Sunday, March 11, 2007

Quality vs. Quantity, Part II

Quality vs. quantity: the very phrase annoys the crap out of me. It is often a choice, but what people have seem to forgotten is that it is that the two can co-exist.

It is possible to have quality and quantity. It's also possible to have neither quality nor quantity. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Bev Rosenbaum made a call for research on the CLWRWA list recently, asking for authors' feelings on the pressure to be prolific, the effect of writing prolifically, and the old quality vs. quantity argument.

For me, my answers to her questions were:

  • I sold 200,000 words in five and half months last year, which, considering I had a full-time job besides was a lot. (And that's not counting the words I deleted.)
  • At the end, I was stressed, emotionally exhausted, mentally exhausted, and burnt-out. (Big surprise for you guys, huh? *grins*)
  • However, readers' responses increased dramatically. My writing improved dramatically. Sales improved. My stories improved. Everything improved.
  • Not to mention, when I write a bunch in a focused amount of time, my story is tighter and truer, more cohesive.
  • I told her I would do it again in a heartbeat, because it made me a better writer and improved my "relationship" with my readers.
This topic always makes me buggers (Okay, why did I just use that word? What does buggers mean, anyway? Help! Did I use it wrong?) because I just don't understand how today's standards of prolific are all that prolific. A thousand words per day, six days a week, is 288,000 words (if you include 4 weeks of vacation. That's 2 - 4 books a year. It's not even pushing it to write double that at 2,000 words a day, particularly when one is writing as a job. Particularly if one is fiction-writing full-time.

If one is writing less than that, then fine. No big deal.

I'm just saying that it's not like writing 2,000 words a day is going to subtract from quality. On a bad day, 500 words an hour = 4 hours. Even if you take 2 hours for research, 2 hours for cleaning up yesterday's stuff, and 2 hours for business stuff, then you're still working, pretty much, a normal to easy day for a self-employed business person.

Maybe you write at a rate of 250 words per hour. Maybe you delete a lot of what you write. Maybe you spend more time with your family, and don't want to work that much in a day. Maybe you want to have a life besides working. Maybe you spend a whole lot more time carefully writing back your readers and blogging. Maybe you don't read during your evenings. Maybe you read during your writing time. Maybe your life just doesn't allow that much time for writing. Maybe you only write 4 days a week. Maybe you're like John Irving, and you have dyslexia and it takes a full day of painstaking work to write 250 words. Maybe you take a couple weeks to outline and plot. Or maybe you take a week to clean the house after each book.

All that is fine! Really, it's okay! It's not a race.

I'm just saying, don't knock the people who can put out an average of 2,000 words a day. They're not necessarily sacrificing quality. Heck, I've been known to put out 2,000 words a day while working a full-time job besides. I wouldn't know how to slow down. When I do slow down, my quality suffers.

I have to let my mind wander, snap out of my ultra-ADD-focus, and pull myself out of immersion in the story.

In other words, I'd have to sacrifice quality in order to produce less quantity.

I'm not saying others should be like this. I'm just saying, enough with the prolific cracks and put-downs. If I weren't working a full-time job besides, writing such research-heavy stuff, and if writing was my only job, I would probably write 2,000 - 5,000 words a day.

I hear all the exclamations. But they can't possibly be cutting enough words! They can't possibly be revising enough! They can't possibly be ___________!

Yes, we humans hate change, but we can also adapt when necessary to our survival.

It is possible to put out 5,000 words a day and write a novel that doesn't need much revision. It's sure not easy, and it's mentally exhausting (and invigorating). Sure, some people need to write 3,000 words and cut 2,000 words. That's fine! But some people, by necessity, learn to adapt and not write those words in the first place.

For their minds, and their process, the novel probably works better when they write 3,000 words and cut 2,000 words. I'm also sure there are writers out there who feel like when they rush, that their quality suffers.

That's fine.

I'm sure that there are prolific writers whose quality leaves a bit to be desired. I'm sure that there are slower writers whose quality leaves a bit to be desired.

And yeah, it's not fair that prolific writers have an advantage. We all have our weaknesses and strengths. You gotta play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. And if that sometimes means working twice as hard as someone else, that's just what you do. What else can you do? Life isn't fair.

I'm just saying prolific does not equal lesser quality for every writer. Let's cut the prolific writers a break, okay?

Good questions to ask:

  • At one point does an author over-saturate the market and lose readers?
  • How detrimental is it to start a career with no backlist and no books coming out for another year?
  • How hard it is for an author to be "a favorite" or an "instant buy" when you've only read one or two of his/her books?
  • How prolific do you need to be to get where you want to be and what you want out of your career?
  • What do you need to do to be that prolific? Or that un-prolific?

11 bonus scribbles:

Susan Helene Gottfried 3/11/2007 02:36:00 PM  

I was one of those revoltingly prolific people during my grad school years. My program-mates hated me. I wanted to smile sweetly at them and tell them that instead of sitting around, bitching about how little they were getting done, they ought to go home and write.

