As writers we are told everywhere, in books and all over the web, that to succeed we must write every day. This is true to a point. Being a fiction writer primarily, I am letting go of the idea that I need to work on one of my novels every day. Going to school and having lots of friends-with a bigger social circle than most other writers I know-means that I don’t have time to write every day.

It’s very easy when you miss a day or two-or a week-to bring yourself down, to feel guilty about not writing. All the time we hear that serious writers work at their craft every day, that they apply butt to chair and work until their fingers hurt. Certainly full time writers should write every day or at least almost every day, but for the rest of us, it might not be plausible.

All of that said, if you want to be a good writer, you do need to put a fair bit of time and effort into your work. The trick is to find the right balance so that you can write regularly without getting overwhelmed. It’s particularly tricky when you also work full time, have toddlers, or go to school-whether that be high school or college or sometimes even elementary.

So how do you find balance? I haven’t perfected it yet, but I’ll show you what I do.

Thinking in Goals instead of Times

Each week-okay, most weeks, I fall off the bandwagon sometimes-I decide what I want to do that week. For instance, next week I would like to put up three blog posts, finish the mythology and history for Some Secrets Should Never Be Known (henceforth known as SSNK because I’m too lazy to type it all out every time), and write the first mini-essay of my history class. When I think about my productivity for the week, I look not at how many hours I spent writing, I think about what really matters: what I got accomplished. I don’t give myself specific times to do things because I know I’ll miss at least one of them and get discouraged.

This week I didn’t really get any fiction writing done, but I did do some journaling, which leads me to my next point:

Journaling Counts Too

Since I only really write fiction, I can’t do what some other writers do and switch to a nonfiction project when the fiction gets tough. But I do journal-not every day, but enough-and that counts as writing too. If for whatever reason you can’t seem to finish the next chapter of your book, sit down with pen and paper and start writing about your life. Journaling gives you a space to write out your problems and work them out in your head-as stress is the main cause of ‘writer’s block’, in my opinion-and it gives you a place to write freely, writing whatever you want, because nobody’s going to judge you.

If you didn’t spend the day working on your book, a page or two in your journal will keep your writing muscles strong-besides, you might get an idea to continue your story or even start a new one if you just sit down and write whatever you please in a journal.

Give Yourself A Break

Remember that nobody’s perfect, and the more you beat yourself up about missing a writing day, the less you end up actually writing. Remember that it’s perfectly normal to get burnt out at the end of a novel-or even a novella-and that taking a day-or a few days-off isn’t a big deal. Give yourself a break. And perhaps if you haven’t been writing, it’s time to seek some inspiration-something that can be found anywhere if you look hard enough, especially in the nearest park.

I still don’t get as much writing done as I feel that I should, for a number of reasons. But with these strategies I’ve managed to accomplish a fair bit. Everybody falls off the bandwagon sometimes; the most important thing is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, take a little time for yourself, and then jump back into the writing game. And whatever you do, don’t forget to take time to do things for yourself-it’ll save you a lot of sanity.