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097 The Problem with the ‘Hell-For-Leather’ Writing Movement
26th August 2015 • Rough Draft • Rainmaker.FM
00:00:00 00:06:55

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As of late, it s fashionable to write hell for leather. In fact, there s a hot cottage industry in the writing culture. But is it good for the writing community? Or detrimental?

For lack of potentially better terms, let s call this trend the The Hell-For-Leather Writing Movement. Or HFLWM.

You see, HFLWM in titles like How to Write Fast, Write an Article in 20 Minutes, and How Fast Can You Write?

The growing content demands and aggressive editorial schedules shove this thinking into our face. But it gets empirical with 5 Personal Writing Metrics Every Content Marketer Should Track by Nate Baker at Raven.

And it also gets personal.

In this 7-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • If tracking your writing makes you write faster
  • Why it’s a bad idea to compare writing to walking
  • A more reasonable stretch goal than “writing faster”
  • When writing faster is appropriate
  • The perfect metaphor that describes how a serious writer revises
  • And more!

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The Show Notes

The Transcript

The Problem with the Hell-For-Leather Writing Movement

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Demian Farnworth: Howdy, and you are listening to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth. Your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

It took me six hours in six days to write this post. It s less than 430 words. That s about 1.2 words per minute. Is there something wrong with me?

And that s not counting the time I spent thinking about this article.

As of late it s fashionable to write hell for leather. In fact, there s a hot cottage industry in the writing culture. For lack of better terms, let s call it the “The Hell-For-Leather Writing Movement.”


You see it in titles like “How to Write Fast,” “Write an Article in 20 Minutes,” and “How Fast Can You Write?” Content demands shove this thinking into our face. But it gets empirical with 5 Personal Writing Metrics Every Content Marketer Should Track by Nate Baker at Raven.

Could Tracking Your Writing Make You Write Faster

The genesis of his metrics is interesting: Baker noticed that he walked faster and longer as he tracked his miles with a FitBit. He then postulated: “If I track my writing, perhaps I ll write faster and more often.”

His month-long experiment confirmed as much.

First blush and this is charming stuff. Speed up your writing production and you could write two articles a day instead of one you could write two novels during November instead of one. Who wouldn t want that?

Win for HFLWM.

After further reflection, though, you have to wonder: is this even a reasonable goal for a writer?

There is a temptation to say “yes” because of research like this: exceptional individual contributors set stretch goals and adopt high standards for themselves.

But we ll address concerns with this research in a minute. Let s deal with the problems behind Baker s idea first.

Why It s a Bad Idea to Compare Writing to Walking

First off, it s not even fair to compare walking to writing. They are two completely different activities. Walking is pretty basic. Step, stride, balance, repeat. Writing, on the other hand, is not.

If you want to compare a physical activity with writing best use ballet or boxing. Both require years of training for brief moments in the spotlight. Both are deemed art. It would be irresponsible to do either “faster.”

A Place for Writing Faster

Don t get me wrong: there is a place for writing fast. It s located in your rough draft. Or when you have more work than time. Writing more articles a day is just one stretch goal you could set, yet is that even a legitimate higher standard? Quantity of words?

Better yet: Is it clear? Concise? Compelling? Of course that takes time.

If procrastination is the issue, then set a deadline. And improve your typing speed. That will the get rough draft down on paper faster.

The Perfect Metaphor that Describes How a Serious Writer Revises

Revision, however, will be time-consuming labor because creativity and efficiency are like water and oil. They do not mix. Listen. Editing a long document is sort of like shoveling snow off a sidewalk while it is still snowing.

It begins with a foot of snow (you dump a rough draft on to the blank page). You start to shovel (edit) down the sidewalk (page). You reach the end of the sidewalk (page), wipe your brow with your cap, and look behind you.

My goodness, you didn t realize it started snowing while you were still shoveling (in other words, it hardly looks like your editing job put a dent in your rough draft).

You must keep shoveling. Pushing. Smoothing out the transition from one point to the next. Substituting words for stronger verbs. If you don t do this revision work, you ll have a clunky document. You have fragments ideas stitched together without any larger coherent pattern that brings them all together. You have what looks like web writing outsourced to foreign writers.

A great document is seamless. Smooth. Fluid. Like a country road that rolls over the hills and bends through the turns like the landscape has known nothing else. It feels effortless. Yet, is anything but. Because revision takes time. It can t be hurried.

So much for HFLWM.

Until next time. Take care.

The Transcript

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