Writers, we need to stop saying this


Usually I limit myself to one writing-related post per month.

But something has been irritating the living hell out of me for years, and the more time that passes, the angrier I get.

So, lest I morph into some female version of The Incredible Hulk, I’ll expel that rage here, as a semi-productive rant. Because if I can stop just one person from saying this, it will be fury well spent.

Ready to hear the most destructive thing writers say to each other? Here it is…

“Writers write.”

Seems simple. How on earth could anyone feel like a sack of mucus drowned by pond scum after hearing those two words? Let me explain.

From the time we pick up our crayons and scrawl a story rather than a picture, we identify with the word writer. It’s not just what we do–for many of us, it becomes who we are. And if you’re a writer, you’re probably also by turns highly sensitive, insecure, and self-loathing.

So you’re a writer. It’s not just what you do; it’s who you are. And then you read a blog post, or some “How to Write Kewl Stuff” book, or perhaps an ill-thought Tweet.

“Writers write.”

And it makes you feel like absolute crap.

Because sometimes writers don’t write.

Because depression.

Crippling anxiety.

Writers’ block (yes, it exists).

Demanding day jobs.

Family responsibilities.

Death of a loved one.

Physical illness.

Or maybe their world hasn’t crashed in on them. Maybe they’ve just lost their mojo for a while, or need a break. It happens, but it seems not enough people are saying it happens, since this myth that a real writer never takes time off continues to exist.

If nothing has ever stopped you from writing, you’re very, very lucky. You’re also a rarity.

In the past month alone, I’ve heard two successful, well-known writers admit that they quit writing for a while. For a time they suffered in silence, too ashamed to tell anyone. One even burst into tears while she was talking about it.

You know what writers feel like when they’re not writing?

Guilty. Incredibly guilty.


They don’t need anyone to come by and kick them while they’re lying there, writhing in the seventh circle of hell, telling them, “Oh, remember those ten books and multiple short stories you wrote? Well, sorry, you stopped writing for a year so none of that counts. You’re no longer a writer.”

Writing isn’t some professional accreditation that has to be renewed every year in order to exist (and personally, I think that’s a bullshit practice too).

As far as we know, Harper Lee wrote two books in eighty-nine years. Does this mean she wasn’t a writer for most of her lifetime? Give me a break.

The next time you’re about to repeat that handy adage, please give some thought to your fellow writers, who may be struggling or suffering in a multitude of ways. Like most things, this oft-repeated line benefits from some gentle editing.

Writers write whenever they can.

Oh, and if it takes you a year or two or three (or channeling Ms. Lee, several decades) to write 50,000 words instead of a single month? Hold your head up high. Only you get to decide what constitutes a win in your own career.

Thanks for listening. I’ll return to scaring the crap out of you next week.

What piece of advice (writing or otherwise) drives you nuts? Have you ever stopped writing for a time? What got you going again (assuming you are writing again, but if not, that’s cool too)?

PS: For more popular writing posts, check out Writing with Ghosts in Transylvania or You Can Grieve But You Can’t Live There: What Kickboxing Taught Me About Writing.

NOTE: You can disagree with me and state your opinions, but abusive comments that insult anyone, including the other commenters, will be removed. Let’s keep it civil, please.


    • JH

      Thanks, Alex. But hey, should something happen so you couldn’t practice everyday, that wouldn’t make you any less of a musician. Writing is the only creative endeavour I know of where you have to do it all the time to be considered part of the group.

      This assumption can be so destructive.

      • Sumlin

        Maybe my family is unique but I get it with all my creative my creative endeavours. I have really bad anxiety and go through periods where I don’t feel like I’m good enough to show anyone anything. Eventually leading to nit being good enough to touch a word document, my marimba, camera, or vocal books. Which in turn kills me. Those are how I tell the stories inside. Constantly I’ll hear “I keep telling Sum she should be a writer, she used to write such great stories.” My mom. “Sumlin used to be a singer.” My dad. “I really wish you’d become a photographer, that is why we sent you to college.” Both of them. It cuts every time. It feels like not only a guilt trip for not persevering and completing those tasks but a backwards insult on all my previous accomplishments. As if they weren’t good enough to qualify me as a writer, musician, or artist. These statements are what replay as I turn to my keyboard, mallets, camera, or books. They serve as barriers further cutting me off. It’s killing me.

        • JH

          I’m so sorry to hear of your struggles, Sumlin. It sounds like you’re extremely talented, and that can definitely put a lot of pressure on you, especially if your family is expecting you to live up to their expectations.

          I know it’s hard, but try your best to shut out their voices in favour of your own. Creative work takes as long as it takes, and your wellbeing is more important. <3


    • K.M. Shapiro

      Binge writer – I have never heard of a more perfect term that describes me. I go long periods of time without writing, then suddenly get back into it and don’t stop until weeks later. I have yet to publish my novel because of this, but eventually I’ll get there.

    • Alex, nice to hear someone else describe themselves as a binge writer.

      However, I think there’s a certain level of understanding that no action verb is intended to be held as a constant. If you *never* write, then it doesn’t matter how much you think about it or want to, you’re no more a writer than I am a martial artist or a television producer (I’d love to be both). Every profession or hobby involves eating and sleeping and personal time breaks. So, yes, I agree we shouldn’t all feel a need to push ourselves or others to hit ____ word count per day or ____ quota to qualify. But if you’re going to claim an occupation, you should be occupied with it, whether constantly or sporadically.

      • JH

        My point was, writers already put enough pressure on themselves. They don’t need to hear they should be writing from other writers. If a writer isn’t creating, they already feel guilty about it.

        No need or benefit to making them feel worse.

        • I suspect that varies greatly depending on the writer. I get your point, but there’s a lot of peril in trying to make others the guardians of our feelings. Yes, think before speaking, but also think as you read. Are you reading more into the words than they actually say? Is that purely the writer’s fault or does the reader take some responsibility for interpretation?

        • Art Car Heather

          There are actually many activities that also count as writing. For example, reading is a huge part of developing your craft as a writer. Long walks in nature or through a museum as writing is much more of a visual medium than what we think. Laying on your back noodling over the universe or playing with your cat is actually part of writing. Your creative well needs to be filled. You need to be able to find the brain space that allows for writing and that other brain space for editing also needs to be accessed. However, you can let all the steam out of an idea or image by over talking it too soon, defining it too soon, expecting it to be perfect ever. Writing is a long game. Buckle up.

  1. The older I get, the more I’m learning to respect my writing process and my creativity, as well as those of others. I am so incredibly tired of beating myself up.

    (Not your usual terrifying post, but scary in its own way. :))

    • JH

      Ironically, it’s often writers who *don’t* write everyday who perpetuate this myth, out of guilt or shame. They feel that writing everyday is what they *should* be doing.

      I’m glad you’ve stopped beating yourself up, Madeline, because I think you’re amazing!

  2. Really great points, Holli! Just reading this post made me feel a heck of a lot better about the work I’ve been able to produce over the past year. It’s exhausting beating myself up over something I can’t control (like full time job).

    So here’s what’s going to happen: I won’t be doing it any more! 🙂

    • JH

      That’s awesome, Crystal! I’m so glad this post made you feel better.

      When I first started my freelance journalism business, I was insanely busy, but the writing I did was all for work. I just didn’t have the time to fit fiction in, or even if I could have found the time, that well was dry.

      I constantly beat myself up over this, and I remember those “Writers write” missives making me feel a million times worse. Even though I was writing, it wasn’t the “right” kind of writing.

      Sometimes day jobs happen. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer.

  3. Honestly, I’ve never had a problem with the “writers write” thing. I just assumed the “but not all the time” bit was implied. Because, ya know, we’re human beings and not word-spewing machines. I’ve always looked at it as a buzzy little soundbite to get attention, but one that still encompassed a larger sentiment.

    But looking at the way other people lose their shit when the next book in a series isn’t immediately available, the way writers like GRRM, Rothfuss and others are endlessly hounded for doing things other than writing the next goddamn book, I’m guess most other people aren’t seeing the implied edit you’ve added on.

    • JH

      I agree, Ness – I don’t think they are. And if you’re a writer experiencing some sort of crisis (or just need a break – writing may be a passion, but it’s still work), this tossed-about sentiment really hurts.

      You only need to see one writer sobbing to realize that.

      Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting!

  4. Ha Ha J.H. This post of yours is just as scary but in a different way. Just try telling anyone you’re a writer … o say they, yes I’ve always wanted to write. It must be such a nice thing to do – if you’ve got the time (for such an indulgence is the unsaid).

    O well, we take the slings and arrows in our stride … all I know is that every word I write is, most of the time, like trying to get blood out of a stone. Although, when I get down to it, no distractions, it feels a little better! Thanks for the rant – I’m feeling a little better 🙂

    • JH

      I’m glad, Susan. I was really hoping I would make someone feel better with this post, and the fact that it’s you makes me happy.

      If more people said, “Hey, writers don’t have to write all the time and it’s okay,” it would ease a lot of pressure, especially for the ones who are struggling.

  5. Oddly enough, I didn’t start hearing that little quote until recently when I have been far more active writing (lets not talk about before that – it was a dark time when I felt I couldn’t call myself a writer). But I also went through spells without writing recently because of life. I felt guilty all the same for not working on something, but I would justify to myself that I was working out stuff in my head. It’d get written eventually.

    Still totally not helpful, but it kept me going back to my projects when I could. I hadn’t thought about how destructive those two words were. Thank you for this post.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, J.C. Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting.

      I’m sorry for the struggles you’re going through, but I hope it gives you some comfort to know you’re not alone. Far from it! And there are better days ahead, I promise.

  6. It always annoyed me when people say to write every day or forgo sleep to write. I can’t write when I’m tired, so that second bit of advice always made me feel guilty. Whenever it comes to writing advice, I tell people to figure out what works best for them.

    • JH

      Exactly! And if everyone just admitted, “Hey, that sentiment makes me feel like sh*t, which actually isn’t productive or inspiring at all,” maybe people would stop throwing it around.

  7. This past summer I didn’t write for nearly 4 months. Drove me crazy, but knew I had to get through the other worldly stuff to make life move forward. Most don’t understand the angst it causes us writers. But we do write again, when we can, otherwise we wouldn’t be writers.

    • JH

      Exactly, Dean. Sorry to hear about your dry spell, but I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t gone through one. It happens all the time – we just don’t talk about it.

      Why are there all these lofty proclamations about what a writer is? If you love to write and you’ve done it at some point, you’re a writer IMO.

      Thanks so much for the haikus – not sure if you saw my note.

  8. Whew, thanks for letting me off the hook. It is crippling to feel the pressure, not produce, then get asked about it. Barf. The other question I hate is, “Are you still writing?” What? You think it just stops being something you do? Would I stop playing the piano? No. Not even if I broke my fingers. I’d find a way to make music. I’d find a way to write/tell stories no matter what. (but not all the time)

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Mary. Take it easy on yourself.

