In Defense of Writing a Lot


Barbara Baig wrote a guest post on Writer Beware about how to improve your writing. The short version of her advice, stop writing so much.

I understand where she’s coming from, but a lot of what she said rubbed me the wrong way. Here is what she says not to do:

“Certainly not by following another piece of writing advice, very prevalent these days: Just keep writing, you’ll get better. Really? Can you imagine a hitting coach saying to a kid who wants to be a professional baseball player, Just keep swinging the bat, you’ll get better?”

When she gets down to what writers should do, go to critique groups, learn the basics, study the craft, they are all good things to do. Writing just by itself won’t teach you to be a better writer, you have to think critically about your own writing.

But you also have to write — a lot.

Even her analogy fails. I don’t know much about baseball but I can imagine how your first meeting with a running coach would go. “How many miles do you log a week?” If that wasn’t the first question, it would be among the first. No amount of coaching on form, no amount of talking about training schedules, or race strategy will help you be a better runner, unless you are also running, a lot. That’s reality.

The first thing a running coach will want to know is how many miles log every week

If you are running, the advice can be applied and you can improve. If you don’t run, it’s just trivia.

The same is true of writing. Where is she is right is that if you simply write without ever pausing to edit what you write, think about the craft, critique your work, etc. You might improve, a little and slowly, just like the average jogger will slowly get into shape.

But there’s a limit to how much growth you can experience as a writer or a runner with that approach. On the flip side you can read a ton of books about writing, attend writing groups and critique the same piece over and over. You learn a lot. But you won’t improve, not much. Just like a runner who sets up training schedules but doesn’t run will learn a lot about running, but won’t be a better runner for it.

The fastest, and the only, way to improve your writing is to do both. You need to learn the craft of writing. And you need to write enough to apply those lessons, and set them as habits. That’s why writing a lot is still some of the best writing advice you can give, despite what Baig has to say on the subject.

If you live in central Iowa and want to sharpen your critiquing skills, check out the Des Moines Writers Workshop. They offer critique groups, write-ins and writing retreats.

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