Thursday, November 5, 2009

Quality or Quantity?

I went to a NaNo event for my region last night. It was... interesting.

One of the most eye opening exercises for me was this thing they do called a "Word War." Everyone was supposed to write as many words as they could in 10 minutes. I thought I wrote pretty fast--I put down 271 words in the allotted time. Those 271 words were not as good as my normal first draft words (which if you'll recall, aren't very good to start with)--they were rushed. I didn't have time to think through what I was going to write or how the dialogue should flow and apparently I really need that time to think things through.

So get this--almost every other person at the write in did over 700 words (700 words in 10 minutes!) and one woman did over 1000! While I am in awe of these people's typing skills, the exercise made me realize why agents plead with authors not to submit NaNo novels. What kind of quality does this sort of writing encourage?

It takes me about 3 hours to write my daily 2500 words, and those are pretty crumby first draft words. I can't imagine how much more they would stink if I wrote them in 25 minutes.

Sure, there's revision, but how much can revision help if the first draft is terrible--if the story isn't well thought out? Is this NaNo business really a good thing? Maybe there should be a month where we encourage people to write good stuff instead of 50,000 words of crap?

Wow, that was quite the little rant. I really don't have a problem with NaNo if it gives people the push they need to get a novel done. I've been having fun with my own manuscript, despite the daily word goal. But I don't like the idea of writing a lot of words just so I can say I "won." I'll feel like a winner if I get a usable first draft out of the experience--something I can revise (for 3-6 months) and be proud of, even if I don't make it to 50,000.

Does this quantity over quality style of writing worry any of the rest of you? Am I crazy? Anyone planning to query novels in December along with thousands of rushed NaNo manuscripts? Thoughts?

39 comments:

L. T. Host said...

I'm hoping to have my revisions done before thanksgiving, so I can query just BEFORE the NaNo rush.

Here's hoping...

Not that I can talk... I wrote this one in about a NaNo length of time. But I wasn't trying to write crap, I was trying to write well. And no one who's read it so far has told me it's crap.

They could have just been being nice, but revisions do seem to be going well, and to be fair to myself, I've always been fast and efficient at things. I think it depends a lot on how you work as a writer, too.

Jodi MacArthur said...

This is interesting. My daily writing goal is between 700-1000. With nanowrimo, I've been struggling to up it 1600-2000. This morning I tried a program called Write Or Die (just for fun) It was the cruddiest writing I've done since I first started writing a year or two ago! This has convinced me that I probably should just pull out of nanowrimo and write at my own thoughtful pace. I think your blog here is right on.

CKHB said...

There's a reason why I had a blog post about what "winning" NaNo really means to each of us! I love NaNo, but I've never "won" by getting 50K words in one month. I have, however, built a solid half-a-first-draft in 30 days, which I would not have written without using NaNo as a jumpstart! (And 4 years later, it's a final draft being queried out in the real world. Sounds like a win to me.)

I have an internal quality standard that I will not abandon, even if it means losing NaNo every year, but I do sometimes need peer pressure and an arbitrary deadline...

Valerie Geary said...

I agree with you on having a usable first draft when all is said and done. My very first novel, which I never intend for anyone to read, was a non-usable first draft. It was what I needed to get me started and to say "Why yes, I just might be able to do this", but no way will it ever be worthy. I'll have to start over on page 1 and rewrite completely if I ever want it to be publishable. Some people can do that. I find it frustrating. Which is why I now use outlines and detail chapter sketches! So the first draft can be usable and not something I want to burn!
I think there is a place for just writing whatever comes into your head, but if you want the writing to go anywhere beyond your personal diary, I think you need to slow down and think about the words you're putting on the paper. All right. Now that I've taken over the comments on your blog..... : ) Keep working towards a usable first draft!!

Patti said...

The first draft of my book was terrible. I thought it was good, but it was terrible, so I know how much hard work it is to edit bad writing and a plot that's gone wrong.

I think there needs to be a balance. If you feel like you're going off track, maybe stop and re-evaluate. That's what I did on my current WIP. I think I'm taking this first draft a little slower. I'm putting down the basics knowing I'll add more detail later.

staceyjwarner said...

Hmmmmm...I've always been on the team of quality over quantity. I'm a slow writer. I like things a bit polished before I move on...

much love

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I won't query in Dec. and I'm not doing NaNo. I need time with my WIP, time to build trust, time to strip it down...oh, where is this going? :D

I am way more for quality than quantity.

700 words in 10 min. sounds insane to me. Insane people screaming, "I won."
~ Wendy

Amy Tate said...

This is my problem with it. I can't work like that. I could spit out 50,000 words easily...would it be any good? Heck no!