      I hate that question too. I also get asked, “Are you still kickboxing?”

      What, can’t you tell by my stellar physique? 😉

  9. YES!
    I’ll add one additional point. THINKING is necessary for writing, as is dreaming, daydreaming, pondering, wandering, listening and reading. The more I write and the better I get at it, the more aware I become of the total process and that includes a lot of time that’s not, exactly, writing.

    • JH

      I agree, Candy. So true.

      I just wanted to let writers know that even if they aren’t doing the things you described above, they’re still writers. It’s okay.

      But you’re totally correct. There’s a lot more to writing than putting words on a page.

      Welcome to my blog, and thanks so much for commenting!

  10. Life is a harsh mistress. It demands. We adapt.

    Farmers let their fields go fallow because even dirt needs a rest. How much more do our minds, our imaginations.

    But there is more to writing than merely pounding the keyboard.

    While we are not writing, authors are soaking up the world around them, noticing how people arrange themselves in a party say —

    or how a ballerina gets out of a car as opposed to the rest of us ungraceful folks.

    We research fields interesting to us with no thought of a possible book but just because we are curious. Writers are curious people.

    I have let my muse go fallow these past weeks, but I have taken time to focus on marketing — the “eating your vegetables” of the writer’s world.

    Now, I am starting three books — Mark Twain often did this — when the writing stalls on one book, he wrote on another he was co-currently working on.

    In fact, one of those 3 books has Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla involved in the Martian War of the Worlds. I am smiling now as I write Twain’s dialogue.

    The ghost of Ernest Hemingway often says on my blog,”Writers write; dreamers dream.” Don’t listen to the old grouch — the ghost of Mark Twain doesn’t. 🙂

    • JH

      I believe Hemingway had a few problems of his own in life. I’m sure he went through dry spells, so please kindly tell his ghost to STFU. 😉

      Thanks for your wonderful response, Roland, as always. Now I’m wondering what ballerinas look like when they get out of a car….

      Good luck with your three books! Take care of yourself.

    • Aloha. What a wonderful post this is. And I love that, marketing is the ‘eating your vegetables’ part of writing. LOL. Well said. It surely is. I love vegetables. Aloha Meg 🙂

  11. Exactly. One of the worst things that seem to emerge from the darkness of our souls once we have achieved a small measure of cred is the need for establishing hierarchy among our peers through such august comments. Those little nasty “suggestions” that bristle with passive aggressive energy that do nothing for the intended target or for the polishing of the ego of whomever flung it out there. We all do what we do through varying degrees of angst, self-delusion, sustained focus in the face of reality and compulsion. We’re lucky our medium is just words. Anything else and we’d make huge, supporating messes everywhere we went. Yes, I just wanted to use that one in a sentence. So sue me.

    • JH

      Ha! Thanks so much for your comment, Richard, and welcome to my blog.

      You can use whatever words you like here, any time.

      So true. Nasty suggestions that bristle with passive-aggressive energy, indeed.

  12. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month, and I’m having a surreal experience that is super productive — a really odd thing for me. Yet I know that come December, I will need a little break, and I’ll take it.

    I’m revising a novel I first drafted in 2012…shortly after the first draft, I got pulled into a nasty lawsuit by a neighbor. It lasted two years, and some weeks we had to review 1,000 pages or more of documents. I didn’t write much during that time. I even took a year off from blogging. I was physically and mentally exhausted.

    For me, “writers write” was simply a way to get past the “Am I a real writer?” question. Often writers will answer that question “No” because they’re not published, or they self-publish, or haven’t hit the bestseller lists…whereas, IMHO, if a writer writes even a little, they’re a writer.

    The problem happens when we take that as meaning we can’t have a day off. I know some writers who write seven days a week. I’m not one of them. For a long time I felt bad because I wasn’t, like I was some kind of poser.

    Too often, I see writers shaming other writers…often not intentionally, but shaming them nonetheless. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Nadine. Thanks so much for commenting, and I’m glad to hear you’re in a productive phase. That’s always so gratifying. When NaNo works, it really works!

      Sometimes writers can’t write, even a little. This post was for them. The lack of writing does not mean they’re not writers. Unless they announce their formal and permanent retirement, they’re a writer in my books, and even then, they’re a retired writer.

  13. Writers do write…it is what we do but…we don’t write all the time. We don’t write every single day, every minute. I can’t write if I’m depressed, sick, or just had a fight with someone. Writers write when they can but we also read, edit, market, and search for inspiration.

  14. I guess I always got a different meaning from “Writers Write.” To me, it never meant that writers write all the time, but that the definition of “writer” is “one who writes” and that it doesn’t matter if you are published or not — if you write, you are a writer. Looking at it that way, it’s more of a reassurance than a challenge.

    • Yes! This was what the saying has been for me–not a condemnation that I might not continue to be a writer if I take a break, but that the fact that I DO write, whenever I can, makes me a writer, regardless of my publishing status. I never saw it as meant to make people feel bad when they have to back off from writing for a time, though it might be making a point to those people who are always saying that they’d like to write a book, if they could ever make time, find the right plot, have exactly the right conditions…

    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, P.T., and thanks for commenting. I fully respect your opinion and get what you’re saying, but for writers who are struggling, “Writers write” isn’t encouraging. Instead, it makes you feel like a failure.

      Not only have I heard this from other writers, I’ve personally experienced it.

  15. Glen Spangler

    Thanks for this!

    I’ve gone for months, sometimes years, without writing, often because I so many ideas come and go so quickly. “Just write” seems like an incomplete thought to me, like “just say.”

    But I also subscribe, in a way, to this quote by Kafka: “A non-writing writer is monster courting madness.” Not someone to be purged from the membership rolls, not a child to be scolded, but a soul with an unmet need.

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Glen. That’s a great quote, but referring to writers who are depressed or otherwise in crisis as monsters? Yikes.

      Has Harper Lee been a mad monster for most of her life?

      Again, this is one person – Kafka, but still one person – saying he’d go mad without writing and subscribing that theory to every other writer in the world. I know plenty of writers who have gone years without writing and still managed to be good, albeit guilty, people of sound mind.

  16. Oh yeah, I love to write and can’t always… life happens… but it’s always there, the words, wanting out, or locked in (frustration!) and I like writing above all… Nice post.

    • JH

      Thanks, Shadow. I’m sure you feel guilty and frustrated enough when you’re not writing without us telling you that writers write.

      You’re right, life happens. And – gasp! – some things are more important than writing.

  17. I hate NaNoWriMo in general. The idea that you can write 50k in a month is doable but will it be any good? I know some people hold to the notion of you must write everyday but like you said, life happens. It’s just another way to make writer’s feel like failures.

    • I dislike the “competition” aspect of NaNo. But discovering that you can write more words in a month than you would have believed can also be empowering. Obviously, it’s not for everyone. But for me, ironically, when I write the 50,000 in a month or less, especially if I work from a decent plan, they tend to be better than when I plop out a few at a time at widely scattered intervals. Others may find that the urgency makes them babble on.

      In the backpacking community, we say HYOH–Hike your own hike. Writers need to WYOW–write your own way. Writers, even famous published writers who make real money–write at different speeds and in different ways. Some can put out 5 books a year. Others may take 2 years to polish a single book. Granted, it’s easier to make a living if you are able to do the former, but that’s not always how it goes.

    • JH

      Michelle, I’m with you. I’m now a steadfast NaNo-er, but at first, I hated it. I get a better book if I write faster and consistently instead of taking time off during the process, but it’s tough and not for everyone. And I don’t like that it makes anyone feel like a failure. I would say more writers hate NaNo than find it effective. You are awesome, and you don’t need NaNo to tell you that.

      Rebecca, I wish more people subscribed to WYOW. It’s a wonderful sentiment.

  18. I had written about five chapters of my latest book, when I decided to lay it aside. After a few months, an acquaintance asked if my latest story was finished yet. I picked it back up and started adding characters. Something that simple can inspire me. Thanks for the blog!
    Fran Grubb

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting and welcome to my blog, Fran! I’m really happy that you are newly inspired.

      It proves my point about how powerful an offhand comment can be.

  19. Thanks so much for this post. I just recently returned to my notebooks of fiction ideas that were collecting dust. I can unfortunately relate to at least a few items on your list. Writing was not the only thing effected but it took the greatest hit. There have also been a few rugs pulled out from under me in the past, by people who did not deserve my trust or loyalty.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Julie. I’m so sorry that you’ve been struggling, but I’m glad you did what was best for you and took some time off.

      Congrats with getting back to your writing. I hope you’ve found people deserving of your loyalty. Hugs.

  20. “Writers write” goes along well with “So what have you been writing lately?” I hated getting that question when I wasn’t writing much. I spent about a year and a half not writing much because of chronic pain. Since it’s become more manageable with meds and exercise, I’ve been able to write again. Life gets in the way of the physical act of writing, but it doesn’t make a person any less of a writer.

    • JH

      Bravo, Cherie! I couldn’t agree more.

      I hate those questions too. Or, “How’s the writing going?” I hated having to say, “It’s not.”

      I’m sorry to hear of your struggles with chronic pain, but I’m so happy it’s become more manageable. Writers will always be writers, whether they happen to be able to write at any given time or not.

    • Rhonda

      Hi Cherie, I too am in chronic pain with a disability I’m on the highest dose of morphine and its still not enough, knowing there is someone else trying to write lets me know I’m not alone thanks

  21. Jim

    Wait. What?

    You mean I don’t have to write a thousand words every day without fail? I don’t have to ignore all the other demands on my time and energy?

    But…but I’m a writer. I have to write. By definition. If I don’t, well, I’m just like any other schmuck schlubbing down the street with a menial job and a banal existence, with no real purpose but to displace nitrogen and oxygen, and be a producer of CO2 and methane. I refuse to accept that prosaic, pedestrian, plebian existence.

    I am a worldbuilder, damn it! A god to my creations! They need me! I keep telling them to tell me so. So what if I have not realized my true potential as a global megalomaniac! My writing will eventually conquer all!

    Wait. What was I talking about again?

    Oh yeah…

    Writers Write!…but only when they not trying to take over the world, Pinky.

    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Jim! Great comment. Thanks for the laugh. 🙂

      Writers write…except when they don’t. If you’ve written in the past, you’re still a writer. Just a writer taking some time off. Your creations will wait for you.

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Anna. That means a lot coming from you, the Goddess of Writing Posts. 🙂 Seriously.

      I really need to revise four books, but I can’t focus on them. Why? Because I feel all this pressure to constantly write, making it impossible to keep up with revisions. I’m going to have to do what you’ve been doing…SOON. December?

