The Quality of Quantity

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As i mentioned in my previous post, I attempted National Novel Writing Month 2018 and while there was a salvageable short story hidden in the 25,000 word mess I was otherwise disappointed with the results. Sure it’s been four months since the event but I’m still finding valuable lessons so it’s worth bringing up. It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t complete the wordcount goal, I was instead disappointed that the end result came out so rough.

“But it’s a first draft.” I hear you whine. “It’s supposed to be ugly and in need of serious work. If you just get it all on the page and fix everything in editing!” I’m gonna have to stop you right there. I finally learned that I fundamentally disagree with that approach to writing. It’s not wrong, and it seems to work for many people, but it definitely doesn’t work for me. While no written words are wasted words, the goal of producing quantity for its own sake is practice at a skill that does not interest me.

My average output, assuming I can squeeze in writing time during the day, is between 200 and 600 words most of the time. If I can dedicate a good hour or two I can creep over 1000, while other days I only get about 100 not matter what time I devote to the task. It’s been pretty much constant since I decided to start on this novel, and I’ve always felt like I should be able to do better numerically. I enjoy metrics like MyFitnessPal calorie counts, sleep tracking, and heart-rate data so I treated “word per day” with the same approach. I was looking to get the numbers moving in the direction I felt they needed to go. Well I made that happen I guess.

In November I averaged a little over 800 words per calendar day, but that doesn’t take into account that I didn’t write every day. I probably wrote every other day, with the odd three day streak. The process was the same every time I put words down: read the last three or four paragraphs and start writing from there. Don’t go back, unless it’s to quickly fact check before moving forward, and don’t get picky. Punctuation, sentence structure, word use, all that waits for later. When the deadline passed and I missed the mark I took a couple days to relax before looking back at what I’d produced.

While I like the characters and the conceit, I’m going to have to do some major revisions if I want to take that story forward. So much that I would consider it a re-write for large sections of the content. That’s somewhat the point of NaNoWriMo; creating a misshapen horror out of text then spending your time hacking pieces off and stitching new ones on in the future. I’d rather build a little leaner as I go. Quantity may have a quality all its own, but I’m not going to read Alan Moore’s Jerusalem just because it has 1 million words in it.

The words I put down in the primary novel I’m (writing were of a significantly higher quality than what I produced in November. My current novel draft can probably use a bit of a trim, a little too much expository in a few places and some sentences that can be streamlined, but overall the bulk of what I have down will probably stay. Everything that is added is purposeful and contributes to the story. In contrast, I could excise entire scenes from the NaNoWriMo 2018 attempt without a second thought.

Of course, your mileage may vary significantly. Maybe you’ll find your stories come out more organically if you’re rushing st a breakneck speed. If it works for you, you’ve found a new tool. If it doesn’t you still learned what to avoid. The important thing is to try with as much effort as you can spare and evaluate the results honestly.