The Myth of the Ideal Writing Day

Imagining your ideal writing day. You can probably do this in a snap because you’ve imagined it so often, wished for it wistfully, and occasionally, even lived it.

We long to write under the perfect conditions because we so rarely experience them.

Days that are appointment free, when the house is empty, the dog is walked (or uncharacteristically uninterested in going for one!), and there’s a stack of left overs in the fridge.

Maybe a fire is going. Your favourite scented candle is let. The sun is falling through the window perfectly.

You have eight empty hours in front of you.

A day dedicated only to writing.

And that’s when the fun begins, because when there’s no distraction between you and the work there is only you and the work present.

As the Buddhist writer Jon Kabat-Zinn said, ‘wherever you go, there you are’.

Soon, you’re up from your desk doing laundry, shaking out dog beds, organising receipts, vacuuming the car, and weeding the front garden. Lunch time rolls around and then you start beating yourself up for allowing this to happen. For wasting such a perfect day.

Ideal writing days often become our worst writing days, because when we fail to perform, we have no one to blame but ourselves: no one was around to interrupt us, we didn’t have any errands to run, or appointments to make — hell, we didn’t even have to cook a meal!

Ideal writing days make for a beautiful fantasy and a pressure cooker reality.

We believe that because the conditions are perfect, the words should melt from our fingers like rare honey. The boundaries between us and the work should blur as we enter a state of deep focus where we forget that we — the author — even exist, and writing becomes a form of passive dictation rather than active creation.

That, dear friend, is a lot of pressure to put on a single day.

On an ordinary day, we have the luxury of blaming our family, friends, colleagues, maintenance workers, or the Administration of Life for interrupting our writing. Unfortunately, if we ‘waste’ an ideal writing day, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

As I write about often on this blog, we only have so many good hours in a day and it takes a lot of energy to write. For this reason, some of my most productive writing days have been days when I wrote in-between teaching classes or coaching clients, picking up an extra waitressing shift, or popping in and out of the house as I completed errands.


Because I didn’t have the luxury of mucking around. I had to make use of the time available to me. My writing windows were clear and defined: fifteen minutes here, an hour there.

There was no space to settle down into the work by making my environment pleasing with a scented candle, mug of tea, and roaring fire place. All those things are fantastic and lovely to do, but they are decoration; they are enhancements.

You don’t need any of them to write.

Believing we can only be productive when life gifts us our ideal conditions can be dangerous.

Sometimes, you really can’t write because you feel under the weather, you’re distracted by a personal or work related event, or your day is too full of other commitments.

But sometimes, we use imperfect conditions as excuses not to do the work. We can’t write because…

  • The kids are home.
  • Your partner is home.
  • You’re tired.
  • It’s the weekend.
  • It’s rainy.
  • It’s sunny.
  • You don’t have enough time.
  • The dog needs a walk.
  • There’s a hundred emails in your inbox.
  • You’re out of milk.
  • The wrong party won the last election.

And so on.

The truth is ideal writing days can be hard and non-ideal writing days can be hard.

Both can also be great. It just depends on you, the day, what stage the work is at, how the axis of the earth is aligning that day…

Whatever the conditions are, we need to identify what we most need from ourselves in that moment: kindness or firmness, maybe both?

Writing is a strange practise. In so many ways we live a life out of sync with those around us. Our daily efforts are without pay. There’s no sick leave or annual holidays. There’s little different been weekdays and weekends.

A cross word with a loved one or a mean comment online can derail a whole day while a vivid dream or a realisation while walking can fuel us for a week.

Writing, regardless of the conditions, whether we’re feeling inspired or not, is work. Some days the work feel easier, some days it is harder, the only thing that matters though is that we continue to show up for ourselves and the story we’ve committed to.

I know of no other way to live the writer’s life.

Now, I’d love to hear from you? Do you feel as though you can’t write outside of your ideal conditions? Do you frequently use excuses to get out of adding words to the page? Or do you actively work against this form of resistance? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.

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Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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