Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Quality vs. Quantity - Another Anecdote

Like many other writers before me, I am on a quest to write better. Not to write more, or to become famous, or to make lots of money, but to write better. It seems the more effort I put into it, the longer I find myself staring at a computer screen.

That didn’t used to bother me. It made sense that instead of writing 6,000 sloppy, easy words, I was writing 2,000 good, hard ones. But my anxiety grew with my dropping wordcount. I got blocked more and more. After a horrific cycle of writing, re-writing, and cutting in my newest WIP, I knew something was wrong. I was blocked in a way I’d never been blocked before. What was happening to me?

An Absolute Write user named Dale Emmery said, “you've shifted your standard to the point where, given your current writing skill, you can meet it only by writing more slowly.”

It was true, I realized. That was exactly what I’d done. Instead of feeling better, I wanted to squeeze myself into a corner and cry. What was I supposed to do now? Had this happened to other people, or was it just me? Could I find a way to write without lowering my standards. 

Instead of curling up in that corner, I did the only thing I could – I posted a thread on Absolute Write, and waited.

I got a lot of responses. Some of the people didn’t know what I was talking about, but a few others gave some really helpful advice.

The user swvaughn said,


“I've gone through this, too. I think this is another of those things that varies from writer to writer, but personally... I've more or less leveled out now. Once I was at the point where my writing was competent, I slowed waaaay down - almost to the point of stopping on several occasions…But as far as my writing speed, it's found a happy medium. I don't keep track of how many words per day I usually end up writing, but I know it's less than when I started, but more than what I was doing before at the painful-crawl stage.

I'm sure you'll find your groove, and don't believe that you have to write rough just to get faster. It's different for every writer, and a lot of them skip the crap-writing phase and opt for near-ready first drafts at a slower pace. Go with whatever works for you.”

Another user named loquax added,

“I know I can finish a novel, because I've written really fast, really bad ones. Now I take my time, and I definitely find my work more interesting because of it.

The problem I see with the whole "fast, sloppy first draft" technique is that…A single sentence could change the rest of the story. For this reason I would find it impossible to rewrite a bad first draft, because I would be shackled by the rest of the novel. I might even scrap the whole thing to fit the better rewriting in the first few chapters. That, to me, is more of a waste of time than scrapping a single, well written chapter.”

And David I said,

“…there are plenty of people who started fast and slowed down (right off hand, Evan Hunter, Lawrence Block, Dean Koontz).

I don't know what Dean Koontz does, but it takes him in excess of eight hours per writing day. Stephen King seems to move along at about 2,500 words per day (10 pages). Lawrence Block apparently averages about 750-1,250 words per day (3 to 5 pages). Note that we are talking about very prolific people here.”

So, the verdict? My struggle was a common one. Yes, it would level out. No, I didn’t need to sacrifice quality for quantity – or vice-versa. I think the main point is that every writer has their own personal balance. They may totter left or right for a while, trying to find it, but it will work itself out. So now all I need is patience. 


-Creative A


If you would like to see the original thread, check out this link. And if any of you have ever gone through this – or are going through this – please comment. I’d love to discuss it with you.


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