I’ve heard people say it’s vital to write daily, and I’ve heard people rail against that rule. For me, at least in the uncharted territory of the first draft, it’s the only way. Here’s why:
Writing a first draft is like feeding an infatuation. Remember back in grade eight when you had the crush on that dark-haired grade-ten boy? And every time the bell rang, all you could think about was whether or not you would pass him in the hall? Maybe you arranged to walk by his locker before school started, just in case he was there and just in case he happened to look up and just in case… it never happened, but just in case… he smiled at you?
You couldn’t stop thinking about him. When you were in math class, when you were doing homework, when you were washing dishes, you were thinking about him.
THAT’s the feeling I need with a first draft. It needs to be lingering in the back of my mind all the time. And writing every day keeps it present. Even if I have only 15 minutes. Even if I read over the previous day’s writing, add two more sentences, and have to turn off the computer. That’s fine.
The fact that it’s fresh in my mind will mean that in the afternoon — when a skateboarder careens in front of my car and smirks at me instead of apologizing — I don’t just think, “moron.” I think, “hey, that moron’s hair swirl is perfect for the evil twin in my new book.”
When I hear the two girls on the bus talking at full volume about the number of days between periods and whether or not they’re pregnant and why they can’t remember that particular night, I think, “ah! That’s what my main character’s sister is talking about behind the closed bedroom door.”
And when I walk out the door into a shower of cherry blossoms I realize that I’ve set my entire novel in winter when obviously — why didn’t I realize it before? — it has to end in spring.
Writing every day maintains the infatuation. At some point in grade eight, we all realized our grade 10 crushes actually picked their noses, while pretending they were only scratching. And our infatuations popped like overblown balloons.
If too long passes between writing sessions, the same thing happens to my writing. I see the flaws. And it’s harder to fall in love a second time.