  22. Hey Holls. You gave me a good smile with this post.
    Yes and yes!
    It’s about the same as hearing “write good songs” as advice for songwriters. Makes you want to say, “actually, I was just about to sit down and write a crappy song. Thanks for this ever-so-helpful tip!”
    Forget capturing a vibe with music. Forget expressing your deepest feelings. It’s more of a ‘if it ain’t a hit, it’s sh*t’ mentality.
    If we follow our creative instincts, when and where they arise, I think we’ll all be much happier. 🙂

    • JH

      I agree, Lisa, and I’m really glad you weighed in on this. I was wondering if other industries get the same lame advice and constant pressure from their peers.

      You just answered my question.

  23. Excellent article, J.H., and I wholeheartedly agree. I would love to write fresh fiction every day and thus churn out several books and short stories a year. Instead, I write when I can in between all the other tasks I do, like working on client projects, spending time with friends and family, getting the car fixed, etc. Days and even weeks can go by that I’m just too busy to focus on writing. For me, I have to get a lot of responsibilities off my plate before I can relax, focus and get into the rhythm of writing inside some fictional world. I go through periods where the muse is just not there. I’ve suffered through long bouts of writer’s blocks, often between completing one book and starting the next, sometimes when I get 2/3s into the book and get stuck. And I feel guilty when I don’t write. My brain gets noisy with voices (book characters’ and my internal critic’s) and a logjam of story ideas I’m itchen to get to. It was nice of you to add clarity to the statement about writers writing. Hearing that silences the internal critic. Thank you. Brian

    • JH

      Thank you so much for this comment, Brian. It means a ton coming from you, because you are, without argument, a Writer. A very successful writer!

      I hope those who struggle can see that everyone goes through this, and they are truly not alone. I’m glad I was able to help silence that inner critic in some small way, because you’re awesome.

      And I’m with you – I find it difficult to focus on writing when I have a ton of client work waiting too.

  24. Tracy S

    Oh, gawd, do I identify with this. You can only go for so long disciplining yourself to spend an hour every evening writing…post-work, post-household necessities, post-emails and such, not researching, not social media-ing, Just Writing…before you can’t do it any more and have to Step Away From It For A While.

    That said, I never have felt less of a writer for when I had to Step Away. Maybe I’m fortunate that way. 🙂

    • JH

      You’re definitely fortunate that way, Tracy. Those two words mostly hurt people who are down on their luck and struggling. Who absolutely *can’t* write for a while, whatever the reason (and it’s usually a reason very much beyond their control).

      I’m glad, though, that you’ve been able to take the breaks you need without feeling guilty. That’s what I wish for all of us.

  25. I always thought that was quite a stupid itty bitty sentence. Of course writer’s write-they don’t paint or craft. Those 2 words can inflict so much angst. i have heard people say Painter’s paint, Crafter’s craft, actors act. Well, Duh! I once did not make any cards for over a year. I went into a slump and then…I started again. If I did it every single day, i would go out of my gourd! Just because we love something doesn’t mean we have to do it 8 hrs per day 7 days a week. The next time someone says Writer’s write, Tell them you know, my hubby just wrote his name in the snow.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Christine. Now you know – you’re not a bad kid. You’re human like the rest of us.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  26. Thank you so much. I hate hearing people say crap like “if you’re not always writing, you’re not a writer”, for exactly the same reasons you mentioned. Oh, you’re suicidal? Well, go write that sad scene you’ve been putting off anyway, whether or not it’ll drive you over the edge! Etc. -_-
    Also, Harper Lee was a great example. You wouldn’t refrain from calling her a writer!

    • JH

      Thanks, Elizabeth. We sound like kindred spirits. I hate that stuff too.

      I’ll never understand why writers spend so much time deciding who belongs in this exclusive “club” of ours. For one, it’s not exclusive, and often the benefits kind of suck.

  27. I never thought the saying implied writers write *all the time*. I think I even used the words once, but it was in relation to a short-story writer getting crap from novelists that she wasn’t a “real writer.”

    And that, I think, is the crux of this issue. “Real writer.” What does that mean, anyway? We seem to be obsessed with it, this sense of validation that we impose on ourselves, and that others impose on us. And in this case, I think “others” here are mostly other writers. I don’t think non-writers would ever say such nonsense like, “Well, you only write short stories, so you’re not really a writer.” (But I could be wrong.)

    While I think the need for validation is just part of being human, I do think the self-loathing and insecure nature of writers just makes that need much more sensitive. We need to start being kinder to ourselves–stop beating ourselves up over tiny little things that don’t matter (like word count obsession — I’m still working on this myself). And even with the bigger things, like being unable to write at all, well be kind to yourself then too. Let yourself take a break if you need a break; let yourself deal with life if that’s what you need to do. You’re still a writer, don’t let anyone (not even yourself) tell you otherwise.

    And, lastly, we need to be kind to each other. Writers need to stop telling other writers whether or not they are “real writers” as if they are an authority on the matter. People are different, writers are different–we need to start embracing that instead of smacking each other down, or pretending we’re better than the next guy.

    I don’t think I’ll ever say/type “writers write” again haha. Consider me learned. Thanks for an illuminating post, J.H. (and sorry for my own lengthy rant).

    • JH

      No worries! Rant away. This post seems to have struck a nerve in people, for whatever reason.

      I’m not understanding why people think “writers write” is on the same vein as “plumbers fix plumbing.” No one would ever use that phrase in this context – it’s too inane. Of course writers write! I’ve only personally seen it in articles that say that if you’re not regularly writing, don’t call yourself a writer. Which of course can be interpreted all sorts of ways, but I’ve seen enough writers feel terrible about it that I thought it was worth a post. 🙂

  28. Thanks for writing this, as I think it’s something that needed to be said. Like others, I think the saying is sometimes meant to be an encouraging reminder that if you write at all, you’re a writer, even if you haven’t been published etc. So many people call themselves “aspiring writers” because they haven’t gotten anything accepted yet (or even had the guts to submit anywhere), or because someone has been dismissive of them on a writing forum because they’re not published.

    But I’ve also seen it used to flog people who are in the midst of a real-life crisis, or who simply need to take a break from writing for a while in order to do other things.

    There are a lot of non-falsifiable tautologies in the writing advice that’s given out on the web: if you’re good enough, you’ll get published; if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to do it; if you’re a real writer, you’ll find or make the time to write, no matter what else is going on; there’s no such thing as luck, just skill and hard work.

    They’re toxic and crazy making, even when they’re intended to be encouraging.

    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Erica, and thanks so much for commenting. I may be in the minority, but I’ve never found that phrase encouraging. If I’m currently writing, it’s inane at best, and if I’m not, it’s discouraging.

      Perhaps a better way to say it is “unpublished writers count” or “if you’re not published, you’re still a writer” or “you are more than your publishing history.” 🙂

  29. I might be one of those writers write people: I usually say it to my students who’re worried they aren’t writers if they haven’t published.

    My motto otherwise is ‘be kind’ : to yourself and others. It is perfectly acceptable to not write for months and years if that’s what the situation is.

    I write when I can and don’t when I can’t: I’ve learned to figure the difference between when I’m suffering and when I’m being lazy.

    I think it’s fine to say ‘writer’s write’ but as with everything else we say, we need to be aware of context: to an unpubbed writer, these words often seem like the best medicine to build confidence. To someone suffering from writer’s block, it is a different matter altogether.

    No writing advice fits all, and it is the same with this one.

    My two cents.

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting Damyanti, and welcome to my blog. Personally, I’ve never found the “writers write” phrase to be encouraging. When I was a student, I would have found it fairly obvious, and as a journalist who was too busy writing articles to focus on fiction, I found it discouraging.

      I like your second motto a lot better, but you’re right, no advice fits all, and that includes this post.

  30. Nicola Miller

    Actually, some professions define you whether you are actively engaged in it or not. A nurse is a nurse by practice and identify. Same with a writer. And post retirement a nurse will still identify as one.

    • JH

      I have a lot of friends who are nurses, including one who is taking a three-year break to travel. Not once has anyone attempted to make her feel guilty about that, or suggested that she should squeeze in some nursing while she’s gallivanting around the world. Or said that she’s less of a nurse or not committed to nursing because she’s taking some time off. No one has told her she’s no longer a nurse, either. She’s a nurse taking a break.

      I’m not understanding why people think “writers write” is in the same vein. No one would ever use that phrase in this context – it’s too inane. Of course writers write! I’ve only personally seen it in articles that say that if you’re not regularly writing, don’t call yourself a writer. Which of course can be interpreted all sorts of ways, but I’ve seen enough writers feel terrible about it that I thought it was worth a post. 🙂

  31. Yes…that’s just a stupid saying. Like musicians and painters, you don’t have to be working at your craft every single day to BE an artist. You just are. I believe writing is a skill you’re born with, then you hone it and perfect it with years of practice. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have periods of time where you just don’t feel inspired or can’t bring yourself to write.

    • JH

      Agreed, Stephanie. I’m not sure why so many people still cling to that inane phrase as the Holy Grail. It hurts so many people, and I’ve never heard anyone say that phrase inspired them to get writing.

      If you’re currently writing, it’s a pointless, “meh” statement, but if you’re not it can be discouraging or guilt inducing. So why use it?

  32. caroline sciriha

    Wow! Thank you! As a child/teenager/young adult I wrote and wrote until something/one convinced me I was just rubbish at it and was wasting my time. I stopped writing, though the stories in my head didn’t go away.
    Now fast forward too many years to count, I’ve had one particular character in my head insist I write her story. Three years down the line, I haven’t stopped homing my craft. Thank you, Jenna. You may never be published but you sure gave me the greatest gift of all.

    • JH

      That’s so sad, Caroline. I hate that someone discouraged you from writing. Why does the world make so many judgments about whether or not someone is fit to call themselves a writer?

      Sadly, it’s usually writers who do it. I hope Jenna can encourage you to write her story. I wish you the best of luck. Please do what makes you happy – life is short.

  33. I was just thinking about those words yesterday. Thanks for this. I didn’t write — or read — for a year while I was battling breast cancer. At one point during chemo, I tried to imagine writing and couldn’t. I was pretty certain I’d never write again.

    Writers are not machines. Creativity is not something you hand operate with a hand-crank. There are situations less dramatic than mine that knock the emotional stuffing out of a writer or which demand so much time that writing has to take a back seat.

    Writers need to live. They need to be whole people. They need to take care of their health and their relationships. To be good writers, writers have to do more than write.

    • JH

      I agree so much, Pamela, and I’m so sorry for your struggles. Congratulations on surviving cancer. That is way more important than your word count.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here. You have renewed my conviction that this post was needed. <3

      To your health! (Screw the writing - it will come when you're ready.)

  34. That’s a rant I can get behind. =) I actually had an 8 year stint where I wrote hardly anything, but it ended. Blissfully. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t daydream and storyboard on a subconscious level.

    • JH

      Thanks, Crystal. I’m sorry to hear of your eight-year stint, but I’m glad you pulled through it. I’ve gone through long periods of not writing fiction as well, mostly because of my writing day job.

      The daydreaming never stops.

