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Why “keep on writing” and “write a lot” is crappy advice

Stephen King

Stephen King

Have you ever had a writer or a professor tell you to “keep on writing” if you want to become a better writer?

“Write a lot” or “write more” is another way to say it. Well-known, successful writers like Stephen King are often quoted as saying exactly that.

And it’s frustrating. How can you become a better writer just by writing a lot? Don’t you need to learn a few things?

There are so many important aspects of writing, and advice like this just isn’t helpful. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. What’s going to change? And how?

If your writing isn’t making you (or anyone) happy right now, it seems unlikely that writing more of the same old thing over and over will make it get any better.

And here’s the thing.

If you’re not fully committed to becoming a better writer, “writing more” isn’t going to help you.

If anything, you’ll quit out of frustration.

And that’s why advice like “keep on writing” and “write more” just won’t work. Not by itself.

What you should do, in addition to writing a lot, is to seek out specific instructions, guidelines, and useful tips, like this one, this one, and this one.

And do a lot of reading. When you find something that’s particularly good, read it carefully. Try to figure out what makes it so readable, and look up some information about it.

Maybe it’s an article with a great headline, a kick-butt introduction, or a powerful closing. Or maybe it just pulls you along, transfixed by every word, and you wonder how the writer did that.

You can find loads of information about writing online and right here at Simple Writing. Look it up—or take a look at the list of articles to the right—and do your best to incorporate the new tricks in your own work.

You could even make a goal to include some new technique in your writing every week or month, and keep practicing until you get the hang of it.

If you’re a blogger, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use the new skills and see results. Even if you’re an experienced writer who’s been honing the craft for years, you know you can always get better.

What writer doesn’t want to get better?

And if you simply take the advice to “keep writing” or “write a lot,” you won’t get very far any time soon. You’ve got to put in some effort to learn new skills and incorporate them in your writing.

I’ll tell you to “keep writing” and “write a lot” if you ask me how to improve your writing. But that’s not all there is to it.

If you’re not a serious writer, just writing 1000s of words won’t make a difference. Quit now while you’re ahead if you think that’s all it takes.

But if you’re serious and don’t quite understand how “write a lot” could help you, you’ll feel frustrated. Confused. Maybe even pissed off. And you might not like me very much.

And you’ll thumb your nose or flip a finger and give up. But if you’re smart, you’ll find specific, helpful information you can use right away to improve your writing.

And you’ll keep writing. And you’ll incorporate the new skills. And you’ll get better and better.

And that’s exactly what I want you to do: Write a lot. Give it your all. Don’t stop. Keep writing, but be sure to learn and use new skills, tricks, and techniques as you go along. You’ll be wasting your time if you don’t.

Edited 09/16/2015 for clarity.

Photo credit: Pinguino

Thoughts? Comments are always welcome.

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11 comments… add one
  • Great post Leah… I am getting better at writing within my niche I believe..and it was not because “I kept writing,” it was because I am passionate about what it is I do….you are right…

    BTW, found you on Brian Gardners site, loved your comment!
    David Boozer recently posted…Why I Buy Your Products And Servies Online | What Online Business Owners Need To KnowMy Profile

    • Thanks David! Being passionate about what you’re doing definitely helps, that’s for sure.

      I’ll have to read around on your site. I checked it out; looks great!

  • Sorry but your argument is way way off.
    There is a reason great writers like Stephen King advocate keep writing – it works.
    I personally experience it. When I have writing projects before me I perfect my skill basically through practice, in a way that just doesnt happen when I let my ideas stew.
    Like all great crafts in this world PRACTICE DOES MAKE PERFECT.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tess. Did you read the whole article? Or are you reacting to the headline only?

  • You are wrong. The first rules of writing are “read” and “write”. All that advice you disparage is correct. Admittedly reading and writing are not the whole thing, the advice you give is very helpful, too, but your disparagement of “keep writing more,” is wrong. If you do keep writing more you will, in fact, find your writing improves; especially if you keep reading more as well. King is right.

  • I liked the article, but I think it’s wrong. King doesn’t say just “keep writing”. He says “keep writing” as well as you are improving your style and detecting your mistakes. You should write a lot in order to read what you done and realize what’s wrong on it.

    • Hi Javier,

      I think the article says exactly that. I should make it more clear, though, that “keep writing” by itself (as I often hear) isn’t the only thing writers need to do. Thanks for your comment!

      • I agree! I wrote mindlessly and tried to cover it up as “consciousness stream” but I didn’t improve until I started reading and taking different advice.

        For example writing short blog entries

  • “If you’re not fully committed to becoming a better writer, ‘writing more’ isn’t going to help you.” Very true! One has to keep improving.

    To me, “Keep writing” only meant you shouldn’t stop pursuing the writer’s path, even when you keep getting rejections. You keep on writing–and improving your writing.

  • I like the article. I also agree that you must be dedicated to becoming a better writer rather than just writing more. Quality over quantity and all that.

    Just keep writing is good advice for writers generally though. In the first place simply getting the ole brain muscle moving can have great benefits. And a surefire way to try and get better at writing is in fact to write more, therefore having more things to improve. It is akin to working out.
    To me the just keep writing advice applies more to the concept of inspiration while writing lengthy things. No one ever was continuously inspired through writing something over one hundred pages. The answer to this is just keep writing.

    Good points overall. I know I’m late to the game, just came accross this.

    • Hey Matthew,

      Welcome! Good points. My main point is that writing alone, with nothing else like the stuff I mentioned (such as reading) as well as critique and feedback from others and so on, won’t get anyone far.

      My vantage point, too, is that of someone who majored in English lit (BA/MA) and spent 7 years immersed in writing, reading, instruction, feedback, and so on (plus teaching writing for a few years), so for me to imagine “just writing” sounds like a very slow process. There’s just so much more to it than that.

      Certainly, though, “keep writing” is a part of it. But I’ve known some people who actually have done that without anything else, and it’s no surprise they gave up.
      Leah McClellan recently posted…Vary your sentences with these five tipsMy Profile


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