Why You Shouldn’t Write Often

Why You Shouldn't Write Often

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.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Great article J – your advice follows the mantra: Perfect Practice makes Perfect Performance!

    I’ve said in the past to write often, every day in fact, but like anything else you’re trying to improve, it’s not just the writing, but evaluating what you’re doing, both right and wrong and working to improve on it.

    Just writing for the sake of writing is a lot like how most politicians do their jobs. And we see where that’s gotten us! 😉

    • That’s one reason why I slowed down on guest posting – I was writing for the sake of writing and didn’t have the time to think on more creative ideas, more solid advice or present the material in a better way.

      As for politicians… Well. I could never be one 🙂

    • Good point Jeremy,

      This “perfect practice” or “deliberate practice” is talked about in the books Outliers, Bounce and Talent is Overrated.

      It is not only writing, everything we want to improve follows the same principle. Playing around on a musical instrument is not the same as practicing scales to a metronome. Spending hours at the gym with out targeting muscle groups accurately is just wasting time. Swimming is probably the best example because technique is much more important than physical strength.

      A related idea, is the importance of great coaching in getting better. We all think that more hours will lead to better performance, but it doesn’t work that way, as James said. We often don’t even know what we are doing wrong. An hour with a good coach is often better than dozens of hours of practice.

      • With years of musical history and practicing scales, I can honestly say that every scale I did with an attitude of “do the scale… do the scale… sigh… boring… do the scale” got me NOWHERE. And every scale I did with a mindset of starting over each time I made a mistake or pushing up the speed of the metronome or trying a different pattern… worlds of fast improvement.

  2. “You made your writing better through active effort, through observation, attention, learning and trying.”

    That’s exactly right. I think that no matter how long you’ve been a writer for, there is always room to improve. Hemingway spent his whole life developing his unique style, and even then wasn’t always happy with it.

    You can’t just “become a writer” – it’s a process that never stops.


    • I remember my riding coach who often said, “There’s always something new to learn, no matter how good you are.” I think he told me that so I wouldn’t get too cocky… fail. 😉

  3. I try to write at lest three times a week, because it just my thing. Plus I get this question a lot how often should you write and I say if you are heavy on your niche then you can write often..if not..keep it to an minimum.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

    • To me, it doesn’t matter how heavy you are in your niche. If you get complacent and think you can just write and write and write… then you’re not spending time thinking on how to be a better writer!

  4. There’s an old question about the guy who has 20 years of experience. “Was that one year, repeated 20 times?”

    I see that a lot in teaching. Especially in Higher Education, where people come up with a model for teaching a particular class that they like and they keep repeating it over, and over, and over. They actually wear a path in the linoleum in front of the blackboard, pacing back and forth. The questions they ask are the same, and the answers they expect to get never vary. Woe is to the student who asks something outside the box, or who challenges a lovingly held assumption.

    One of the most difficult things to do in training is to BREAK and existing pattern and change it. It’s far easier to introduce new material and processes than to take something that a learner is comfortable with and change it.

  5. Love to write. Enjoy it mostly. Except when I tried to write EVERY DAY.
    Most of that stuff was junk.
    Your article gives me hope that less junk is still in there.

  6. I see two sides to this issue:

    1. Building up the discipline of regular writing.
    2. Getting better at writing.

    I agree that writing crap, without attempting to improve it, on a daily basis isn’t very helpful. I don’t know that it makes your writing worse, but it can reinforce bad practices and techniques, so I get that.

    Then there’s the other side, which is to build up the discipline of regular (not necessarily daily) writing. The real purpose of doing that, IMHO, is to get people used to writing for long stretches. I don’t know whether it’s necessary to make it a daily habit or not. However, if you combine daily writing with a series of exercises designed to improve your writing skills, I think it can help you get better faster.

    I think the real issue that you’re trying to identify in your article is not daily, or regular, writing: it’s writing without really working at getting better.

    Of course, your title did pique my interest, so I expect that everything is going to plan. 🙂

  7. I bet if you polled 100 writers, 99 would say they’ve read On Writing, but only five would say they’ve read On Writing Well.

  8. My writing improves when I read books that have meaning and effect me. For example you have to come out as a better writer if you read books by Joseph Campbell or Ken Blanchard. Have a book in your hand everywhere you go. be a life long learner and writing come naturally to you. take that 10% you learn from each of these amazing authors and teach others the meaning of their message through your eyes. Writing can be a blast. Relevant writing is a study and it is the most rewarding thing you can do in todays content driven world.

