“The more you do something, the better you get at it.”
We’ve probably all heard that at one time or another. But is it really true? Especially when it comes to writing?
Can we honestly say that the more an author writes, the better they’ll get?
I’d like to believe that the longer I write and the more books I have under my belt, the better I’ll get.
But is it true?
Recently, I read a book by popular author that has been around for a long while. I’d read some of this author’s earlier works and liked them well enough at the time. So when I picked up this book after all the years had passed, I expected I would enjoy the author even more.
But the sad truth was that I was very disappointed. The story didn’t captivate me and the writing had large chunks of backstory as well as pages of repetitive exposition with very little action or dialogue.
So in this case, I can say that this author didn’t get better over time—had perhaps even atrophied.
So do more books equate better stories and writing?
Yes and No.
YES, most writers are likely to get better to a degree over time.
Consistent writing can help strengthen a writer’s creative muscles. I’ve found that when I’m writing every day, I have a much easier time sitting down to my laptop and jumping back into my story-world than those times when I’m sporadic.
Not only does the daily writing help the flow of my story, but I also find that regular writing enables me to think of words quicker, find plot solutions easier, and weave in descriptions better. Overall I’m able to write with more ease.
The creative parts of our brains are similar to any other muscle in our bodies. The more we engage them, the stronger and more flexible they become.
Regular writing can also help us improve our speed. I’ve also found that over time, I’m able to challenge myself to higher daily word count goals (and weekly totals). With my first published book, I made myself write 500 words a day. At that time, with a baby, toddler, and three elementary children, that was all I could manage.
With the book after that, I increased my daily word count goal to 800 words per day. During the next several books, I challenged myself to 1000 words a day. Slowly, over time, I’ve worked my way up to doing even more. In order to improve, we have to challenge ourselves to operate in the zone where it’s just slightly uncomfortable.
NO, writing in greater frequency for long periods of time doesn’t guarantee success.
Just because we’re doing something all the time, doesn’t mean we’re getting better at it. Think about a person who jogs every day. Perhaps they’re perfectly content to jog two miles in twenty minutes for an entire year. That doesn’t mean they’re getting faster or gaining endurance. After a year of jogging at the same distance at the same pace, they aren’t automatically going to be able to run a 5K and finish in a decent time.
The same thing is true of writers. Just because an author writes 1000 words every day for an entire year, doesn’t necessarily they’re getting better. If we want to improve (in anything) we have to make concerted steps to push ourselves to do and learn more.
The longer authors write, the more potential they have for stagnating. They can grow too comfortable with their style, voice, and stories. Their books can start to have a cookie cutter feel. Instead of pushing themselves to think deeper and harder and find fresh ideas, they stick with what they’re used to.
My Summary: If we really want to get better at something, then yes, we need to keep doing it day after day. But we can’t stop there. We have to consciously challenge ourselves to grow in our skill too.
Have you ever been disappointed by an author who seemed to stagnate? How would you encourage authors (or anyone to grow) in their skills?
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