The quality vs. quantity argument, as it pertains to writing fiction, seems to come up quite often in November. I'm always surprised at the backlash to "quantity," since I don't see 1,667 words a day as a humongous amount for someone wanting to write fiction professionally. But to each his own.
In music, there is a form much like the novel, called the Sonata form. There are, essentially, three approaches to teaching music. First, there's the quantity approach, where a new piece is taught every week or two, and you race through a lot of repertoire but never gain a deeper understanding.
Second, there's the quality approach, where it's believed that if you've learned one Sonata extremely well, then you'll be able to play and teach all of them.
Third, there's the approach I use, which is Quantity followed by Quality. Each has its own strengths to offer, its own uses.
- Quantity gives you confidence.
- Quantity gives you a deeper understanding of the form.
- Quantity gives you a subconscious understanding of the form.
- Quantity gives you the freedom to write more intuitively, and the form will happen as if automatically.
- Quantity gives you choices: if you want a super paragraph about bees, write 5-10 of them about bees, and then you can take the best bits, and you'll end up with one super-duper paragraph about bees.
- Quantity promotes creativity: My teacher once made me come up with thirty different ways to interpret a phrase. For that, you have to get creative! VERY creative!
- Quantity risks sloppiness.
- Quantity risks bad habits.
- Quantity risks a superficial understanding of how the form works on a more detailed level. (I know that seems to contradict #2 and #3. It just is, even though it doesn't make sense.)
- Quality will you give an intimate understanding of the details.
- Quality, if paired with a quantity understanding, will give you nuance.
- Quality will teach you shading, colors, voice.
- Quality will give you that polished finish.
- Quality is saleable; quantity (arguably), is not.
- Quality, without quantity, risks an inability to see the larger picture.
- Quality, without quantity, risks an inability to feel how each detail fits the whole.
- Quality, without quantity, risks your work being less creative than it could be.
I would never argue that one should learn one way or another. Writing is extremely personal. I don't think, however, quantity should be dismissed out of hand. For example, I make my beginners learn to play about 200 songs or so in their first seven or eight lessons.
After two months, those students are better at reading music than most any transfer students I get who've been playing for two or three or even more years. (There is not a lot of great advice circulating on how to teach people to read music for the piano.)
During this process, their technique and artistry is a little shaky, although we work on that separately in the hopes they'll start applying it to their sight-reading. After that, we do quantity with a sight-reading book (about 15 pieces a week), and quality with repertoire pieces (about 1 piece every 3-8 weeks) that we take to performance level.
How I choose:
- Quantity for a greater understanding.
- Quantity for more creativity.
- Quality for polish.
- Quality for nuance.
This post seems to say we choose one or the other: that's not the case at all. I prefer to keep at quantity and go for increasing quality. I insist I learn something new with each book, each chapter--heck--each day.
At the end of the day, you can spend twenty years on one book, and you will never get the understanding of someone who has written twenty books. It's frustrating, but there is no escaping the fact that after you've written a certain quantity of books, you're going to have a different and better understanding of how they're put together.
Again, I would never advise one way or another, but I would advise ruling one way out. There is a case for quantity, too. :-)
If you want a great query letter, write ten. If you want a great paragraph for a contest, set out to write ten. If you want a great synopsis, write ten. You probably, eventually, won't need to do so much quantity, but it is a great tool.
What say you? Which pros and cons did I miss?