar but I think that’s the other thing too. People forget that writing in general isn’t just the act of putting words on the page. That if you’re creating content with the intention— unless you’re just writing and have no intention of doing anything else with it, there is the thinking that goes into it.

[Candice] So. Much. Thinking.

[Maggie]  If you’re a pantser versus a plotter you’re still spending time thinking about whatever it is you want to write, daydreaming, whatever that phase is that you want to call it. And that is a completely valid part of the process. You can’t just start writing out of nowhere.

[Candice] Somedays I don’t write a word because I’m spending the entire day literally just staring at the words and thinking, okay, it’s not working, what’s wrong with it? And I’ll look at my outline and I’ll shift around some plot points, maybe this goes here, maybe I push that back, or move this forward. And I’m literally spending eight hours a day just staring and thinking and ruminating. And at the end of the day I look at my word count and I see zero and I feel bad about myself. But my brain is exhausted because I’ve done nothing but think all day, which is work.

[Maggie] I think it was this past week actually I was having a panic attack— No, not really, I have actual panic attacks, feels very different than this, but I was panicking because I had outlined this novel that I’m working on. I felt really good about it but of course, as novels are wont to do, you get to a certain point and things deviate a little bit despite your best laid plans. And I was at that point where the ending I had originally plotted out doesn’t make sense any more, and oh heck, I need to come up with a new way to wrap this up. That just completely roadblocked me. I had been on this great roll essentially. I was on a roll and I was feeling really good about it and then I just hit this wall and I was in full blown panic, since, oh my god, what do I do? And I literally got in the car at the end of the workday and I was like, I’m just going to drive and I’m going to think. And usually when I’m in the car I have to be listening to something. I’m very neurotic about that. I usually have a podcast going or a playlist because I just get so bored in the car. And my drive home is not that long. I spent the entire drive just in my own head. By the time I got home, okay, I think I know what I’m doing with this and not all— And I finally found the chart I was looking for. There’s a name for this chart and that’s what I can’t find. It’s in my notes somewhere from when I was in the Writer’s Studio at SFU. It’s a pie chart that I’m sure anyone who has studied creative writing in an academic setting has seen. And it breaks down the process of writing and it’s really really fascinating, because I would say 25% of writing is the actual drafting, That rough draft phase. Perhaps 1/3 of it is determined to be that pre-writing that we’re talking about, the thinking.

[Candice] You know what I could probably do? Because I don’t always just think about things, I’m actually more of a verbal processor. So when I’m stuck I call my mom, and she’s an amazing woman, she’s brilliant and she solves all my problems. And I could probably go into my call history and add up all the hours I’ve spent just talking things out with her and it would be, probably, as many hours as I spend actually writing.

[Maggie] That’s so cute. Oh, your mom. I just sit there and stare and I probably look like I’m glaring because I’ve got resting…

[Candice] Bee-otch?

[Maggie] …witch face. I just glare at everyone who walks by. I’m very tactile so I’ve got sticky notes and scrap paper everywhere where I’m scribbling things down and trying to get things figured out. But that’s all valid, that’s all part of it. And so even if you don’t ever put a word on the page it’s still writing. But I think— I’ve got two thoughts here. I’m just jumping all over the place.

[Candice] Tell me your thoughts.

[Maggie] Two things. One thought: Nanowrimo. Okay, I love Nanowrimo.

[Candice] So do I, you know how much I love Nano.

[Maggie] Well yeah, you’ve been doing it for, since—

[Candice] I started two years after it was created.

[Maggie] And it just celebrated its 20th year. So you’ve been doing this for a heckin’ long time.

[Candice] I have been. Wow

[Maggie] How many times have you won?

[Candice] Not very many. I only— I failed every year. Like, miserably failed, until 2014 when I finally won for the first time. So if I can do it, you can do it. Do not get discouraged.

[Maggie] And I think we need eventually to have an episode about Nanowrimo specifically. But here’s the thing about Nano. I love it because it does help to create this habit. It forces you to sit down and put the words on the page, not self edit as you go. But I think it also, on the flipside, creates this culture of that— you need to write every day if you want to accomplish anything. It makes it seem like, if you do this, if you commit to this challenge and you get it done and have 50,000 words toward a novel by the time it’s all said and done— And it’s great in theory but how many people get to the end of Nanowrimo and then just burn out, you know? I know so many people were like “I need to take a week or two off. I need to just… not.” And that comes— I segued delightfully into my next point which is that burnout is a real thing. Self-care and living your life outside of writing is also very valid, not only is it just good for you, period, and you deserve to have time off. But it is also good just for your creative juices. You can’t be pushing all the time, your brain doesn’t work that way.

[Candice] I have so much to say about that. We need to have an episode on that, as well. Because in the summer I was in a huge block, totally blocked, couldn’t— Not even just not writing but I couldn’t even think my way out of the problem in my manuscript. And I kind of realized why. It was because I was getting up every day, sitting down at my computer and staring at the screen. And then I’d maybe eat dinner and then watch TV and then go to bed. Every day: Get up. Screen. Go to bed. And I wasn’t experiencing anything, I wasn’t living. For months all I did was just stare at this manuscript. I had no hobbies. Well, I still don’t really have any hobbies. But I wasn’t doing anything except work. And the only thing that saved me is, I went on a vacation and I came back and I had all these experiences. My mind had woken up. And all of a sudden I looked at the manuscript and I was like, oh, that’s how I solve it. Just right there. That’s the fix.

[Maggie] You just needed a break.

[Candice] I needed, not even a break, I needed stimulation. I needed to be having my brain do something, experience something, living life.