    • I agree with paying attention to what you read. I have books with dogears in them just because a certain sentence was really well written or because they used a great word. And I’ll often try to think about WHY I like certain books… for example, I loved Name of the Wind, so I muse often on what Rothfuss did in that book that made me love it so much.

      Then I try to replicate it 🙂

  9. This is why I tend to do/recommend exercises that have a form of group accountability.

    Like #fridayflash or the Creative Copy Challenge. Not only are you writing something that others will see, but they’ll be able to point out things that you could improve on, especially if they notice that it’s popped up in your writing fairly often. Although these aren’t exactly critiquing groups, it helps to have other people around at least!

    • Depends – accountability tends to work well with people who are more externally validated. They get the kudos and have an audience they trust to try harder for. (Woo, bad grammar there, eh?) But other writers are more internally validated, and they tend not to pay much attention to audience comments. Depends which way you swing, and both are equally fine!

  10. Hmmmm.

    I respectfully disagree for myself only – I have never taken any classes/actively taught myself how to write. But looking over my years of writing, I’ve definitely evolved and improved.

    Methinks instead I asked meself, what is it I enjoy reading…and then set out to produce it myself. But I’ve definitely been a solo learning during all of this time.

    • Ah, but you skim so quickly, my darling… 😉

      “You absorbed information, consciously and unconsciously, and you used it in your writing, improving over time. ”

      Unconcious learning counts, in my books!

  11. My favorite recent book on writing is On Writing, by Stephen King. Loved it.

    And, re: “They were tabla rosa with no driving skills at all. ”

    It should be: tabula rasa

  12. The sign of a great (web) writer? Having four times as many drafts as published posts. I agree — good writing takes time to craft and refine; writing every day isn’t enough on its own.

    But it helps heaps.

    Just look to Isaac Asimov. His prolific output reads like a stock check at a small public library: combined, his 500 books, 9,000-odd letters, and exquisite collection of short stories speak of a man whose daily writing obsession suggests that regular practise is among the bigger parts of the equation.

    As for the other parts… Blind luck and whiskey?

    • LOL, we’re saying the same thing – drafts and honing and polishing and making it better… even if it’s four times as many revisions as finished work… is actively improving. So yeah, I’m all for that.

      But I bet that the dude who made a mission to make 400 drafts in 10 weeks isn’t improving. He’s just writing lots. (And will probably need to drink a lot of whiskey to recover.)

  13. Huge sigh of relief when I read this..!

    I’ve never followed the ‘must post every day’ advice. Firstly, I knew when I started that I’d never be able to keep it going and, secondly, because I write better when I don’t have the pressure of an imminent deadline.

    I write best when I can get into the groove, but if I’ve got this ‘must be finished by tonight’ thing going round my mind I stay firmly out of the groove 🙂



    • Getting in the groove is the best way to write. Writing cold makes for really crappy work. That’s why it’s always good to write for at least 15 minutes on unrelated stuff to warm up!

      • See what you’re courage did? -viral.
        You might also have answered my question:
        Which is the better writer? The prolific who writes everyday or the streak-writer who writes only ‘when in the groove’?

  14. I remember someone telling me years ago that “Practice makes Perfect” was false, in fact “Practice makes Permanent”. I have enough bad habits without practising them into permanency with my writing.

    When I first started my blog I was churning out a post a day for the first few months, and burnt out very quickly. Plus all I was doing was writing, I wasn’t doing anything that would actually make me money. Once I slowed down I had time for other (money making) tasks, my writing improved because I had the time to write well and I was enjoying it a lot more.

  15. I’m so glad you have the courage to write about this. This is what I believe and practice too.

  16. I find that writing frequently (daily in my case) is the best way to improve skill. But I haven’t developed a daily habit to the exclusion of all else, because the advice on writing daily isn’t the ONLY advice given to new writers is it? I also find time to read and analyse others people’s writing, read about writing and do any necessary background research for my work (If I’m not careful I spend too much time reading and researching and not enough time writing). However, if I don’t get something down on paper I can’t organise my thoughts and explore my ideas properly. I write in order to think; so I write daily – even when it hurts. This is my personal way of working. There is no one correct way to go is there?