  35. I don’t believe in coincidence. A good friend of mine shared this post on FB and I almost cried.

    I have buried five loved ones in the past year, the most recent, my mom just a month ago. I’ve endured two breast biopsies, and have had to walk on eggshells at my day job because of the threat of lay offs. I say “threat” because one never knows for sure if one day you’re going to be called into a meeting and told some people would be laid off but you should go back to your desk and wait for a phone call that will come within the hour to let you know if you were one of them.

    I am an author. I write,.. when I can. I have not been able to focus on any one story in over a year. I have 5 unfinished novels and every time someone, especially someone who has financial support, says to me “You should take this all in stride and if you get laid off, write full time” I feel like ca-ca.

    All of the emotions you listed in your post are emotions I’ve had to deal with in the past 13 months. Sometimes I am so emotionally drained, I don’t even have tears left to shed.

    So, thank you! Thank so very much for saying/writing/posting about all the things writers go through but nobody but writers understand!

    • JH

      Well, that’s fitting, Minnie, because you just made ME cry.

      I’m planning to respond to all these comments later tonight, but I couldn’t let yours wait. My heart goes out to you for everything you’ve gone through.

      I have to admit, I am human, and the few negative comments I’ve received–either from people who don’t get what I’m saying at all, or from a woman who thinks the post itself was negative–brought me down a bit. But if I was able to make you feel better about your situation for just a second, it was more than worth it.

      You are an author *and* a writer. The story will be waiting for you when you are ready. Until then, please take care of yourself. I really hope your job situation straightens out. That worry is the last thing you need. You’ve already been through so much.

      Sending you a ton of virtual hugs and positive thoughts, for what they’re worth. Thanks so much for commenting. <3

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Cindy, and welcome to my blog.

      NaNo is a double-edged sword, to be sure. Some love it and others hate it. If it inspires you to get more words down this month than normal, work it.

      But please don’t let it make you feel bad. I know it’s hard, though. If you get 50K words, NaNo says you’re a “winner.” Not finishing, therefore, means you failed. And if there’s anything writers don’t need, it’s something else that makes them feel like failures.

      Good luck! I’m rooting for you.

  36. Consider me shouting and cheering from the sidelines. lol I loathe that quote, for exactly that reason. Every time I see it, it just makes me feel like crap. Like I’m not good enough. I take my inspiration when it comes, because I do suffer from depression and sometimes, I just don’t have it in me. The words simply are not there and forcing it usually gets me nowhere. So I can either make myself feel awful about it…or just accept it as it is. Which can sometimes mean that 2 weeks go by without much progress on my whatever book I’m writing.

    And then I see this, usually shared as a meme. Sometimes it comes with something along the lines of “real writers don’t wait for inspiration, they get up and go to work.” Then I feel horrible all over again and there goes whatever inspiration I managed to drum up. So I am very glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way about this quote. Thank you so much for saying it!

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Joanne. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. Depression really sucks – I’ve lost a few friends to that horrible disease.

      I can’t stand all these trite sayings that proclaim what a writer is or what a writer does. We’re all different, and most of us go through times where we struggle to write.

      Take care of yourself first. That’s the most important thing. * hugs *

  37. You’re absolutely right, Holli. But let’s be a little more honest about it.

    Writers write is a cliche answer given to people looking for advice on writing. It’s condescending and insulting. Of course, writers write. Fire fighters fight fire but when someone wants to be a fireman no one says “if you want to be a fire fighter, you have to fight fires!”

    A lot of us ask questions about the hows of writing. I don’t think anyone ever asked for writing advice under the assumption that writing would not be part of the answer.

    Telling someone that sometimes what they need to do is sit and write anything because it can ignite the creative spark and is good practice is helpful. “Writers write” is condescending, insulting, and a rather lazy way for people who should be good at communicating to state the obvious.

    • JH

      Agreed, my friend. What kind of stupid advice is that? If I’d said to someone that I wanted to be a writer, and his/her response was “Writers write,” my reply would probably have been, “Um…thanks, but I already knew that part.”

      I’ve yet to hear a writer say, “Wow, I wanted to be a writer for so long, and someone told me ‘writers write,’ and it inspired me to write my first book!”

      But I have heard a lot of writers struggling with various things say it made them feel like crap. As it has made me feel like crap in the past.

  38. Bravo! I stopped writing for nearly a year because the pressure from it and my EDJ got to be too much. I quit the EDJ and still the words didn’t come. So I edited other authors’ work, I read like a mad woman, and I homeschooled my kid. It took a year, maybe longer, but as soon as I said “SCREW IT ALL!” the words came back. 😀

    We seriously need to stop pressuring ourselves to write every day too. It would be nice if we could, but other things happen! And that’s okay. 🙂

    • JH

      Totally agree, Posy. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

      What does EDJ stand for?

      And you make a good point – the internal pressure is already there, so we definitely don’t need it from other writers.

  39. Amber

    Writer’s write is a piece of advice that is actually useful to some, but, as explained in this post, destructive to others.

    But that’s virtually all writing advice or advice in general.


    It’s meant to be, if you’re asking for writing advice, and all you’ve been doing up until now is just talk about writing, and read about writing, and asking advice about writing, and doing everything but writing (like, not even on good days or binge writing, but like not writing period), then the best advice is, if you want to be a writer. You write. Nothing fancy. Nothing special.

    The stress about writing all the time doesn’t come from the advice itself, it comes from other people and our own anxieties behind what it means to be a writer. What that words mean.

    Avoiding saying or using “writers write” isn’t going to fix any sort of pressure you feel that you must write. Or rather, you can still use it and not let it discourage you. It depends solely on the person.

    • JH

      Hi Amber,

      I appreciate your opinion, but I fear you may have misunderstood my post. I never said people took that phrase to mean they had to write constantly. What I said was, it makes writers who *can’t* write at any given time feel bad. And I’ve yet to hear that phrase inspired anyone. If someone really wants to be a writer bad enough, they will write eventually. If someone just loves the idea of it and wants to talk about it and attend conferences, that’s fine too. They’re not hurting anyone. If he/she wants to say “I’m a writer” when they haven’t written anything – meh. Who cares? Again, it doesn’t hurt anyone. (I’ve also never encountered that. I’ve encountered people who’ve written lots but who don’t feel they’re worthy of the title yet.)

      You’re right in that it’s the writers themselves who are letting that phrase make them feel worse. But you could say that about lots of things people “shouldn’t” say – racist remarks, sexist remarks, etc. As advice, “writers write” is inane and doesn’t really say anything about how to be successful or what it truly means to be a writer. As a phrase, it’s hurtful to a lot of people. So I have no problem standing my ground and saying there are better ways to express the sentiment. We’re writers after all!

  40. The piece of advice I can’t stand is “write what you know.” Writing about something is one of the best ways to learn it, and “write what you know” implies you shouldn’t even attempt to write about something until you know all about it. Writing is as much a process of discovery as it is getting words on paper (real or virtual), and you don’t know what you don’t know until you try and write about it. It’s the same principle as learning something by teaching it.

    I stopped writing after my stroke, because I only had the use of one hand, and it wasn’t my dominant one. I started when I realized that’s a crappy excuse for not writing, and started typing with one hand. I think I’m almost as fast as I was with two hands now.

    • JH

      Bravo, John! I love that story. That is so awesome that you trained yourself to write with one hand!

      And you’re right, that’s more bad writing advice. I think perhaps writers should stop giving advice and stick to writing books. As a full-time journalist, I’d never have written a thing if I was confined to writing about what I knew. But I learned something new everyday.

  41. Aloha,

    Thank you SO much for this wonderful blog. I am fried and have been feeling like a BAD writer for not throwing myself into the next one in my series. I have never written every day because it produces nothing. I usually wait for my Muses to turn up and just take dictation from them. But even though they have been hovering, I don’t have the extra time, energy or inclination to get their words down.

    And taking time off has been making me guilty and flaky. How dare I take a break from writing? Right now, I’d be happy to not write for another 6 months. You’ve just given me permission to be a human. Thank you very much.

    I’ve been finding writing hard going lately because it’s just felt like hard work. I’m tired, I need to stand down for a bit.

    So many comments on here resonated with me. 🙂

    Aloha and hugs to everyone 🙂 Meg Amor

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Meg, and welcome to my blog. What a beautiful comment! Glad to “meet” you.

      I’m sorry you’re struggling, but I hope this post has made you feel less guilty. Take care of yourself, and take the time you need. Your muse will return, no worries.


  42. I wish I could write every day! It’d make me feel better if I could, however, I am a mum to three girls who quite often don’t give me quiet space until they’re asleep. Plus I have editing for other people to do, and beta reading too. Whether I’m improving my own text or someone else’s, I am always around books in some sense. I plot when the muse makes me, a pants it for the rest!
    I love the idea of NaNo as a motivation tool, because I’ll probably once again not make the end point. I don’t care though. I participated, I got words down, I stopped to do something else for someone else who needed my help. I am happy.
    What makes me unhappy is being unable to stick to my self-imposed deadlines. That’s when I get sad. I still try to meet them, though!!

    • JH

      Wow, Aria, that’s a lot on your plate. I’m always astounded by parents who manage to accomplish so much – how on earth do you do it? I already feel like I’m juggling swords while riding a unicycle, and I only have cats!

      I think your way of approaching NaNo is very healthy. Good luck with it! I’ll be cheering you on.

      And yeah, deadlines. We wouldn’t be human if they didn’t go whizzing past us now and then.

  43. Sirena

    Very good point. There are times when I don’t write. Last week, I actually brought up the fact that I was struggling to write because I had suffered a loss of confidence in my abilities as a writer.

    • JH

      So sorry to hear, Sirena. I hope you get your confidence back. Maybe focus on something else for a bit that makes you feel good about yourself.

      Writing can be a tough slog.

  44. I’ve never thought of “writing” specifically as putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys. I think writing happens consistently in your head, whenever you think of something poetic or something pertinent to your the manuscript that’s in the wings. I’ve always felt that writing is more of an organic process than a mechanical one–at least for myself. While I may not be writing it down, I’m creating literary content in my head.

    I’m sure there are a lot of things: articles, journal entries, written interviews and the like that Harper Lee wrote after To Kill a Mockingbird released. Even if she never released anything or published anything, it’s likely she did write.

    The thing about the phrase “Writers write.” is that it doesn’t say how often or how much one must write in order to qualify for the title of “writer”. So when should one become offended by the phrase? When should one feel bad? When one doesn’t write every day? Every hour? Writing *constantly* is not what the phrase suggests, though it doesn’t restrict that frequency of creation either. So, it’s left up to the writer to draw their own inference.

    By definition, a writer is one who writes, so the phrase is not incorrect; however, I don’t believe that just because you are on a break, or cannot write every day, that you should feel guilty, and I don’t blame the phrase for making people feel bad. In a way, I believe people who “feel bad” or guilty for not writing every minute/hour/day are manufacturing guilt, because there’s this idea that in order to be effective or “legitimate” a writer must write every day. But again, the phrase doesn’t say, “Writers write every day (minute/hour–insert your own noun). I believe writers who feel put down by the phrase draw their own inference, and decide to become upset because they feel they *must* write at specific intervals in order to qualify as a writer by the phrase’s standards (ones that are assumed but never specifically stated).