Some of them are now in print. But not all. (me included in that latter thing, sadly)

You raise really good points here. Points I've struggled with over the years.

What I've decided is most important is quality. We all have our own work processes and this is one area where so long as the end result is the same -- our kick-ass best -- the way we get there doesn't matter.

I'm looking forward to the days when I have a block of hours every single spanking day to sit and write. I'm still a few years off; hope Trevor's Song is in print by the time it happens, though, because I fully expect to return to revoltingly prolific -- and get it out to you guys, too.

meljean brook 3/11/2007 03:30:00 PM  

I would kill to write 2000 words a day, and I definitely wouldn't worry about quality suffering. If anything, writing that quickly would give me more time to revise what I've written (if I have a 6-month time before deadline and finished it a month or two before, then had time to go back and tweak rather than typing the end almost at the date of the deadline, as is how it usually goes ... god, I'd kill for that.) But even then, it probably wouldn't be a lot of revising, because I edit as I go along.

And producing one or two more books a year? That would be fantastic. I don't think I'd write exactly the same thing (4 of my current series a year would be too much, I think) but working on another project would also save me from burning out on the current series.

I think an author can be a favorite after one or two books. If they are that gripping and that good. On the other hand, it's probably just as easy for them to fall off the auto-buy list after one or two duds, so it probably evens out.

spyscribbler 3/11/2007 09:02:00 PM  

You're so right, Susan. We all work differently, and that's good! I just get so annoyed by the prolific put-downs. People tell me I write quickly, but I certainly don't feel I do. It's just ... normal.

I'm rooting for your blocks of hours!

Meljean, 4 of a series a year would be a lot! I know I'd definitely like 2 a year of some of my favorite series. (Or, in the case of Evanovich, 2 plus 1 little novella instead of 1 plus 1.)

StarvingWriteNow 3/12/2007 07:06:00 AM  

One definition of "bugger" is homosexual. (British slang)

Being officially un-prolific, I admire your prolificness (okay, is THAT a real word??)

Bernita 3/12/2007 07:51:00 AM  

GOOD post.
I hate that equation of quality/quantity.
Some people write fast AND smart. They got that way by writing.

Zoe Winters 3/12/2007 01:40:00 PM  

FREAKING THANK YOU! for this post! Right now I am on a schedule to COMPLETE 4 novels this year. When I say this people's eyes bug out of their head and they give me one of those knowing looks, like they've pegged me as a hack.

The time it takes someone to do something is just the time it takes them. It's completely stupid for me to slow down so other people can assume I'm not writing complete crap.

I've got it set up in 90 day deadlines. In 90 days, I can quite comfortable write a rough draft, AND revise the previous novel. And it doesn't take me THAT many hours a day to do it.

It's completely reasonable and not that back breaking especially since I don't have an outside job. So 4 novels in one year, not that big of a thing for me. I'm not completely frazzled or insane from it. It's just the pace/speed at which I work.

And I've discovered I work best writing a rough draft while revising another novel. Every day I work on both. And they are two diff genres so I don't experience much in the way of "overlap" cause they require two different types of headspace.

Amie Stuart 3/12/2007 01:59:00 PM  

Everyone works differently, everyone has different circumstances to work around, everyone's writing process, plotting not plotting etc. is different. Yes it can be done! When I started writing (single mom full time job)I wrote 10 pages a day and 15-20 on my halfday and weekends. Every dang day. Now I'm lucky to write half that a week, and honestly, I think it's due in part to that pressure to produce, to be prolific, and to stick to one genre for two more books before branching out. A lot of it is self-imposed I think--we are so hard on ourselves.

To be that prolific, I need a story that really really talks to me. It's been 18 months but I finally found one. You can write a story that doesn't talk to you but it's so much more fun when it does.

Therese 3/12/2007 05:11:00 PM  

Totally with you.

Like Susan, above, my ability to write quickly did not endear me to some of my grad school cohorts.

Oh well!

As with you, if I take too much time the writing suffers so quicker is better for me. I wrote my latest novel in six months and it SOLD, so what's not to like about being a little prolific? :)

Edie 3/13/2007 12:17:00 AM  

Spy, I'd love to be that prolific! I don't think anyone needs to sacrifice quality for quantity. Look at Nora Roberts. She manages to combine both. I don't see her worried about saturating the market either.

spyscribbler 3/13/2007 05:28:00 PM  

Sorry I missed everyone yesterday! Migraine attack.

LOL, Starving. I missed that definition by a mile!

Absolutely, Bernita. :-)

Zoe, it sounds like you've got this down to a science! That's awesome. They always say that the first step to success is to "know thyself." You're on your way!

spyscribbler 3/13/2007 05:36:00 PM  

Amie, so true. It does need to speak to you to be fun. I've written the other way, and it's a bear. Congratulations and good luck with your idea!

Therese, quicker is better for me, too. Otherwise it loses it's pacing and flow and coherence.

Edie, LOL. Actually, I think she was worried about it. Remember when she put the "NR" label on all her new books? Because Silhouette kept re-releasing all her books?