    • There’s never any one way of going about it, correct.

      Of course, as you’ve pointed out, you take the time to read other people’s work and look into new things and work through symptomatic issues that hold you back – so that’s awesome! And if you do that daily, then all the better.

  17. James, you do run therapy sessions don’t you. I have to admit I’ve been struggling with this idea.

    Some bloggers brag they can write a post in 15 minutes. 15 minutes? Some people like the idea of NaNoWiMo. I tried it–can’t do it.

    I’m not sure if it’s just a genetic writing flaw. I don’t think it’s a conflict between being a perfectionist and having poor skills. I’m not sure it is an issue of work ethic.

    Maybe it’s just an individual personality trait. Maybe it’s ?????

    Maybe the answer lies in the vast land of “Don’t Know”?

    • People can write a post in 15 minutes. (I can!) Is it GOOD? No. It’s first draft quality and just banged out on the fly. It’s unedited, unpolished and hasn’t been refined to be the best it can be.

      Is it good enough to publish? In some cases, yes. I’ve written 15-minute posts that were good enough to slap up and go. Could they have been better? For SURE.

      (I don’t encourage people to join NaNoWriMo, btw…)

      A good way to increase speed is to limit word count length. “I’m going to write 10 150-word posts today. In two hours.” 150 words sounds like NOTHING. Come on. You can do that! Go!

  18. Hmmm… This is going to get me scrapped off of James’ list.

    Yes you have to learn. Yes you have to improve.

    You can’t write if you don’t read. You need to put something in the brain before you can squeeze it and have something good come out.


    Practice does help. Not the kind where, as you put it, you slog through page after page of badly written ‘I’ll bloody well force myself to write’ kind of sludge.

    If you’re a mediocre writer and you only write once a week, all your studying will only amount to a little bit of practice. And without practice, no studying is going to improve your writing very much. Some, but not much.

    Middle way, James?

    • Heh. Practice means applying new techniques you’ve learned. Ergo, working with a concious effort towards improvement. Which is awesome. Which is what you’re saying 🙂

      Practice is not “must write lots today. Must write 5000 words. Must get this out.” There’s no goal to improve there. That’s just writing for the sake of writing…. kind of like banging your head against a wall.

      • Er… yeah. Which is why I don’t really agree with you. I find writing for the sake of writing does have a great benefit.

        Ok, I’ll contend that it won’t make you a better writer.


        It does make writing a whole lot EASIER. And that is fantastically effective for getting over the BS mindf$#@ of writer’s block, or whatever flavour we give to that excusionist attitude for ourselves.

  19. Patrick Vuleta says:

    Sounds a lot like the old distinction between busy work and productive work.

    It’s interesting that writing advice has been previously given against it though. Maybe we’re all just immune to Stephen Covey books nowadays and need specific reminders of what’s important in any one field.

  20. Andrew Billmann says:

    One of the best ways to get better is to edit someone else’s stuff, preferably someone who could use the help. Like a seventh grader. Or a corporate executive. Editing, by its very nature, is a slower process than writing and requires much more critical thinking. When you bring that mindset to your own writing, it improves dramatically.

    • As a middle school reading and writing teacher, I remind the kids of the practice makes permanent theory often, as applied to writing. We often take one piece of writing at the beginning of the quarter and keep going back to it to apply new things throughout the quarter. It’s amazing to see the difference as they work on improving that one story. It usually ends up a lot shorter:)

      Also, totally agree with Andrew about the editing process. Helping a seventh grader improve their writing really does help me improve mine.

  21. Thanks James. This makes so much sense, and it’s a huge relief for those who don’t have the time to write all day, nor the (unconscious) illusion that the writing gods will shower us with pixie dust. I know everyone’s situation and purpose for writing are different, but it’s intimidating when you read about the importance of writing 2500 words per day.

    At the end of my day I remind myself that I’m a single mom with two jobs, a blog, and a dog (and the Siberian Husky pup doesn’t walk himself…although he’d probably love to ;)).

    Great analogy of the bad but practiced driver-I’ll have to borrow this one for my clients :).

  22. One of the things I got from my degree in Rhetoric was this lesson from one of the Greeks (Aristotle, maybe? Plato?):

    In order for an activity to become an art, you need theory, guided practice, and anima. Understand the basics. Study with an expert. Bring your creative spirit.