    But the idea that writers should write regularly (daily/weekly, etc.) was conceived before the phrase. It comes from a time when people wrote daily, and it comes from writers who did it for a living, and could make it a career without endangering other factors in their lives. And often, they had issues with drinking and substance abuse. We all have our issues that keep us from writing every day, but the phrase doesn’t suggest we are less gifted or able because of it.

    I think we all create standards where none exist, because many people are goal-oriented, and need some cadence of rhythm. What people, writers or not, need to realize is that what works now, may not always. And when a creative wave comes your way, you should ride it as often and as hard as you can, and struggle to keep your head above water.

    Everyone goes through dry spells, but no two writing careers are the same. Everyone writes their own volumes at their own speeds, and people who choose to become upset over a phrase–which in its essence is correct–are digging themselves into a hole. I’m not saying if they’re depressed or going through a struggle to “just get over it”. I’m saying to feed your insecurities, which are largely constructed from other people’s standards for themselves, you sign yourself up for disappointment.

    As members of the writing/literary community, we should build each other up and encourage each other to write, regardless of frequency or volume, and we should be reinforcing each other’s passion. Ten words ordered in the spirit of creativity still . We need to banish the idea that one must publish a novel in order to be a writer. Anyone who writes is a writer, and no phrase (especially one as open to interpretation as this one) will stop you from writing (again, not necessarily daily/weekly/monthly).

    • I’m not trying to argue but the point is a phrase like this can stop some people. To you or me, this might be no big deal. For someone questioning their ability, who just can’t bring themselves to write every day (which is usually the accompanying advice to “writers write”) it could be the kick in the teeth that makes them give up.

      In theory, I’m with you. And what a wonderful world it would be if everyone had thick skin as we do. Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of writers are insecure and what may slide off my back hits them like a truck.

      Not to mention, no other profession tells people this when they are trying to learn. No one tells someone looking to become a teacher, “teachers teach.” That answer would be absurd.

      Part of the issue is that writing is a tool, not a profession. Novelist is a profession. Technical manual writer is a profession. Blogger can be a profession. All of them write but the how-to for each is different.

      When I first started writing and went looking for advice, I found “writer’s write” to be insulting. Duh, of course they do. But how do they do it? I was inexperienced and didn’t know what I really meant to ask. My real questions were, how do you plot, how do you make dialog convincing, how do you get paid for this?

      Writers write doesn’t answer any of those. And it has the added bonus of telling people that if they can’t write, for whatever reason, you’re not a writer.

      I get the idea behind it, honest I do, I just think a group who should have a pretty firm grasp of communication would be able to find a less insulting way to say it.

    • JH

      Bravo Frank, and THANK YOU! You read my mind.

      This post was written for the writers who *do* find this phrase hurtful. It’s great that some people feel the need to tell us it doesn’t bother them, but that could be assumed. I don’t think there’s anything in the world that absolutely everyone on the planet is hurt and/or offended by.

  45. Hi J.H., I’m so glad I found your post! It has made me feel better, and I thank you so much for that.

    Unfortunately I’m one of those writers who fits the tenderfoot stereotype: guilt, insecurity and depression live rent-free inside my head. They invite self-loathing over for a glass of chardonnay from time to time. I do my best to keep my head down and write despite this, but there are times when it just doesn’t happen. I seem most vulnerable after I’ve finished one book and am plotting/first-drafting the next, which is where I am now as I start book #5.

    So far, I can only manage one book a year. I have no excuses for why I’m so slow. I should be more productive than this. I know plenty of other writers who are.

    If any of the writers who commented above read this, please know that I am in awe of your resilience and your persistence, despite the really suck-y obstacles several of you have had. You all are amazing!

    • JH

      Hi K.B.,

      Welcome! I’m glad you found this post too, and I’m elated it made you feel better. You made my day with your kind words.

      One book per year is AWESOME! That fact that you don’t think so just shows how far we need to go when it comes to changing how we define success as writers. Many people will never finish a single novel, let alone several.

      I hope you take the time to celebrate after each book and be good to yourself. *hugs*

  46. Ramona Ruff

    Hey J.H.!

    Your words are so true.
    Yesterday I designed new business cards. Not that I often need that, but from time to time, there are moments when you’re glad, if you have any. And with the line: occupation, profession, hobby … – my fingers doesn´t want to tap the word author – once again.

    You point it. Writing is not only what we do – it´s what we are.
    A carpenter is a carpenter, although his last cabinet is built one year ago. Right?
    I don´t know, how it is in your country. But in germany the word writer, author or what ever – still smells like Goethe, Schiller. It is a weighty word in people’s minds.
    WTF who are you, to call yourself a writer? Don´t make that word dirty!
    Do you know, what I mean?
    The next question, of course – as always: what are you writing?
    Gay romance.
    You’ve heard correctly.
    Now a few simper, … laugh at you – inside of course.

    Gay romance, or a poem – it doesn´t matter what we are writing.

    The best way to explain for me, is:

    Being a writer
    is easy – it´s like
    riding a bike
    except the bike is on fire
    you´re on fire
    everything is on fire
    and you´re in hell

    Finally I typed the word author, because I am one – no matter how. No, not a Schiller, but me.

    best regards


    • JH

      Welcome, Ramona, and thanks for commenting! It’s great to hear from a writer in Germany, and it’s awesome you write gay romance. We desperately need diverse books like yours.

      Type in that word with pride, girl! You’ve earned it.

  47. Yes! I, too, loathe that phrase.

    For me, the thing that I particularly loathe is the people who say it. Because it tends to be folks who churn out a novel every month and these novels quite often, not always but still, unfortunately quite a lot of the time, turn out to be a) more like a novella or a big short story – yes, their fifteen ‘books’ a year are the same wordage as my one and b) crap because they’re rushed.

    I’d rather take a bit longer to write something good. Also, writing… well, to quote the great Chuck Wendig says – and he’s insanely prolific (but it’s GOOD) – ‘it takes as long as it takes’.

    So I think my mantra is,

    ‘I write because I have to but it takes as long as it takes’.

    In the case of my first book that was about 15 years. Yep FIFTEEN! YEARS! Mwah hahhargh there are glaciers moving faster than me.

    I write because I have to. I have no choice. But when I can’t I no longer feel guilty because that just makes it even harder to write.

    Oh and by the way my NanoWriMo total this year? 0. 😉 So if anyone out there is having a dull patch, you’re not alone.

    Great piece, well said.



    • JH

      Thanks so much for commenting, MTM, and as for the 15 years – hey, at least you finished the book! There’s no shame in that at all.

      I like your mantra. It’s a vast improvement over the stupid one I discussed in this post. 😉

      I love Wendig. Great man, awesome writer. You clearly have fantastic taste.

  48. Darren Gallagher

    I 100% agree!! I think it’s stupid and pointless, and you’re right, we do feel guilty as hell when we are not writing!

    I’ve only just started writing again last week after struggling to write for almost a year and a half. Good times are ahead.

    Thanks for the post! It’s good to see that not everyone falls for the mindless confusion that the majority get swept up in.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Darren! Thanks so much for reading and for your kind words.

      I’m happy to hear you’ve gotten back to writing. The guilt we experience during a break is maddening.

  49. Eeeeeeeh, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees. No offense. 🙂

    What writers really need to learn how to do is stop listening to advice that isn’t directed at them. If you aren’t a beginner, stop reading things directed at beginners as though it’s going to apply to you. Most of it won’t.

    No one is saying “writers write” and intending that to be directed at a writers who has written 10 books and a bunch of short stories, but who is suffering from a bout of severe depression. (Or if they do, they’re clearly an asshole, and their advice is invalid anyway.)

    “Writers write” is intended for the guy who lives on his mom’s couch for three years, telling everyone he’s writing a book, but hasn’t written a single word. That person needs a kick in the pants to either get busy writing, or stop calling himself a writer.

    There is no advice in existence that is intended to be applied universally. The most destructive thing you can do to yourself is assume that it is.

    • JH

      “Writers write” is too inane to be inspiring or helpful to any writer, even a beginner. When I was five years old I understood that much.

      I’ve yet to hear that phrase inspired anyone. If someone really wants to be a writer bad enough, they will write eventually. If someone just loves the idea of it and wants to talk about it and attend conferences, that’s fine too. They’re not hurting anyone. If he/she wants to say “I’m a writer” when they haven’t written anything – meh. Who cares? Again, it doesn’t hurt anyone. (I’ve also never encountered that. I’ve encountered people who’ve written lots but who don’t feel they’re worthy of the title yet.)

      You’re right in that it’s the writers themselves who are letting that phrase make them feel worse. But you could say that about lots of things people “shouldn’t” say – racist remarks, sexist remarks, etc. As advice, “writers write” is inane and doesn’t really say anything about how to be successful or what it truly means to be a writer. As a phrase, it’s hurtful to a lot of people. So I have no problem standing my ground and saying there are better ways to express the sentiment. We’re writers after all!

  50. I use it to distinguish between writers and wanna-bes.

    If you talk all the time about being a writer, go to classes and seminars and conventions, tell everyone about your great world and the 97 novels you’re going to write in it…none of that makes you a writer. Writing the books does.

    It doesn’t matter if your write one book a month or one book in your lifetime, you are a writer. A thousand words a day, Seven words a year, as long as you are writing.

    If the words never get onto the paper, and the stories you want to tell stay locked in your head forever, you are not.

    There is a scene in Amadeus, where the director comes looking for his new opera. Mozart says it’s finished, but it’s all in here (points to his head) and all the rest is scribbling. The director says “It’s no good to anyone in there. Write it down!”

    • JH

      Personally, I have no idea why we spend so much time trying to distinguish “real” writers from wannabes. Weren’t we all wannabes before we started writing?

      If people want to call themselves writers when they’ve just come up with story ideas but haven’t actually written anything, it doesn’t hurt me or affect my life. But being told I have to be currently writing to call myself a writer has hurt me when I was forced to take time off. It’s hurt me, it’s hurt international bestselling authors, and it’s hurt my friends.

      So I stand my ground that there’s a better way to define what we do.

  51. Agreed. When it’s time to write, I write. When it isn’t and I’m not writing, however, there IS something I do: I THINK about writing. I take notes. I think about scenes. I entertain myself with ideas. I wait until I’m so ready to write because I haven’t been writing that I can’t wait to write. Then (and only then) I write.

    • JH

      Oh no, Lynne! Sorry to hear. I hope you escape soon. Writhing is not an acceptable form of exercise.

