Quantity over Quality… or not?

(c) Jo Naylor (Creative Commons License - Flickr)

(c) Jo Naylor (Creative Commons License – Flickr)

We're coming up to November, where a great many people are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo. It's the time of year where accusations of quantity over quality are thrown at leisure, with no real care who is targeted.

I'm going to kick this concept to the curb right now. This is a tough-love type of post, and I'm not going to sugar coat, butter, or add bacon to any of this.

You can have quantity and quality at the same time. So go ahead, bleed on the page, and be proud of writing 5,000, 7,000, or 10,000 words in a day.

No, I'm being serious. You can. There's a simple math formula for this.

For the sake of this post, I'm going to confess I typically max out at around 1,000 words per hour, if I'm working with little distraction. (I can write closer to 3,000 if I'm doing direct transcription needing little edits.) I'm closer to the 500-750 range, and there are some hours I only write 200 words in an hour.

So, I'm going to use three data sets: (A) 200, (B) 500, and (C) 1,000 words per hour.

For the sake of this argument, my goal is 1,667 words for the day.

A: At a rate of 1,000 words an hour, it will take me just over an hour and a half hours to write 1,667 words.

B: At a rate of 500 words an hour, it will take me just over three and a half hours to write 1,667 words.

C: At a rate of 200 words an hour, it will take me eight and a third hours to write 1,667 words.

Same author, three different word per hour counts. Now, here's the kicker.

People automatically assume the quality of the writing, at the 200 words per hour rate, is better than the quality of the writing at the 1,000 words per hour rate.

It's not. (It's actually worse, true story.)

The quality of writing does not differ between the 1,000 word rate and the 200 word rate. If anything, the quality of the 200 word rate might actually be lower, as I am distracted and am not writing as well as I could.

Quantity has absolutely no bearing over the quality of what you're writing. Get over it, please. Thank you.

You are writing.

You have a specific writing skill at this moment in time. Don't like it? Well, go do something about it. Take some online creative writing courses. Find one of those $40 programs to have an experienced author guide you through their method of writing a novel. Read books on writing.

In short, shut the fuck up and do something about it, if you aren't happy with your quality. Hire an editor. Hire three editors. Get involved in critiquing and beta-reading exchanges.

Whether you're writing 200 words per hour or 1,000 words per hour, you are the person coming up with those words. You are the indicator of your quality, no matter how much you write.

What matters is how much time you invest in your writing.

See, the thing with NaNoWriMo is this: A lot of writers who have never written before, or who only write during November, are trying to write books.

Of course the quality isn't going to be as good. They aren't professional authors.

It is generally accepted that many published authors target 2,000 new words per day. Yet, we're happy with their quality. It's not quantity over quality, not for them! Oh no, never for them.

The math is simple: How many hours you invest plus the number of words you write is your quantity.

Your quality is not going to change because you invested more hours.

Your quality is not going to improve because you invest more hours, either. I know, that sounds rather counter intuitive, but bear with me a moment: Improvement only occurs when you approach something with the intent to improve.

Your writing quality is more of a static than a variable; You are you, and you have a certain skill with the written word.

So, do not be ashamed of writing a lot of words in a day, if you're investing more time to do it. Quantity is no indicator of quality.

(Sure, if you're trying to bang out as many words in an hour as you can, you'll have a little bit more editorial cleanup to do, but typos aren't an indicator of quality.)

You'd still tell the same story, using the same style, regardless of whether or not you write 500 words an hour, 1,000 words an hour, or 3,000 words an hour. Why am I making this broad assumption?

I've done it, and my editors haven't been wiser for it–though when I write slower, closer to the 200 words per minute rate, I get scolded for trying too hard. I'll let you figure that one out for yourself, but it's true. Slower quantity resulted in lower quality.

Next time someone tries to berate you for writing a lot of words today, remember this: You are the factor for whether they are quality words or not… and you'll only write quality words if you practice writing with the intent to improve.

So, the next time you think 7,000 words in a 18 hour period of time is insane, remember this: That's only 390 words an hour, and most writers can accomplish such a goal.

Here's a tough love message for some of you: When someone is proud of the work they've done, shut the fuck up unless you're congratulating them for working hard, and keep your jealousy to yourself.

Jealousy over someone investing a great deal of time doing what they love isn't the right way to approach it. If you want their word count, sit down and fucking write.

You are you, and your quality isn't going to be negatively impacted because you're actually bothering to work. Almost every writer I know can manage 390 words in an hour. Most people are awake for 18 hours at a time.

If you really want to write so many words in a day, you can. If you choose to.

Quality over quantity is a bullshit mechanism trying to make productive people who want to work feel guilty for doing something others are too lazy to do. So, next time you point your finger at someone and squeal, “Quantity over quality!” remember you're wrong.

It's in your head, and those poisonous little thoughts should stay there. Don't belittle others because of what you fail to do.

I used to feel that way about quantity, too…

I was a petty, jealous little bitch. For that, I'm sorry. But now I know better: Quantity and quality have very little correlation in a draft; you will always be you, and your quality is consistent with that, and will not change for the better or the worse because you decide to actually sit down and work.

But consider this: Our society doesn't value hard workers, not really. That doesn't give you the right to belittle someone because you're jealous, however.

If you're that jealous, sit down and do as they do. Write. It's the only way to write a lot of quality words. There's no other way to do it. Invest the time working seriously, and the words will come.

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2 comments
Something New for NaNo | Tori Brooks says October 10, 2014

[…] Increasing your words/hour doesn’t mean you’re writing crap. Authoress RJ Blain looked at three of her mindsets while writing, the words/hour that corresponded with each, and the […]

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The Secret Love-Hate Relationship with my Books | On Writing says February 13, 2015

[…] between 20,000 to 30,000+ words per day to make happen. And it also serves as a true example of why quantity vs quality isn’t a thing: I wrote the same level shit even when I wrote only 500 words in a day. I wrote shitty words. […]

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