The Second Stage of Becoming a Writer: From Good to Great

While writing these past 9 months, I have asked myself one question a number of times:

What am I trying to achieve?

When I started writing I considered my main objectives to me:

  1. Develop the ability to write well
  2. Contribute positively to those that read my writing
  3. Overcome personal inhibitions about writing in public

However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to achieve all of these objectives — in particular, the first two seem to clash.

To develop any skill requires consistent practice. This is true with writing. Therefore, to meet my first objective I should be writing as much and as often as I can — the focus is on quantity more so than quality.

To give value to the readers the focus is on quality over quantity; I would rather read one great article than ten mediocre ones. However, as a fledgling writer my ability is not yet at the level where I can produce high quality writing on a consistent basis. Yet aiming for this high quality decreases the quantity of what I write. I wait for moments of ‘inspiration’ before I start writing. Sometimes I have a great idea but never follow through due to ‘insufficient’ time or mental energy. I often spend too long proofreading an article and considering it from the audience’s perspective.

The question of quantity vs quality is ubiquitous. The answer depends on the context. I imagine you would prefer one great car than ten mediocre cars, but if stuck in the desert you would rather have ten bottles of water than one bottle of your favourite drink.

So it is necessary for me to evaluate which of my objectives should be my current focus and thus whether to strive for quality or quantity. My end goal is to write consistently good work which contributes positively to those that read it. To help decide, I considered the following story [emphasis mine]:

A pottery teacher split her class into two halves.
To the first half she said, “You will spend the semester studying pottery, planning, designing, and creating your perfect pot. At the end of the semester, there will be a competition to see whose pot is the best”.
To the other half she said, “You will spend your semester making lots of pots. Your grade will be based on the number of completed pots you finish. At the end of the semester, you’ll also have the opportunity to enter your best pot into a competition.”
The first half of the class threw themselves into their research, planning, and design. Then they set about creating their one, perfect pot for the competition.
The second half of the class immediately grabbed fistfulls of clay and started churning out pots. They made big ones, small ones, simple ones, and intricate ones. Their muscles ached for weeks as they gained the strength needed to throw so many pots.
At the end of class, both halves were invited to enter their most perfect pot into the competition. Once the votes were counted, all of the best pots came from the students that were tasked with quantity. The practice they gained made them significantly better potters than the planners on a quest for a single, perfect pot.

With this in mind, I am going to make a concerted effort to write more. I don’t intend to neglect quality entirely, and I hope that some will still benefit from my writing, but my focus will be on quantity until I develop the ability to produce quality content more consistently.

The ways that I achieve this will be:

  • For one month I will write and publish on Medium every single day.
  • If I produce an article that I feel is high quality and would bring benefit to others, I will attract wider readership by sharing it on social media, etc.

Therefore, if you enjoy my writing and would like to see all of my new articles, subscribe to me on Medium. Otherwise, look out for shares on my social media or pop back here from time to time.

Other points

Why share at all?

If I am focussing on writing a lot, why I don’t just write loads privately and then start sharing once I get good enough? In theory this may work but it wouldn’t in practice. We benefit from accountability; holding yourself accountable to publish something each day is more realistic than holding yourself accountable to write for yourself each day. Responses from readers also add to the accountability and my hope is that, despite not obsessing about quality, it will still be high enough quality to add value.

That being said, please hold me accountable. If you notice I don’t post despite promising that I will, let me know. The benefit of any simple reminder is greatly amplified due to the subsequent Hawthorne effect.

What about my third objective? (Overcome personal inhibitions about writing in public)

This is a continual, gradual process which occurs as you continually expose yourself to the object of fear. However, it is not really an aim in its own right; overcoming inhibitions is meaningless unless you do something with the new ability to take action and if this were my sole aim I could write trash, share it widely and desensitise myself to the opinions of others (but not achieve much else).


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Originally published at ChrisLovejoy.me.