      Glad I was able to help in some small way. *hugs*

  52. Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t written for about 2 1/2 years. The reason? Something a lot of older writers don’t understand–their meds can cause ‘fuzzy brain’. Noooo writing. And you’re correct. You can feel like a total failure. Thank you for the post. Got my meds changed. Been writing for two weeks. Yay!

    • JH

      Oh, I’m so happy for you, Annay! Thanks for pointing this out – you never know who your story might help.

      I’m glad you were able to get past this, but sorry you felt like a failure. We’re so hard on ourselves. *hugs*

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lizzie. I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling. I hope you feel better soon, and in the meantime, try not to beat yourself up.

      We all go through this – you’re not alone. *hugs* And you are still a WRITER!

  53. I’d like to add some food for thought to this post. Because JH, you are correct. Hearing those words when you don’t have hands on the keyboard every day is tough.

    But who says writing is ONLY hands on the keyboard? As an author I think about stories while I’m doing dishes, watching TV, driving, sitting in a waiting room, even while I’m shopping. The act of pushing the story out of your mind and onto the page is the FINAL part of that creative process for me. (I don’t consider editing here because that’s a whole different animal.) Normally, I’ve spent days, weeks or longer forming the scene into something that makes sense before I ever touch a pen or keyboard.

    Writing isn’t typing. Writing is a creative process that is 95% invisible. The 5% that the world sees on the pages of a book is just a small part of the energy and willpower that created the story. JMO.

    Thanks for the post.

    • JH

      Brilliant and so true, ML. A well-meaning bf once accused me of “slacking” when he saw I was reading. He didn’t get that I was working on my craft, and how essential reading is to being a successful writer.

      The best thing I can do when I’m stuck with my own writing is go do something else. We need to live, too.

      Thanks for commenting!

  54. Jamie

    Thank you so, so, sosososo much for writing this. I gave birth to my first child five months ago, and I’ve been struggling (STRUGGLING!) to get back into a writing groove ever since. And just like you said, I’ve been suffering in silence and feeling immense amounts of guilt over it (feeling like a failure as an author, wondering if my whole career is coming to an end, the works). It really feels like this post was written specifically for me today. I desperately needed it. <3

    • JH

      Oh, Jamie, I’m so glad you found it and thrilled that it helped you. It’s a terrible, isolating, guilt-inducing thing that you’re going through, even though almost all writers experience this for a variety of reasons. We really need to talk more about our struggles, not less.

      If you still have doubts, let me scream it from the rafters: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE! You are awesome, and you will find your voice again.

      Wishing you strength and peace. *hugs*

  55. Thank you. I’m supposed to be working on a novel revision. But I’ve been paralyzed by wretched self-doubt. It’s as if my writing gears have gravel (made of coagulated fear) caked on them. Thank you for offering grace, humanity and permission to be real. I know the gravel will chip off, hopefully sooner than later, and I will write again. Of course, of course, I will. But until that time, I will be kind to myself. And I’ll be kind to others with gravel-gobbed gears too.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Vicky. I’m so glad this post helped you in some small way.

      The paralyzed by self doubt thing is the worst! Take a break, do something that brings you joy. You’re right, you will write again. Trying to force it only makes us feel worse.


  56. ASE

    Everything in this post was what I needed to hear.
    Thank you, because I don’t make my personal life known to many people other than my inner circle (which consists of literally 5 people), others don’t know what else is happening in ‘real life’ and even though I choose to keep it private, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Thank you for writing this. I needed it today.

  57. Thank you for your post. You are a brave individual for saying this and I completely relate to everything you said. I can now breath a sigh of relief for my inability to write every day, and my inability to write for sometimes years at a time. Life happens and for all of the above reasons you mentioned, I’ve been unable to write. I’m am now at the point, after a long break, where I feel I can commit to a writing project at my own pace. I, too, have suffered in silence because of people’s misconceptions about how artists of any kind are able to handle life’s ups and downs.

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Cindy. I’m really sorry to hear of your struggles, but I’m thrilled you’re in a better place now.

      I’m happy to be the voice for all of us. The people who don’t get it no longer concern me. The ones I’ve decided to champion know exactly what I’m saying.

      *hugs* Good luck with your project, and take care of yourself.

  58. Jessica Coulter Smith

    I stopped writing this past February because my husband was in the hospital with colon cancer. They removed the cancerous mass and he came home in March, but had 24 weeks of chemotherapy ahead of him. Writing has been a struggle since those horrible words were first spoken. Chemo ended last month, but we now have more tests to determine if the cancer is truly gone. I’m writing again, but not as much as I was last year. In January, I wrote 90,000 words. Now I’m lucky if I write 40,000 words in a month, and some months I don’t even manage that much. All of February and most of March I didn’t write at all.

    • JH

      Oh Jessica, I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. Cancer is evil, but it always forces us to define our priorities, whether we want to or not. And of course supporting your husband came first.

      Personally, though there are some exceptions to the rule, I think fine human beings write the best stories. If you hadn’t been distracted through all of that, one would have to wonder.

      40K words per month is an incredible output. It may not seem like much compared to what you’re used to, but even when you weren’t writing, you were still a writer.

      I hope you’re being good to yourself and that you have a really strong support network. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. <3

  59. Thank you for this wonderful post. Between my health, and lack of support from some of my family, I was giving up on my writing. I finally said to hell with the ones that don’t support me, and on the days I feel really good I write. I wish I could write every day.

    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Sandy. I’m glad you’re able to write when you feel like it. Baby steps – it’ll come.

      Thanks so much for commenting. I hope your family comes around, but if not, there’s a great community of writers that will cheer you on and encourage you. Check out the Insecure Writers Support Group, if you haven’t already. <3

  60. Ed Wyrd

    Writer’s write. If they don’t write, then they must be something else, like a plumber or a carpenter. Writer’s write doesn’t mean you have to write 24/7, it means you can’t just go around calling yourself a writer without ever bothering to sit down and write at some point. In other words, writer’s write, they don’t just talk about it.

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Ed. I think some are not really getting the point of my post. Yes, writers have written at some point. But if they stop writing, even for a really long time, no one has the right to come to their door and yank the title away.

      Life happens to everyone eventually, and sometimes all a writer has to cling to is the belief that they will find their way back to the page.

  61. Thank you for this, JH. I’ve seen more ‘writer’s advice’ come across my path in the past few years than in most of my prior lifetime–which has been long enough. I’m of the punk rock writing philosophy: screw the arbitrary current rules (except those that benefit the art) and screw those who think they know it all. Writing is one of the most intimate, all consuming things a person can do–and it is greatly, deeply affected by the joys and trials of life.

  62. hecates_kiss

    It’s Nano. Most writers know this, since it brings so so many of us out of the woodwork. I wrote something like 500 words on Monday. I just really wasn’t in the mood / right frame of mind / what have you for anything that I was working on. I realized it too. The words just weren’t coming, the scene felt forced and I threw down my pen.

    The thing is? I gave myself permission a long time ago to have off days. Some days all I need is time to just stop and refuel. I read, I watch various movies, I listen to music. I do things that don’t have me putting my fingers to the keys or grabbing a pen.

    I know I need those days as much as I need the days that spill 3k or more words out of me. I don’t have to write every single day to call myself a writer. I had to teach myself that lesson though. There have to be recharge days. Otherwise the well will run dry. You can’t draw continuously from a source and not expect it to come up empty, there has to be downtime. Downtime is just as important as the creativity.

    Am I a writer? Yes. Do I identify myself as such? You better believe it. Do I write every day? No, and I’m all right with that.

    • JH

      This is a great comment, Hecates. Thanks for chiming in.

      I agree – rest days and breaks are hugely important. I’ve heard a few people say “writers don’t take breaks” or “writers don’t take vacations,” which is ridiculous, IMO. Writers can burn out just like everyone else, and writing, although a passion and an art, is still WORK.

      Good luck with NaNo! If you want to be writing buddies, I’m KickboxingWriter.

  63. This is so right-on, and it applies to other creatives as well. I have been a visual artist since I can remember. I’m a husband, dad, business owner (illustration), spiritual practitioner, and a writer. I always get the creative stir-crazies if I haven’t drawn in a while. The act of not-drawing can lead to depression, angst, general grumpiness. And yet it is writing, or not-writing, that seems to produce the most guilt. I can even have a paying illustration deadline and I still feel that twinge — “I really should be writing”.
    Not sure what all that means, but thanks for the post.

  64. Boy, you obviously hit a nerve with this post but I enjoyed it and agree…we are writers, whether at heart, in the moment or every single day…if and when we write, it is because we have something to say and something we wish to share, when we’re finally brave enough to push back against our own fears. I first published in 2012 and hadn’t really hit “writer’s block” – instead, it was just moments or days of busyness…as a mom who works a full-time job, sometimes it just happens that you have to shift your priorities. In November 2014, I was so proud of myself after publishing my 4th book and then, as you define it so well, my world came crashing down when my dad was killed by a drunk driver only 4 days after Christmas. I quickly discovered writer’s block is real, or what I believe is where your mindset is at the time you feel you need to write. I just didn’t have it in me for most of this past year and there were so many days when I felt such guilt for it! Yes, writers write…but they write when they have something to say, when they have the time, or when they believe it is time to finally share what they have to say. Some days, we remain silent to lick our wounds and, possibly, to avoid saying anything we may just regret. If anyone were to tell me I was no longer a writer because I was taking some time off, you can bet I might have ranted at them…now I can just forward them your post. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and for reminding me…we’re writers – we’re aren’t perfect, never pretended to be and sometimes, life happens and parks our creativity for just awhile. But, because we ARE writers, eventually we do get back to it and we’re that much stronger for it.

    • JH

      Beautiful comment, P.J.

      First, let me say that I’m so terribly sorry about what happened to your dad. That is truly horrific and senseless.

      I agree with everything you’ve said, and love the optimism shining through your words. We will get back to it, and we will be stronger for it.

