Why the tough days of writing are worth double

Parenting and writing have a lot in common.

You often hear the somewhat clichéd analogy that when you release a book or words you’ve written out into the world, it’s like letting go of your babies. Well, one hopes by the time they are out the door, they are at least teenagers and have the confidence to believe they can take care of themselves, even if we are left quietly worrying about them back at home.

But I think the metaphor can stretch further. More than birthing an idea, a story, a book (that feels awkward, doesn’t it?!) writing is a lot like parenthood for all sorts of reasons.

Because you have to do it even when you don’t really feel like it. Because most of the time you don’t feel like you’re doing it right/well/as good as other people. Because often, you’re too damn close to your subject (child/story/writing) to be able to get a clear perspective on how the whole thing is going. Because you care truly, madly, deeply about your offspring, whether written or living.

the tough days are worth double

And it’s those bleaker, tough days that actually really count. Whenever I’m having a bad day writing, I have a little phrase that pops up for me, which is this: “the tough days are worth double*”.

It’s easy to write when it’s flowing. It’s gorgeous, glorious. In fact it’s annoying and frustrating and tantrum-inducing when we have to stop on those days. We wish they could go on and on forever, us in the flow of the words, the words coming easily and feeling exactly on point.

It’s that much harder when it’s not coming, when it’s not working. At that point we want to just stop, give up. A whole bunch of unhelpful narratives can kick it, telling us that we’re not really cut out for this game anyhow, who on earth did we think we were to even start to put pen to paper? What a waste of everyone’s time, especially our own. What about the mountain of other, useful, stuff we could have been doing instead?

A moment in time

Cor, those voices are rotten mean, aren’t they?

Writing on these days is worth double. Any time you put into your writing, however crappy it feels, however crappy you feel, is absolutely worth it. Often writing gets harder just before we have a breakthrough in the process. But equally as often, a tough day is just a tough day. A moment in time. No reflection on your overall skill, ability and aptitude for the craft. Simply one of those days. It’s important that we have strategies in place to recognise and respond to them though, because they can derail the train, and as we all know from our school days, it’s easier to maintain momentum in a moving vehicle than kick-start an engine from cold.

You have to award yourself double for those days, as fuel for the fire so to speak. Because turning up the next day can seem even less attractive. I mean, really, why would you keep turning up to have coffee with someone who hasn’t got a nice thing to say to you? That’s why, turning up to write the day after a bad day is worth triple!

‘Just a stint every day does it’

Depending on where you are in your writing right now, this may feel screamingly obvious or irrelevant, but I’m posting because it’s worth remembering that this is something as writers we continue to feel throughout our lives, irrespective of our perceived level of success. As this excerpt from a writing journal of an author rather brilliantly exemplifies:

“My many weaknesses are beginning to show their heads… I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. I wish I were. This success will ruin me as sure as hell. It probably won’t last, and that will be all right. I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.”

At the point, he penned those words John Steinbeck was working on what would become his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. By this stage, he was a successful and well-known writer, having already published 9 books, including Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men. I share his words to bring heart and hearth to all: If Steinbeck can forget, this is work, we just need to keep turning up to it, ‘a stint every day does it’, then so can we!

Keep a writing journal

One strategy, aside from also remembering that a bad day of writing is worth double, is to do what Steinbeck did, which is keep a writing journal. It can help to get the words flowing, as well as to record the emotional journey of writing. This is turn can help us to see that more often than not there is little correlation between how we feel and the quality of what we write. All the words – especially the difficult and the discarded ones I would say – matter. We have to get them all out in order to finally say what it is we mean to say, and what the world needs to hear.

We learn by doing, whether that is writing or parenting. Whilst we can pause, reflect, review, take advice even, the secret is to keep on keeping on, holding our less successful moments at least as dearly as the jubilant and enjoyable ones, knowing that they are indeed worth double.


(*I feel confident I’ve stolen this from somewhere – maybe Murakami from ‘What we talk about when we talk about running’ – if you want to message me the details on who I should credit, please do so)


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2 thoughts on “Why the tough days of writing are worth double

  1. This is so relevant for me as I’m writing my first book. I was speeding along writing one chapter a day until chapter 20 hit and it took three very difficult days to finally finish. And it’s crap (far more unrefined and bulky) compared to the rest. I kept thinking, ‘this is where a real writer would get it right’, ‘a good story wouldn’t be so difficult to be written’.

    It’s because I’m at that point in the story where things have to connect back and forward while making a midpoint splash. But, because I trust the value of these tough days, each day that I didn’t finish it I kept saying to myself, ‘it’s because this part is more difficult than what’s happened already’, ‘it’s ok to go off schedule – this part is different than the others’, ‘just keep going’.

    And it may not seem like much, being only three weeks into the project and having my first tough bout, but that isn’t the case. I’d just thrown out (put aside) everything I’d written throughout the past three months before this.

    But that’s why I see the truth in this post. They are worth double. Because I could not have had almost three weeks of speedy, fun, inspired writing without those three months preceding it.

    So I believe in the process.
    I keep believing that every moment of writing is going towards some end, and the ends make up the journey. Whether today’s writing will make it into this book, another book, or whether it’s teaching me some lesson.

    Thanks for the great post! It’s incredibly motivating to read that the writing journey I’m in isn’t all the different from others.

    1. Hey, I’m so glad this post resonated with you. Sticking with it through those tough days (and weeks…) is the grit through which the pearl of your story is formed. Sending warmest writerly vibes and great hopes for more of that brilliant flowing writing time ahead for you x

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