[Maggie] And I love that feeling where you step away from the page and you just kind of, you end up discovering something that really makes you feel creatively fulfilled. You’re like, I need to create and make something. And I couldn’t have done this if I just been forcing myself to sit down and do the thing, day in and day out.

[Candice] Exactly.

[Maggie] That makes sense.

[Candice] There is something in the advice because, as I was saying, if you write every day you do build that habit and I firmly believe in forming habits. But getting back to Nanowrimo, there are so many people who don’t win, so many people who fail, they don’t manage to write those 50,000 words. And I see so many people in my community who take part in Nanowrimo and they feel awful about themselves. They feel so bad. They feel like they’re a failure, it makes them feel just the worst. And that’s not what Nano is about. Nano is supposed to be fun, letting loose your creativity, enjoying the process. And if you go into Nano and— or into the process of writing any manuscript and if you make these goals for yourself and you fail to meet them, then you feel bad and it makes you hate yourself, and it makes— you might not want to write because every time you sit down all you remember is all those times I didn’t write and don’t I suck so bad, I’m a horrible person.

[Maggie] It’s so true. It’s like clockwork, you can see it coming on Twitter every year. There’s the pre-Nano excitement. Everyone’s doing their prep work, I can’t wait, I’m going to do the thing. And then you’ve got those voices on the periphery that are like, Nanowrimo has done me wrong, I’m not going to put myself through that anymore. And those voices get louder and louder as the month goes on and people start to fall behind to the point that they can’t catch up again. And it’s so sad, it breaks my heart every single year to see people being really down themselves because they “failed.” And I’m doing air quotes around “failed.” This ridiculous for fun challenge… I’m going to say to any of you listeners who have ever gone through that, or were thinking about doing Nano in the future and are concerned about it— It’s just an exercise. It’s okay if you miss a day, if you failed miserably, it’s okay. I think the one thing that they say is, this could be writing advice for an entire episode two, is that it’s all— whatever you manage to write, they’re words that you didn’t have in the beginning.

[Candice] Yes, any words are better than zero words.

[Maggie] And we can come back to that, we can have a whole half hour discussion on that too.

[Candice] Nano was supposed to be a goal so you can kind of stretch yourself and get rid of that inner editor and just let your creativity fly. And if it’s harming you and not uplifting you then I say: Don’t. If your goal to write every day only makes you feel bad about yourself, then change the goal.

[Maggie] Yes, I think that is— I think that really brings everything back around. It’s not just Nano. It’s the idea of writing every day. And yeah, if it works for you, if you’re the kind of person who can sit down and write every day, you find that helps to get things done, awesome. Good for you. Do the thing. But if you’re not— and I’m willing to bet that most writers are not the type of people who can write every single day, then that’s okay. I had a class in the Writer’s Studio that really— I remember sitting there, I think it was three hours, and by the time the three hour class wrapped up it all boiled down to: whatever way helps you get words on the page is valid. And I remember being really mad, because I paid to be told that my process is fine as is. Cool. Thanks. But it is true. If writing every day is not the thing that helps you get your project done, then that’s okay. It’s great advice for for people for whom it works. If it doesn’t work for you, you’re not a failure.

[Candice] And the thing is— It is a good piece of advice because if you write every day, you will finish the manuscript eventually. And if you write every day then you will have that habit and it will be easier. So it’s not bad advice. If you follow the advice you’ll reach your goal. But, you know, it’s a challenge to write every day and people want to meet that challenge. You need to stretch yourself. But you also need to be kind to yourself.

[Maggie] If you’re not liking it, if it’s taking the love out of the thing, something’s fundamentally wrong. If it’s going to make you not love writing anymore, then that sucks. It’s a bummer. Don’t do that to yourself. Find another way to get the project done. It doesn’t have to be a little bit every day.

[Candice] I think so many people feel like there’s only one way and if they don’t follow this one way then they’re not a real writer. And the secret is: If you write, you’re writer.

[Maggie] There we go. I think you just touched on the best way to wrap up each episode, is we come back to that question: But is it right? So, Candice I’m going to ask you: Write every day. But is it right?

[Candice] I would say it’s right for some people in that it does make the process a little easier if you follow that advice. But if that advice does not serve you, if that advice causes you to feel bad about yourself, then I say, completely ignore it.

[Maggie] Cool. Well, you know what? I think we just got our first episode in the bag.

[Candice] We did! Woo!

[Maggie] How fun is that? So cool. So for you, lovely listeners, we’re still obviously feeling things out, we’ll get into the groove eventually, but we’re looking at half-hour episodes twice a month?

[Candice] I don’t know, every week or every other week? I don’t know if we’ve decided.

[Maggie] We haven’t figured it out yet. We’ll figure it out eventually. But we do want to invite you to participate and be part of this conversation. We have a Twitter account, it’s @butisitwrite. We would love for you to submit writing advice that you would like us to pick apart.

[Candice] I’m going to spell that out. So, it’s twitter.com/butisitwrite and write is spelled WRITE, hence, the pun.

[Maggie] So, not right as in your right hand but write as in getting the words on the page. But yeah, we’ve got our Gmail as well, butisitright@gmail.com. You can send us your writing advice, whether it’s something that you believe in or something you think is suspect, anything that you would like us to discuss on this podcast, send it our way, we will make it happen. Because we’re all in this together.

[Candice] We’re all here to support each other.

[Maggie] We need to come up with a fun sign off, which I’m sure will happen organically eventually, but until that happens, I guess, that’s— that’s it. We did it.

[Candice] Yay! Thank you for listening to our first episode.

[Maggie] Thank you and we will talk to you next time.