      Good luck with your writing, and thank you for sharing your story with me. *hugs*

  65. ^^ This post. ^^
    This was forwarded to me by a friend who clearly knows me well. Your words have resonated more strongly with me than perhaps anything I’ve read in the past year. So. True. Every day I feel guilty. I run around like a headless chook doing so much stuff, and all of it becomes meaningless because . . . wait for it . . . it stops me writing. But I am only human, and writing is only one part of who I am. So THANK YOU. Thanks for telling me it’s okay, I’m still a writer, and I’m not alone. xx

  66. Nikola Vukoja

    You asked if there were ‘adages’ that annoy us (and if anyone has already said this sorry ‘cos I didn’t read all the comments – short attention span).
    One that I really dislike *and I saw it again on FB today* is “Being a writer means being alone” (or a version of this).
    Firstly, even if that’s true so what? and secondly, the various forms of said quote make it sound like no other profession ever feels this way. Well, here’s the truth… almost all of them do. I was a professional F/T accountant and the number of hours I spent alone working on client files, doing research, checking and re-checking current statutes, laws and requirements and then checking and re-checking client information, I honestly cannot tell you.
    My ex is a musician. Sometimes we’d see each other when we passed to make a coffee because he was busy trying to make some cord work for him.
    I owned and ran a farm – let me tell you, as cute as farm animals are, they don’t add much to the general convo!
    Aside from being a writer, I’m also an artist – guess what we visual artists do almost always on our own?
    The list could go on and on… graphic designers, architects, anyone with an ebay business.
    And here’s the cruncher, it’s not the alone part that annoys me, it’s the subtext that somehow this is a bad thing, or a forced thing. Well it’s neither, it’s just a thing… part of the job. I also chat online, I have friends IRL, I go for coffee, I look after my cat, I do my gardening, I have family and friends, I have “I’m fat days & eat chocolate & watch TV days, I go to BBQ, event nights & launch parties.
    Yes writers are often alone, but so are so many other people. It doesn’t mean your a introvert (although being one is more than OK). It doesn’t mean you’re lonely (the two are so often mutually exclusive) and it doesn’t mean you don’t practise basic levels of hygiene. You may live in 2-minute-noodles, caffeine and nicotine for a time, but how is that different to a college or university student?
    It is what it is, working alone for periods because you’re disciplined, and I wish people would stop making it something it’s not, simply because some nutter somewhere once said “artists need to struggle for their art” and the phrase caught on.

    • JH

      I hadn’t heard that one before, but I too find it depressing. What does that mean, that we’re doomed to wander the earth alone? Talk about melodramatic!

      Maybe whoever coined that phrase was trying to scare off future writers in order to improve his chances of getting published. 😉

  67. Normalu

    Started writing to God as my son lay dying. Ha ha, poetry! Still do that a lot, God and I have a lot to say, but I also have some pretty nice make-believe people wandering around in my thoughts, and they live in a beautiful part of this great country. I won’t ever write the great American novel, but the characters in my stories have things to say, lessons to learn and teach, and places to share with others. I’m seeing how it goes, when it goes. And it definitely doesn’t “go” constantly! It goes during a spectacular sunset, or during a bout with the ‘flu, or after a good Sunday sermon, or when I meet someone who should be shared. Thanks for the chin up!

  68. I sometimes use this adage, but not on something like a tweet or something that doesn’t explain what I mean.

    Usually, I use the phrase as a counterweight to this idea that you’re not a writer unless you’re published. So many people think of themselves as “aspiring writers” and other negative things that slows them down because of this belief. Whereas I think that you become a writer the moment you work on a story.

    Obviously there are shades of gray when it comes to “how much” or “how often” etc.

    In the end, though, I think this is a problem of writers putting way too much emphasis on what they believe other people should label them as, instead of just focusing on doing what they’re supposed to. (Be that writing every day or resting to recharge those creative batteries.)

    • JH

      You’re right – it’s a common problem/struggle of people in creative fields. Most of us hope that someone other than our mothers or bffs will read our work one day, which opens us up to a lot of other opinions – reviews, rejections from agents and editors, stupid discouraging writing memes.

      Of course people can’t control this, or feel ultimately responsible for it, but it only takes a discouraging word on the wrong day to push a sensitive person over the edge. All I’m suggesting is – if that phrase does so much damage (and I think we can see by the comments here that it does) tweaking it slightly doesn’t do any harm and could do a lot of good.

  69. My writing has to be inspired. I have to feel passionate about my current work. If I wrote every day because I had to, the end product would be anemic. That also makes me a “binge” writer. I am ok with that. Some people want to equate the word “writer” to the word “job,” as in a constantly producing endeavor. Those who put out four novels a year, follow a cookie-mold formula, write for a consumer genre market, and handle their writing as a business, will say that writers write. I see my writing as an art, not a job. It must induce pleasure, not anxiety. It must flow from my heart and soul. Inspiration comes at its own pace and time.

  70. Katt Taylor

    Thank you! This post lit a small candle-flame in a long dark year. I won’t tell my sad tale here (I’m not up to writing about it all yet) but suffice to say it is full of drama and trauma and pathos and pain, complicated characters and plot-twists aplenty! You make me feel that it is enough that I still *think* like a writer, even if my word count is pitiful and my guilt overflowing.

  71. Thank you.

    I had such big plans for 2015, but dealing with serious health and financial problems in the family derailed them all.

    I write when I can and now that I know I’m not alone in the struggle, I feel a lot more peace about it than I did.

  72. Terry MacFarland

    I recently gave up “Ciar Cullen,” my romance writing persona. I’m not even sure why I “quit,” if I actually did. Poor sales. Burnout. Close to 60 and wanting to see what else is out there. I actually had to distance myself from other writers because of what you say in this post. There are no breaks! Real writers NEVER GIVE UP! Huh? You’re either born a writer or you’re not! Butt in chair! I simply couldn’t see those Facebook memes anymore. Sometimes a break is absolutely the right thing to do. Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Hopefully, as you evolve psychologically, you start to investigate how you spend your time, what you’re doing versus what would actually make you happy…whether it’s writing or underwater basket-weaving. As you say, when you take a break–for a day, a month, a year–or forever, you aren’t dragged out of your home and deported to the land of “not cool, not a writer anymore.” Only if you let it into your head…

  73. There’s a litany of well meaning “advice” that the writing community could do without. Writers Write isn’t as annoying on it’s own as the expanded edition, where some established author expels the blanket judgment that writer’s block is just an excuse for laziness.

    One thing I’ve stopped doing as asking for critiques of works in progress. If I don’t have the entire thing written, it remains as unseen to the rest of the world as the Vatican records of the female pope.

  74. Yes!!!!! I was regularly getting stories published and then preferred dancing after my divorce in my free time. Never managed to be able to quit the day job and dancing is just more fun. It’s like you put yourself out there as a writer and you’re expected to pump out books and stories, because THAT’S WHAT WRITER’S DO! Well, this writer is dancing, started a business around dancing, working full time, enjoying spending time with the love of my life, and occasionally I turn out a song or article. Not because I have to. Because I want to. I am no less a writer when I don’t write. Those butt-in-chair, daily word count folks are just struggling with the pressures of trying to get paid as an artist and trying to justify their time. When I was unemployed for 18 months, writing was the last of my priorities. I needed money for my time. And I never allowed myself time to read or just relax. You feel like you have to constantly be hustling for your next job or contract gig. Writing stories in the hopes that they would sell, didn’t make economic sense, and dancing was funnier and instantly rewarding. When I was still in a critique group, one of our members just decided to stop writing. We felt awful for him. How could he do that? Now I know. Easy. The hard part is learning to not let people guilt you about it. Bottom line? Don’t “should” on people. Thanks for the great rant! And letting me get mine out, too. I’m a writer whether I write or not. I’m also a dancer and an entrepreneur. I create what I want, when I want.

  75. “Write and don’t edit.”

    Sorry, no can do. If I can’t edit the scene, I can’t move on, Period. Editing helps me think of what comes next and realize what I should go back and fix. Plus, it’s a GOOD HABIT to get into. My editor edits my work on her phone because there’s so little to correct.

  76. CP Bialois

    I understand what you’re saying, but at the same time writers do write. Whether we write daily or not, it’s what we do and are unless we choose to walk away from it and refer to ourselves as something else.

    To be honest, I think it’s more about our personal mindsets than anything. Words only have the power we allow them to have. If a phrase or something that’s said bothers us enough to quit, then that’s us giving it power. I believe in being tactful, but also honest.

    If someone feels the “pressure” because others are writing and moving forward, it’s up to them to find a way to manage and move on. It may sound harsh, but it is what it is. Everyone has to deal with something at some point, and how we manage is up to us and helps to define who we are. I have nothing but respect for those that find a way to push on. If they need help, I’m the first one offering them what I can, but I can’t take the step for them one way or the other.

    I’ve stopped writing a few times due to burnout or personal issues, but that didn’t stop me from being a writer and didn’t put any pressure on me from others. I’m incredibly hard on myself when I’m not productive, and that’s helped me strive to take the next step.

    As for my friends continuing to write, I was, and will always be, happy for them for continuing to crank out their manuscripts. Seeing them keep going made me proud to be a writer and helped to inspire me to push on. We all handle things our own way, but we shouldn’t expect others to protect us from ourselves.

  77. I couldn’t agree more and thank you for posting this. I’m glad to see that I am not the only WRITER who feels this way. Writing is stressful enough sometimes without having some made up rule about how often we write and publish being forced down on us.

  78. Great post. Glad I happened upon it. Very true, but it also goes hand in hand with that other crippling adage of writers – the daily word count. Ugh. I hate word counts bandied about as if you’re not writing 5000 words an hour you’re not a writer. What does that even mean? I can write 5000 shitty words easy. Is that somehow better than 1000 well crafted words, or even 500? People seem very proud to quote their word counts without realizing how it affects other fragile writers.

  79. Jae Hall

    Thank you for saying exactly what I have been wanting to say to all the writers and family and readers and fans.
    There are business models that say you need to publish a book every 2 months in order to be followed by readers, I would rather put out one good book every year or two then the crappy ones I would currently write to be that productive.
    For me writing is a passion and a part time job but there is only so much forcing that can be tolerated before all the creativity evaporates in the wind.

  80. I’m a binge writer. I write for long days and nights and read the same way. Then I lay off for days. I have that luxury because I live by myself with my cat. My angst is now reserved for the publishing/promotion stage. I went with a small press and I have learned since publication that I cannot rely on or trust them. I’m on my own and very possessive and protective of my fledgling novel.

  81. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for this. As a stay-at-home mother of two small children under four, I simply don’t have the time or structure in my life to write in a regular and disciplined way. But I know that one day I will and I hope to make at least somewhat of a living from my writing. So when I read this old description that writer’s write, it absolutely preys on that natural insecurity and I doubt myself, even though I’ve known in my soul for a long time that I am a writer. So again, thank you!

  82. I was sobbing about this at one point over the summer to my therapist and she looked genuinely confused. “I don’t understand. If you were a surgeon, but you stopped performing surgery for a while, wouldn’t you still call yourself a surgeon?”

    I just looked at her. But I finally got it.

  83. I’ve been writing more or less professionally for 40+ years. I had a couple of years when I didn’t write just because I didn’t want to (completely dried out), several years that limped to a halt because I had to earn a living and was too tired, and about three years when people important to me died. And now I’m back to writing “full-time.” That means I spend time on the business or writing, the act of writing, and the reality of living life without putting a word down anywhere for days at a time. I hope I will write grand books, but the world is okay if I don’t, and so I am okay too.

  84. JH

    Thanks to everyone who has shared their story, shared this post, and taken the time to comment.

    You’re not alone, and I hear you. 🙂

    I’ve stopped responding to individual comments to make it easier for those who would like to read everyone’s responses.

  85. Excellent post and one I needed. I’m one of those writer’s who has to work between bouts of depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia flares, and other health problems. Not only do those things become writing hurdles but they also bring about negative thoughts of my capability and talent. Being a writer is tough, very tough.