Kristi Faith said...

wow, I'm glad I haven't attended any of those. I have used Nano to be more productive for sure, and I'm able to move past those sentences that sometimes look wrong and know I'll come back to it. I do NOT plan on Querying any agents...at all, I have a dream list, but I'm far from that point. I want my nano novel to be revised into something awesome! :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Yikes! I can't even imagine writing that many words in that time length - unless I wrote "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs" over and over again!

Like you, I like some thought to go into what I put on paper. I just can't write without at least a little bit of planning.

Bane of Anubis said...

700 words in 10 minutes -- that's 4200 word per hour, which translates to 67,200 words in 16 hours, which is the length of my current piece, which took me 3 months to write... and i thought I was going fast :)

TerryLynnJohnson said...

That sounds like it would make even more work to edit after it was done. I like to stick with my own pace and have semi-good product at the end to begin edits. That's why I don't do NaNo. I'm finding your posts about the process interesting though!

Matthew Delman said...

Bane --

Of course you'd run the numbers (then again I was kind of doing that myself, so I can't really talk).

I'm good if I write 3,000 words a day over the course of eight hours. Granted, that's while sitting at my desk and having the writing interrupted every so often with work, but still.

I'd probably hit about 700 words myself if I didn't go back and check for grammar issues, which is something I can't avoid. Call it the perils of the day job.

storyqueen said...

Speed is not everything. If I get anywhere from 500-1000 words a day I am stoked. I am not an outliner, so sometimes, I just don't know that far in advance what is going to happen......

If I rush the writing, the story is lame.

Shelley

Dawn Simon said...

I don't do NaNoWriMo, but it seems to be helpful to some people, just getting clay on the wheel so they have something to work with. I need to work at my own pace and not worry about how many words a day. Maybe it's a working style thing. Some people really like it. It would stress me out, especially since I like to do a bit of editing as I go--even on my sh*tty first draft.

Anissa said...

I can't even fathom 700 words in 10 minutes. Were these supposed to be words for the NaNo story? Or just random thoughts? Either way that's crazy!

When I know where the story is going and am prepared to write, I can get 1000 words out in an hour. They're not perfect, but they're decent first draft quality. I'd hate to even think of editing something I cranked out just to get the words on the page. Then again, I love the creation of the story. I like to savor it a bit before the start of revision hell.

Stephanie Thornton said...

You've pegged my reason for not wanting to do NaNo. My writing pace is about half what NaNo requires, on a good day. But life interjects all kinds of little roadblocks that slow the process down too.

I would rather write slower and do a decent job on the story than write 50,000 of drivel (not saying that's what all NaNoers are doing, but it's what I would have to do). I bleed a little when I have to cut a scene and I cringe to think of how much cutting I would have to do for a NaNo manuscript.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Quality is best. Always. I hated that 10k day I did. I felt rushed and pressured and it showed in my crappy writing. Good for you for attending a write-in though. It's all a learning experience.

kathrynjankowski said...

1000 words in 10 minutes? That's insane! Did any participants share their work?

I'm a slow writer, usually around 500 words a day, although on really good days I can hit 1,000. But I'll always be more concerned with quality. Isn't that what agents and readers want?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I think there must be two types of people who do NaNo. Because I have no intention of querying. I doubt I will even complete a novel in November, and when I do it will need a lot of revision. I'm doing this to push me to write more and to not over-edit as I go, which is a problem for me.
I haven't gone to any local events. I figure my blog and crit buddies are enough encouragement and incentive.

Tamika: said...

Natalie you rock for the 200 words! Really, I agree the goal for NaNo is to produce a usable draft.

This project has been a creative tool to help me build a routine and skills for keeping deadlines, but my overall goal is to get this story down in the most nurturing atmosphere.

Keep staying true to your goals this month- quality it still the ultimate goal!

Lisa and Laura said...

Oh my gosh, people actually query NaNo novels right when they're done? That is scary.

Susan R. Mills said...

This is one of the reasons I decided not to do NaNo. I'm one of those people who prefers quality, so I'd constantly be editing and changing. Here's the way I look at it: either way, you are probably going to spend the same amount of time writing the novel. So, I think I'm better with doing it slowly and editing as I go.

Laura Martone said...

I so wanted to try NaNo this year, but November tends to be my busiest month anyway. Like Susan, I prefer quality over quantity. It would be very difficult for me to edit while I go, which is why I decided against doing NaNo this year. I suppose I could still get my act together, but frankly, I'd rather revise my existing novel - and make THAT the best it can be.

But, seriously, good luck, Natalie! I'm very proud of you for giving it a go!

Thomas Taylor said...

Natalie, it sounds to me like you WON the word war. Certainly, only a loser would be proud of writing 1000 words in 10 minutes.

I like the idea of the enforced writing regime in NaNo but anything that encourages rushed writing has to be bad news. And I'm astonished to hear people actually submit this stuff so soon!

Vonna said...

