Writing Corner: Quality vs. Quantity

One piece of writing advice you will hear a lot is to write every day. This makes sense since, like any skill, you need to practice to get better. You become a good swimmer by swimming, not by thinking about swimming.

However, what should you be writing? Should you write a lot of new stories or should you edit each one to its best form before going on to another one?

In short, when it come to writing, is quality or quantity more important? Should you write a lot of stories or concentrate on making a few of them very good?

The answer, as in many situations in life, is “both” and “it depends”.

You can think of quality versus quantity in writing as a spectrum. On one extreme is spending a decade writing and editing a single story, while on the opposite end is someone who writes a story a day and never edits them. It’s probably best to aim somewhere for the middle, but there are some points to think about to see where you should be.

1. What kind of things do you write?

If you write blog posts of a few hundred words each, it is much easier to write a lot of them than if you write novels. They are also easier to edit. Editing a blog post probably will take less time than writing it. However, a novel could take much longer to edit than it took to write in the first place. This means that you have much less time to write new material. Of course, at the end of the process, you have a completed, polished novel, which is a huge accomplishment.

2. Why are you writing?

This is a very important point. Your goal in writing will determine what kind of writing you should do and how much. Think of the example of a swimmer. Someone swimming for fun can do whatever they want, including just splashing around or relaxing in the water. I know for me, “going swimming” involves less actual swimming than just being in the water. However, if you are swimming for health, you should set up a routine and set goals for how far you want to swim each day or week. If you want to become a professional or Olympic swimmer, your routine and diet and whole life have to be very strictly defined. You will also need a professional coach.

Everyone is different and there are many paths to every goal, but here are some examples of possible goals:

Writing in a journal

Quantity is more important than quality since no one else is going to read it. Most people (I’m guessing) don’t edit their journals. The quantity is also up to you, but it’s good to write regularly, either daily or several times a week.

“Dear diary…” No, too formal. “Hey diary, how you doing?” No, too flirty. Hmm…

Writing for a blog

Blogging can have many forms, from a journal that others can read to pieces that you are using as an online portfolio. Blog posts tend to be relatively short and as with any kind of online content creation, it is important to keep a regular posting schedule. This way people can depend on you and your readers (and search engines) will stay interested.

In this way, quantity is more important, but you should also definitely edit anything you put online, even if it is just a once over after you’ve written it to see if you can improve your word choice or to check for typos. I generally read blog posts over about three times after I’ve written them: once to edit them, then another time to spellcheck, and then a third time when it’s on the site and just about to be posted.

A word about typos: Don’t stress overly much about typos. Try your very best to catch them but don’t worry too much. Typos are like mosquitos at a garden party: swarms of them are annoying and might drive people away but it’s almost impossible to keep them all away, especially in a large piece of writing. You will find published books with typos and those have gone through multiple professionals specifically looking for them.

Writing to make some money

There is a market for fiction and non-fiction stories in magazines, either print or online. At this level, quality is more important than quantity and while you might write ten short stories, only send the best 1-2 out (of course, if you’re Hemingway and they’re all award-winning quality, send them all out). At this level, editing is extremely important. Get someone else to read the story and edit it, as well as spell-check. The supply of publishable stories is so much higher than the demand that publishers are very picky and many wonderful, high-quality pieces don’t get published.

Another way to make some money is with self-publishing. This could be an e-book or print-on-demand book (more on that in a later post). Self-publishing can be deceptive since you can literally publish anything. You can fall asleep on your keyboard for an hour and then publish the results as a book on Amazon. However, because of this ease, there are literally millions of self-published books online. This means that if you want people to find and read yours, the quality still has to be as high as you can make it, both in writing and things like cover design.

Check out my new self-published book. It’s a compilation of all the junk mail I’ve gotten in the last year.

Writing to become a professional author

This level would take more than a very lines to discuss, or even a whole book: it could take a whole shelf of books. But I will say that if you want to be a professional writer, you should write a lot and then pick the best ones to polish up to submit to be published. It is best to always finish the draft of a story you are working on before going on to another one, but always have another project waiting in the wings.  As great as your story might be, don’t put all your hopes on it. It might be the next Harry Potter, but it probably won’t be.

Always be creating.

If you have any questions about writing or other topics you want me to talk about in Writing Corner, just send me an email at info@greenwalledtreehouse.com.

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