Quality vs quantity is a false dichotomy

"Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." --Ray Bradbury

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” –Ray Bradbury

When I was planning this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project, I set myself a goal of writing at least three or four pep talk style posts about the importance of not giving up and/or about some writing tricks and tips that seemed appropriate as I moved along. I did write about three such posts before November began, aimed at convincing people who were considering giving it a try, or who had considered it before but thought they couldn’t do it to take a shot.

But my plan didn’t quite work out. Part of the issue was that about the time when a lot of people might need a little encouragement to keep going, I got bogged down in some of my own issues, and my previous fast pace slowed way down.

Today, shortly after noon, I crossed the 50,000 word finish line. Though I haven’t quite finished the story I set out to write, so I’m going to keep working and see just how high a word count I can rack up before the end of the month. But there is still a week left, and some topics have come up in my conversations with writing buddies on Twitter and similar forums.

The biggest one is the old cliché about quality vs. quantity. It manifests in various ways. One friend said that because he didn’t think a lot of what he wrote this month is moving his original plot along, that the word count is some sort of cheat. This misses the point of a rough draft: it’s all right to have a lot of bad stuff that needs to be revised, rewritten, or deleted later. It’s a lot easier to clean up a mess of words and sharpen it into a good story than it is to write the work from a blank page. Fill up the pages (virtual or otherwise) with all the ideas, and then clean it up later.

We all wish that what we did was sit down at the keyboard, typed the story from the beginning until the end, and then when we re-read it afterward, discovered that it was a complete masterpiece, perfect in every way. That isn’t reality, for anyone, no matter how talented or experienced. Yes, as you practice and improve, a lot more of your rough draft is good stuff that needs little clean up, but the only way you get to that point is to spend a long time writing far-from-perfect stuff. Improvement comes from doing things mostly wrong, trying something slightly different next time, and over time learning how to recognize the good stuff when you produce it, and how to discard the not-good stuff.

You have to produce a whole lot of bad art or writing before you can make good art. No matter how bad your writing is, some of it is going to be better than other bits. Keep practicing, and the ratio of bad-to-good will improve.

So don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t get down on yourself. At this stage, you’re not making a final product. The old joke is that making a sculpture of a noble horse is easy, you take a big rock and knock off all he pieces that don’t look like a horse. At this point you’re assembling as much rough draft as you can, so later you can cut away all the pieces that don’t look like a final story.

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
—Ray Bradbury

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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