Writing: Quality or Quantity?

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This morning, an interesting article was posted on Write For Your Life, the writing blog. The post essentially argues that quality is most important when writing rather than quantity. You can read the article at this link for yourself, but I have some thoughts and opinions on this matter.

Basically, the author of this post thinks that quality is more important when practicing your writing and I think that quantity is more important. Part of my opinion is informed by the fact that I am heavily invested in National Novel Writing Month, which encourages quantity when writing. Because I’ve done a lot of my writing in that forum, it’s  been ingrained in me that writing as much as you can is important so that you can later go back and trim the fat, so to speak. You have to have a lot to work with before you can actually work with it.

The author of the post says that he believes quality is most important specifically when practicing your writing. This implies, I think, that you have to get things right on your first try. That’s simply not possible. In my Theories of Composing course, we’ve been discussing the idea that some theorists have that when you sit down to write, you will write your final draft immediately. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. I’m a big believer in “shitty first drafts,” as Anne Lamott might say. You have to write badly before you can write well. And oftentimes, that bad writing that you produce is produced in large quantities.

But that’s a good thing! Because then you can retrace your steps, edit the bad writing that you’ve produced, and make it into something of quality. To do that, though, you have to write in quantity. You might throw away a lot of what you produced, but you’ll be throwing away the bad parts and you’ll have enough that you’re able to throw bad parts away. The author of this Write for Your Life post says that “the bits inbetween periods of writing” is what really matters because that’s when you’re perfecting what you’ve written. But I would argue that you can’t get to that point without first writing in quantity.

What do you think? Is quality or quantity most important when writing? Leave your opinion in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

5 thoughts on “Writing: Quality or Quantity?

  1. Lucas October 22, 2010 / 3:41 pm

    I completely agree. Because if I take a break from writing due to laziness or whatever, it is always so hard to begin writing stuff I actually approve of again. For me writing is a thing that I need to be constantly doing, because if I stop, I stop for a long time. It’s not like riding a bicycle where once you learn it you’re set for life, writing is a muscle you need to constantly be working out so that it doesn’t get all flabby and useless.

    • Editor October 24, 2010 / 9:04 pm

      You’re right, it’s best to just keep going and keep on writing or you lose that “magic,” so to speak. I know exactly what you mean. You don’t want flabby writing muscles, and stopping to excessively edit can cause that.

  2. Eric October 24, 2010 / 11:56 pm

    I agree completely. Not only on the “shitty first draft” part, but I wholly believe in using previous thoughts in other papers or works. Actually, looking at it that way would lead to all quanity writing being a form of quality. Whether it be direct sentences, a haphazard philosophy point, or even structure of paper, paragraph, and sentence. It is all usable.

    • Editor October 25, 2010 / 1:19 pm

      That’s an excellent point — you can always mine that quantity of writing you’ve produced for future pieces!

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