  23. The more time I’ve spent blogging, the more I’ve moved to writing only when I have something of substance to write about. When I first started out, I was so focused on generating content that I’d blog about almost anything. By writing less, I have been able to home in on topics that really interest me–something I wasn’t able to do when I was more worried about volume.

  24. When learning any skill, it is just as important to spend time away from the activity as it is to diligently practice it. Practice too much and you will be fatigued and distracted (which could reinforce bad habits). Practice too little and you’ll lose all the muscle you’ve built over time.

    I read a recent article by Jonah Lehrer at Frontal Cortex about how just a few hours of clear-and-focused practice can perform just as well (if not better) than more hours spent, but less focus.

    I think our culture somewhat conditions us to believe that “more work” always equals “better work,” which really isn’t the case.

    Great piece!

  25. James. I never thought of it like that.

    I used to write a post a day. Mainly because I wanted to get into the habit of writing (as I didn’t like it much).

    My writing did get better, but when I look back in it now your right. My writing didn’t get better because I was writing everyday. It got better because I was also reading more, learning more and applying what I picked up to my writing.

    It is great to read refreshing articles like this. Thanks

    Chat soon

  26. Oh, great points!

    I was thinking about doing the NaNoWriMo and decided not to for two reasons:

    1. I don’t have the time. I’d be there all stressed because I didn’t meet a deadline I set for myself each day. Add more stress for the sake of adding more stress and another deadline on top of my other deadlines? No thanks.

    2. I figured it’d be better to spend that time writing stuff that I can post on my blog or other material that’s actually helpful for other people. Or, just doing research and learning new things I can apply to my work later. The thought of writing a novel and then possibly throwing it in the trash kind of makes me want to cry.

    Anyway, I’m glad to get a confirmation that I did the “write” thing for me. (sorry, bad joke)

  27. This is such an important point. I think writing practice (which I DO think you should do often) is like the peanut butter in a peanut butter sandwich. It’s a must. But it needs to be spread on something. The something is that observation you talk about. It’s reading books or articles or essays or whatever is in your genre. It’s studying and dissecting and pondering. It’s this learning process that gives writing practice its foundation.

    But on the flip side, learning and reading won’t make you good writer if you don’t write often. 😉

  28. Great post, but not one that I necessarily agree with fully (at least not if you were to only read the title!)

    Whenever I talk to new writers who are struggling with development, whether that’s gaining their first client or wanting to increase their rates, I tell them that they need to be writing regularly.

    The reason behind this isn’t because I believe that if you write daily you’ll instantly become a better writer, but for the fact that from my experience, the more you write, the more engrossed you become in the whole industry.

    You find that as you write more and more, you naturally want to learn more; expand your knowledge; become respected in the freelance writing community.

    Sure, this is somewhat of a broad statement and everybody learns and develops in their own way, but I honestly believe that the more you write, the better your writing will become over time because of a greater involvement with other writers in all things related to the writing industry (and your sentence “You made your writing better through active effort, through observation, attention, learning and trying” sums that up perfectly).

    Really enjoyable post.

  29. Well I’m relieved I’m not the only one who’s talked about this! So many people out there believe quantity in writing is the best way to measure success. I have always found myself looking to the quality of their writing. Honestly, I stop paying attention to those who write 2 article/day because they are telling me a whole lot of NOTHING!

    While it is important to stay in your readers’ eyes, you lose credibility if you have nothing new or relevant to say. Thx for assuring me I’m not the only one who sees it! Good post!

  30. Wow – can’t believe how timely this is! A few weeks ago I subscribed to a blog because I’d been so impressed with the quality of the content. Just this morning I “unsubscribed” to that same blog. Why? Because the writer has for some reason ramped up the posts to not just once a day, but 3 or more times a day – usually just a few lines each post – random thoughts, points and issues . . . or maybe he is working up to a point and I’m just so irritated about all of the messages in my inbox I’m missing it.
    Definitely been a lesson for me (as a budding author), and your post has helped to clarify it further

  31. This is perfect timing for me! I’m kind of stuck on my story, and not sure how to proceed. Earlier today I had the urge to keep writing, even though I wasn’t sure where to go. But I took a step back, and I’m mulling the options around in my head. I’m glad I didn’t just write anything! Thanks for the advice.