If I ever have a spare November, I might do NaNoWriMo. I have a project that's interesting, but not as shiny as several other ideas on my desktop. NaNaWriMo might be a good time to hash it out. But I'll have to do it some other November; this one is filled up with revisions on a novel I really love.

AudreyO said...

Interesting post. I love to read. I find that some authors are wonderful to read and some, I can quit reading after 4 chapters as I'm not enjoying the words. Some authors have stories that just flow and other authors use so many characters I really can't keep up. Everyone just has a different writing style. How impressive that you write 2500 words per day. Wow!!! At one time I had a goal of writing 2 articles per day, each one about 300 words, which meant I was writing 600 words per day and I thought that was a TON LOL. Glad I stopped by your blog this morning.

MeganRebekah said...

Wow, great feedback and comments so far!

I think I write at a similar pace to you, about 3 hours to get 2500 words. Sometimes its faster, sometimes slower. And I definitely need to think it through. I can physically type more an hour, but the quality is definitely lost and I end up deleting it all. I like to take a few minutes to let the scene soak in so that it feels more natural as I write.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I'd rather take my time on quality (to a certain degree) rather than quantity. I know my rough draft will be, well rough, but I don't want it to be so terrible that I have to scrap half of it. This is one reason why I don't think me and NaNo would mesh well.

Jody Hedlund said...

I loved reading your insights on NaNo, Natalie. I'm a very slow writer, but I've never had to take months to edit it. I think I "get" it all down fairly decently the first time and then just need to go back and tweak it. Or in the case of the rewrites I'm doing right now, I'm making the changes my publisher requested. But the plot is overall solid as are the characters. I'd much rather take a little more time the first time, then try to rush it and have to go back and change. The changes for me are much harder than getting it right in the first place!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'm having a very difficult NaNo experience, mainly because of what you're saying here. Part of this is my fault: I didn't fully think through writing about old characters, and I still have no clear story line. That means the writing is difficult and the motivation is weird.

I'm already seeing this as more of an experiement in discipline, like those challenges at my Y to run 100 miles in 8 weeks). Trying to plug away at something I'm not really feeling is bizarre. I'm below word count. Is this worth it? I'm going to continue trying just to see it through. Still. This isn't the best approach for me.

Georgina said...

Interesting thoughts. As someone who has just learned about NaNo, I've been wondering about the quantity vs, quality question. When I am in a rut, I do what Julia Cameron suggests and I just keep writing, no matter how silly or outrageous it turns out. And then I revise. But if I am feeling highly creative, I want to take more time with my writing. I guess it depends on where we are at the time. I'm really enjoying following my bloggies doing Nano and learning so much. So thanks for sharing! - G

VR Barkowski said...

Quality - always! Funny, it never occurred to me folks would query on their NaNo novels in December. My intent with NaNo is to create the kernel of something extraordinary, whether that turns out to be 50k words or 10k, spend the next month or two completing the draft, and then the next several months to a year molding it into something I'm proud of. NaNo is just a way for me to maintain momentum. I'm the victim of a voracious internal editor and have spent days on a single paragraph.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Great post! I zoomed through my first draft, and didn't care for any of my writing in the end. At a writer's conference a writer said that the rough draft is like the clay that we sculpt from. That's it. Not a rough form of the bust we are creatiing. Just a lump of clay, shapeless and ugly. Which makes more sense to me now. When I started rewriting I spent five times longer going for quantity. NaNo is just like a good exercise I think, and maybe some people will end up with their shapeless block of clay that with a lot of work can be made into something pretty.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Oops- five times longer going for QUALITY.

Erica said...

I've thought about the quantity over quality recently too.

And by the way- WOW 1000 words in ten minutes- that lady must type all the time. I could manage maybe 200. Now is that with typos? Cause it would go up if I didn't have to go back and forth to fix those. Of course, it would drive me nuts to have the typos there... :)

I think as long as I get the idea I'm trying to portray, I'm okay with the crappy first draft. I seldom describe scenery, places in detail in my first drafts. I get to the dialogue and action. So I guess it just depends on what you're looking for?

I'm not one to fluff up my draft for more words, each one I write is intentional :) I'm finding this experience intense, but I like that I have to write every day. I've gotten more done with this than I have with my other first drafts.

2500 a day is a great goal! Keep up the great work :o)

Mary said...

Hi Natalie - I gave you an award at my Writer's Butt blog.

paulgreci said...

Some days on first drafts I write 2500 or 3000 words, but that's several hours of writing with many short breaks. And a lot of thinking time, too. Maybe a 12 hour period where seven of the hours I was writing--something like that. I wrote a first draft in six weeks, then successfully queried it a year and a half later after many revisions.

1000 words in ten minutes. I guess everyone has their own method.

Terresa said...

I agree with your rant/thoughts here. I was skeptical of NaNo, myself, and posted my own mini-rant regarding it last week. That style of writing (focus on word count & not quality) is just not my writing style.