  86. So true. I’ve written around a hundred books for most of the major publishers (and now as an indie) over the past thirty three years by taking time to refill the creative well. Life happens. And if we don’t fully live it, we can’t write about fictional lives because we can’t identify with and empathize with our characters. And if we can’t, readers won’t.

  87. Hurray and thank you. For years I didn’t write but I was still me, still telling stories in my head, to my kids, to chess club, to all those people and places which kept me from writing. And then, for years, I thought of myself as not-a-writer or failed writer, betrayer of whatever gift of been given, and betrayer of myself. Thank you for this post!

  88. What an enlightening blog post. From the amount of comments, it looks like a lot of us agree with you. I’ve been there. After my hubby’s passing, I couldn’t bring myself to write at all. I did feel guilty. The saying of Writer’s Write should be amended to “Writer’s write. Not all of the time, but they are still writers.”

  89. This is so true. It isn’t uncommon for me to knock out 250K words in a month, then not do a thing for the next six to eight months. It’s miserable, depressing, and above all else, incredibly hard to explain to others. Especially the “write every day” crowd.

    Thanks for the well written exploration that writers sometimes don’t write. Just speaking personally here, but that’s something I needed to hear.

  90. N.U.

    Wrote and published three novels and then couldn’t write for years after my divorce. Just getting back into it. Completely agree with you.

  91. What annoys me is when people put ANY limitations on it – “Writers read everything they can 24/7. Writers blog 24/7. Writers buy millions of how to write manuals, Writers go to conventions. Writers subscribe to industry newsletters. Writers live and breathe writing only. etc etc.” So I have always taken “writers write” to be the anti-thesis to this, meaning that if you write – ever (even if it’s one sentence a month, or once a year, or if you write then stop for ten years, then start again) – then you’re a writer, whether you blog, or whether you read reference books, or whether you subscribe to industry newsletters… I guess I always just sort of imagined the “Whenever you can” part as already ingrained into the meaning of it because I’ve seen so many “writers write every day” that by cutting that part off it seemed to imply a fluidity to when/how much a writer is doing their writing. I write, but I also do art and a bazillion other things, and sometimes I don’t write for months because I have nothing to say, and I weary of all of the “rules” one is “supposed” to follow to be a “real” writer… Anyway, a long comment to basically say I agree with you, LOL!

  92. Danny Adams

    Well said. Right now I’m in a position where I can write most days – when depression and the Real World don’t jam their way in, I mean. But it hasn’t always been like that. There was a long time where I also could only write once a week, but I plowed a lot of words out of that one day a week.

    As long as I write when I can, I’m typically happy with that, and I’ve taught myself to write in my head in the meantime so that when I finally am able to sit down at the computer, I’ll be ready.

  93. Helen

    Thank you!

    I’m a writer. I write for a living, but let’s be honest, writing medical or IT content isn’t that fulfilling. What I want to do is sit down and write (or finish writing) all of the stories in my head. I want to do that, but I have to make a living, and there’s only so much time I can sit in front of a computer, or sit at all, without going insane.

    I also hear things like: all good writers read a lot or all good writers edit and edit again (and again and again….) Those irritate me too. I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to put sentences on paper, and while I used to read all the time, now I mostly read for work. By the time I’m finished with that, if I sit down and read a book I want to read, well, let’s be honest, I fall asleep — no matter how good the book. And editing? Well, yes, I will edit my own work. But most of my editing goes on in my head. I often have the story written before I sit down to type it, so I edit as I go along. Since I’ve been told over and over that to be really good at writing you have to edit and edit again, I’ve started editing more. And you know what? I think those edits tend to weaken my writing rather than make it stronger. Sometimes the first go is the best. Sometimes it’s not. But the first story I wrote that won an award and was published, it was basically a first draft. Yet ever since I heard my writing instructor say that if you want to be good you have to edit and edit again, I’ve been questioning whether I am any good, and I’ve spent far too much time editing rather than continuing to just keep writing. Nothing will get finished if I work this way.

    Anyway, thank you again.

  94. Excellent point. I just went through a two month dry spell, where I got absolutely zero words written. I continued working the business, but I wasn’t writing. It felt good to break through that, and I’ve had longer pauses, I’m sure, but I felt (just as you said) guilty and miserable. Like a failure. I got increasingly anxious that I was done. And then I wrote. 🙂

  95. Teresa

    THANK YOU!!! I have only had one other writer let me off the hook for not writing. How many times have I heard writers or writing coaches say, “I can’t not write.” She wisely pointed out that just may not be my process.
    This is a theme right now for me…finding my own creative path, life, style. So another big THANK YOU for sharing this! Liberation in a post!

  96. Well said. I’ve blogged about this issue myself. The whole notion that, “If you can, for even a minute of your day fathom doing anything else with your time, or with your life other than writing, give it up, it’s not for you.”

    I hate that, and it seems this craft is one of the few on which such a high standard is placed by its practitioners.

  97. Clayton Fleming

    Recently, I started to write a series of books. It’s been a really long process, involving planning out, studying logic and physics, and learning several other things along the way. I’m eighteen years old. Recently, someone asked how I have time to write as much as I do, with working out and making good grades in school. I told them I don’t. If a writer, fiction or non-, wrote all the time, the inspiration and motivation would die. Like anything else, you need to change it up after a while. Take a break, enjoy your life, see your family and friends, and that’s kinda the secret to it, in my opinion. We are inspired by everyday things. When you’re sitting in a restaurant with a friend or significant other, you could imagine a fight breaking out, with tables being thrown and guns fired. If you’re at the airport, going to see family, you could change it into a character traveling to a different land. It’s true, the term “Writers write” is a phrase that can drive us up a wall, because writers don’t only write. We think. We experience. We share. We love and hate. We give and take. We spill our feelings into pages. More importantly though, I feel were the most human of anyone. Humans were designed to live and experience. Now, all we do is go to a job and do the things we’re told to do. Writers don’t write, writers live.

  98. Ah this post was a breath of fresh air to me right now!!! Last year I wrote three novels and three novellas. This year, when my youngest started kindergarten and I actually had basically full time availablility to write; I found I couldn’t. I am completely blocked.

    Everywhere I turn there’s this “writers write” mentality. And it’s not even just with writing. It’s everything. Parenting, dieting, work, housekeeping, EVERYWHERE I turn there’s something telling me I could be doing better. Now, are these posts well meaning? Sure! I mean, we can always improve I guess! But the other side of “you could do better” sometimes feels like “you are currently doing it wrong.” So more pressure is heaped on top of the pressure I’m already putting on myself, and all this well meaning chatter ends with a crippling effect.

    I even saw a snooty ass post recently about how people talking about how to write and people reading and talking about books are NOT WRITING. Um… It’s really ok to take time to learn and hone the craft and who in the hell disses reading? I mean, if there’s no reading then why write?

    Anyhow, thanks for this. Nice to know there’s someone not looking down their nose at me during this depressing faze of not being a novel machine. 😊

    • JH

      I’m sorry you’re struggling Amanda, but I’m glad this post made you feel a little better. That was my hope when I wrote it.

      As writers we’re so damn hard on ourselves…and on each other. Funny thing is, we’d probably be more motivated to write if we didn’t spend so much time beating ourselves up!

      I wish you all the best. Take your time–the life adjustments you mentioned are HUGE. You’ll get there.

  99. j

    *Sniff* Thank you I needed that, I went on vacation with my son for four days and when I got home it turned into two weeks. I felt so guilty.

  100. I really enjoyed reading this speak the truth post. Your words are spot on. I have so little time to write. I don’t have a supportive spouse. I have zero money to put toward a book cover, and editor, a website or domain of my own. I want so bad to become published because I have a really good story to share that I have spent years working on. My day job is not a day job at all. I work on a graveyard shift. I have Friday’s and weekends off. When I’m not running errands to the store and taking care of the house I have to write in a somewhat noisy city life environment.

    My previous home pc crashed. I had no backup of the novel which meant I didn’t have the most recent edits. Now I have to contend with the only copy I have access to which has been on WriteOn dot Amazon dot com. I didn’t use the cloud because I don’t want others to have access to my files. Guess I learned my lesson now that I have the best home pc I’ve ever had. Got it over the Black Friday weekend.

    Now if only I could finish it. Writing is who I am and it’s the most liberating sense of freedom I’ve ever felt in my life. I love to write. I just so badly need to publish and repeat.

    Cheers to all of you who are struggling like me. Keep the faith!


    • JH

      Thanks so much for commenting, Eric. I can relate to a lot of your struggles! There are so many obstacles we face, and the idea that everyone can just keep blissfully moving forward, putting down the words without needing a break, is a fairy tale, IMO.

      The joy writing gives you is clear. I hope you can focus on that when the pressures get you down. Indie publishing is insanely expensive to do right, I agree, but there’s always the traditional route–more expensive in time spent, but otherwise practically free (except for the computer).

      I believe in you! Never give up.

  101. Elise K. Ra'sha

    Writers don’t write. They’re master weavers of words because words hold power.
    Let’s get a little into the nitty gritty here and maybe split some hairs in the process. I have a suspicion this blog is geared mainly towards the fiction writers, but let’s face it here. Journalists are writers. They write. They might be telling a tale of non-fiction, but they’re using their ability, their skill with words to bring out some sort of emotion within you, be it anger, fear, hatred, or a shred of hope that some good still exists in this world. So words definitely have power here. All well and good, but they’re still considered writers at the end of the day, even though they get the breaks needed between stories.
    Writers – authors – do more than just write. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m constantly visualizing scenes either for an original story or for a fanfiction piece. Writers daydream. Writers create. In my case, it never seems to stop, and I love that.
    However, when I’m not able to sit down and write, I feel the guilt you mention in this blog. I’ve self-published four stories and am working on a fifth, sixth, and seventh for a fantasy series, and, when I’m so tired that all I want to do is goof around on facebook, I feel incredibly guilty for not focusing. I work. I get up early on the days I work, 4-5 days a week, depending on my schedule. Some days I work ten hours, and all I really want to do is sleep.
    I never thought of how detrimental the phrase “writers write” could be until I read this blog post. I returned to NaNo just so I could try and get myself into the habit of writing every day due to this guilt, and it’s horrifying because I do feel like I’m letting myself down and potential readers. It isn’t fun.
    I did feel the need to split hairs because it’s not necessarily uncommon for a news journalist to take a year off then return and not be considered a writer for that break. They’re still considered writers, journalists in the eyes of their peers, their families, their friends, and their communities. Why isn’t it the same for fiction writers?

    • JH

      Good question, Elise. I’m both, a fiction writer and a journalist, and I can tell you I didn’t consider my articles to be “real” writing, so they didn’t ease to guilt of not writing at all. I’m not sure what my peers felt about it.

      The guilt is real. You are not alone! I hope this helps a little, to know that there are many other writers facing the same struggles.

      Keep on fighting the good fight. The world needs your voice, now more than ever.

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