The Laffer curve of writing quality

You’ve probably heard of the Laffer Curve. Economist Arthur Laffer allegedly sketched it on a napkin during a 1974 meeting in Washington that included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

It is a thought experiment intended to show that if you raise the tax rate beyond a certain point you actually end up collecting less tax revenue. (At a tax rate of 100%, for instance, nobody would bother earning income at all anymore.)

Well, the curve just popped into my head as I was contemplating something completely different: The quality of my writing — or of anybody’s writing.

Look at Laffer’s curve above and replace Government Revenue on the Y axis with Writing Quality, and Tax Rate on the X axis with Words Written.

Up to the peak

In general, I have noticed that my writing in the past always improved when I wrote more.

So, at The Economist for example, I noticed ‘being on a roll’ every time I finished a Special Report (those 12,000-word inserts). Then, when I wrote my book in my spare time, I again noticed that all my writing seemed to improve. When I added this blog, my writing seemed to get better again. And so forth.

Why might this be the case?

Perhaps because when you write too little (which applies to most people), you are too timid with your words, too diffident that you actually have something to say. As you write, you discover that you do have something to say, and the words come more easily and fluidly.

Or perhaps you feel less less uptight about your words as you write more of them, and you become looser as a result. Who knows?

So far, the advice for most writers and bloggers would therefore seem to be:

Write more.

Down from the peak

But of late, I’ve also been wondering whether one can write too much.

At The Economist, for example, we’ve been adding all these blogs, not to mention the “multimedia” content. So now we’re expected to “feed” those as well.

Internally, we’ve resolved that readers come to blogs with different expectations of polishedness (as opposed to quality, which should stay high). It’s OK to shoot from the hip.

Still, I wonder about the Laffer Curve. When do I start writing so much and so often that my writing gets worse?

Writing = Vita interrupta

That’s my silly word play on Coitus Interruptus. What I’m trying to say that writing is always and necessarily the second step in a process.

The first step must be:

  • thinking,
  • reporting,
  • experiencing
  • living

Then you interrupt that first step and write about it. But if you write too much, you cannibalize the thinking, reporting, experiencing and living, do you not?

Perhaps then it’s time to

write less.

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