  32. Really, really nice post James. One thing I enjoy seeing is folks who aren’t afraid to go against the grain and tell some of the more unpopular truths. Practicing DOES make perfect, however, folks forget to mention that you have to learn something first, THEN practice it. The you learn something else, and practice, and so on.

  33. Fantastic post! Fantastic advice!

  34. I write everyday, just not always blog posts. Sometimes I write code, emails, tweets, facebook posts, shout outs on Empire Ave 😉 etc…

    Truthfully though, I couldn’t agree more. I have lowered my output of articles to only 1-3 per week depending on how inspired and creative I feel. I have never been a fan of scheduled writing, I prefer to do it when it tells me too (the inspiration and creativeness).

  35. Interesting point of view.

    I agree that “just writing” does not a writer make. In fact, I wrote a blog article a few months ago about this: http://lindseymccaffrey.com/makes-writer/

    And yes, a commitment to improvement is certainly critical to being a good writer. It requires a lot of reading, absorbing information and advice, and applying it to everything you do.

  36. Like any skill, both study and practice are needed for mastery. Write plenty, but keep learning. That’s why we’re all here reading blogs about writing.
    If I don’t have a writing project I want to work on, I’ll journal. While most of my journal writing gets deleted later, I pull a lot of good writing ideas out of it. I also find that the habit of writing for a couple of hours every day makes me a faster writer when I sit down to write something for others.
    I’d agree with the title to this extent; don’t write often if that means no reading. I read more than I write and only write for a couple of hours a day. So, I don’t write often.

  37. To make sure you improve your writing skills, you need to READ more often to get the inspiration you need and develop your style as well as perspective to be a better writer.

  38. What you’re saying seems like great advice, at least when you compare it to drivers. I know a lot of bad drivers, and they don’t get better at driving no matter how much they drive 🙂

    I have always thought that I should be writing as much as possible. That’s what I’ve been doing. At some days I feel really bad about writing. I don’t have any energy at all, and feel like doing something completely different (like watch a movie, or walk for hours), anything but writing. On the other hand, I feel bad if I don’t write. I want to see (and understand) that I am being productive. Watching a movie, thinking about the story, doesn’t feel like being productive and I don’t have anything to show (I show myself what I’ve accomplished each day).

    Do you schedule your writing? I do, but when reading this I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Or maybe I should schedule but not write for many hours every single day?

  39. Great article and so true. I am wired for fast and volume. Slowing down, editing, rewriting are as tough for me as generating an article. The value of reading is something I am learning. My wife says, “Less is more”. Reading the article reminded me of something C.S. Lewis said about Christian writers. I cannot document where it is noted, but he said something like, “What we need is not more Christian writers, but we need Christians who write well.” The bad driver analogy is powerful. Thanks. Bill

  40. Love this! I freewrite to get the ideas flowing but when a deadline looms, I aim for writing a draft and a half. It really helps me focus.

  41. Excellent post, but honestly, you could have made this point in far less words :-).

    I was also a bit disappointed that it just ended with a kick in the butt and no links about actually improving your skills ;-).

  42. This is so true. Thank you for saying it, and I would like to go ahead and repost this on my site, for my writing students/clients. Sitting for hours as part of the discipline of writing has its merit, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to the production of good writing. ‘Good’ comes from something much more complicated than putting in the hours in production-mode; it requires that you step back and rethink your work, and give your vision—your style and choices—a chance to mature.

  43. HI James, I’m pretty new to your site. Although this is an older post, I wanted to chime in and say thanks for giving me a new way to look at my own writing evolution. I’ve been blogging for a while now and it wasn’t until recently that I took some time off and studied the writings of others that my own content found its new, voice. I plan on looking around here a bit more as you offer some great insight. Thanks!

  44. I’m so thankful you wrote this! As a new writer I’m constantly hearing the “write more, write often, write now!” advice and something about it just never seemed to ‘click’. Thank you for validating my belief that great writing comes from learning to write better and then practicing often rather than writing as much as possible just for the sake of writing.


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  14. […] the other hand, there are those who would say that if your heart’s not in it, you can end up writing badly and repeating the […]

  15. […] Chartrand, Why You Shouldn’t Write Often, Men with […]

  16. […] be able to help anyone else if I can’t help myself. I also read a great article on Men With Pens that explains how writing a certain amount every day won’t make me a better writer. […]

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