Write lots. Write often. Write every day. Write as much as you can, prolifically and continually and constantly. And if you do, they say your skills will improve. It’s the key to being a great writer.
I don’t think so.
If all you’re doing is writing, you’re only producing volume. You’re repeating behaviour – but you’re not improving. The act of repeating behaviour makes you more experienced and faster and eventually that behaviour becomes second nature.
But it doesn’t make you better at writing.
In fact, consistent writing may actually do you damage and hold you back from improving. You’re not learning anything, you see – you’re just doing what you’ve always done.
You ingrain bad habits that take a long time to break.
Think of someone you know who isn’t a great driver. They didn’t start out being a bad driver. They were tabula rasa with no driving skills at all. And they got into a car and learned the basics to get from A to B.
And that was it.
They didn’t work on being the best driver they could be. They didn’t put effort into perfecting parallel parking – and even challenging themselves to be the best parallel parker in the world. They didn’t pay attention to details like what to do at a four-way stop or bother to practice new skills like sliding around in icy parking lots for winter driving.
They just learned to drive.
And drive they did, from place to place, repeating those basic skills they’d learned and reinforcing behaviours until they became habits, for better or for worse. They didn’t constantly improve their driving skills over the years. They just drove from place to place.
Bad drivers don’t get better at driving. They just get better at being bad drivers.
Writing is like that. Those who suggest you should write daily, write often, write if it hurts, slog through it when you don’t feel like writing or aren’t in good form to create your best work… well, they’re unknowingly encouraging you to be a bad driver.
It reinforces your bad habits and keeps you from improving, because all you’re doing is writing. Nothing more.
You need to slow down when you write. You need to think about what you’re writing, and how it works to capture reader attention. You need to devote conscious attention to improving your work to make it more effective. More readable. More captivating and compelling.
You need to work at being better. If you’re just writing for the sake of writing, you’re not going to improve or learn a thing. “Write often” doesn’t magically improve your skills – especially if your writing skills need work to begin with.
Writing without effort is a useless, futile exercise.
Now some of you might say, “I’ve been blogging for three years and you should see some of my first posts. Of course my writing has improved!” And most likely it has, but that’s not because you wrote hundreds of posts. Tons of content doesn’t equal tons of skills.
Your writing skills improved because somewhere along the way, you observed others and how they wrote. You actively applied new techniques and put in effort to improve your work. You read other people’s books or blogs and tried to make your writing more like theirs. You practiced a few strategies or followed advice or explored new methods.
You didn’t just sit there writing lots.
You made your writing better through active effort, through observation, attention, learning and trying. You absorbed information, consciously and unconsciously, and you used it in your writing, improving over time.
You weren’t like that terrifying bad driver who just drove that way for years until his poor skills became lifelong habit and automatic, unconscious behaviour.
Improving skills is active, not passive. It’s progress, not repetition. It’s challenging what you can do now to see what you could do with a little effort.
So the next time you see someone tell you to write often (even if it hurts) to improve your skills, give a little snort. It won’t make you a better writer.
Working to be a better writer will.