Quantity and quality are often used as opposed terms. Especially in writing you’ve probably often heard people saying, “Quantity is not the same as quality.”
On the other hand you as a writer have been most probably also motivated to write as much as you can and maybe you’ve been even told that only by producing masses of material you can produce also brilliant pieces in it. “You can’t edit and empty page,” I love quoting again and again.
But what about already finished and published books. Which are better? The longer or the shorter ones?
Like anything else, relativity principle applies to both, quantity and quality. There are brilliant epic novels and revealing short stories. And the same applies to the bad ones. You can find them in any length and in any genre.
And of course besides that, a book can be perceived by one person as good and can sound awful to another.
So every writer needs to write his or her own perfect story, the one he or she wants to read. Most of us heard this instruction many times too.
Of course we still need to improve and revise, and let others to edit and say their opinion on what we have produced. But what if rewriting doesn’t improve but simply changes the book? It is then different but neither better or worse. Even if there might be some people who think otherwise. Like in the case when you get a new software update with new functionalities replacing the old ones you liked and used a lot. The new ones might be good or even better, but you simply don’t feel like this is the case.
After asking myself what advice I would give my younger self, or if I were a starting writer, then the following shaped somewhere between my heart and my brain.
If your inner critic or someone from the outside says to you that your book or writing in general is bad, then don’t argue and don’t defend yourself. This will be a waste of your time and it will only produce or increase already current doubts about your work-in-progress or your writing craft in general. I bet this is not the way you want to take. So tap the power of your brain or the brain of your critic to boost your productivity and creativity. Ask your brain or your external critic, “What can WE do to make it better?” Yes, invite the one who critiques you (be it your brain or your friend) to be a part of your creative process. Together you will manage so much more. You’ll have a lot of fun, and if this is a friend or a family member, then this whole process might bring you much closer together than you could have ever imagined.
If you, on the other hand, are the one providing opinion on a work of a fellow writer, then be as kind as you wish others to be to you. And always, always (!) provide a suggestion how to improve your colleague’s work. Let them know what you would do, if this would be your work-in-progress.
I had recently an epiphany related to the above advice and also about quantity and quality recently.
I had a possibility to ask a fellow independent writer for a review copy. I chose a book because of the very intriguing description. The e-book was relatively long, estimated by Amazon to be 480 pages long.
I liked the main story a lot. And I also liked the side stories. But not the way they were woven together. The side stories sometimes distracted from the main one for too long. They started to become main stories of their own.
At first, I was afraid to comment on this book. I was afraid to offend the author. But then I wrote an e-mail with my opinion and suggestions what I would do to improve it, and the author appreciated it. I was surprised, but then I realized that I would appreciate it too.
And this is what I realized from this experience in respect to quantity and quality.
Telling several stories in parallel is risky and even for masters, like Jojo Moyers, for example whose book “The Girl You Left Behind” I mentioned in the previous article the Pace of a Story, lost me time to time as a reader or at least made more impatient in the evening hours, when I was already tired and wanted a story to sweep me away into its own world. Unfortunately another story got in-between and it wasn’t immediately visible how they were connected. Some thorough thinking and contemplating was needed to understand both stories. This contemplation was possible and pleasantly challenging in the mornings, with a cup of coffee in my hand, but not in the evenings when I wanted to relax from the busy day.
When I thought of the story of the independent author mentioned above I realized that I didn’t want her to cut out from the story and make only the main one visible. I rather wanted her to enhance those side stories and dedicate whole books to them as well, and create out of all that material a trilogy, a quartet, or a larger series of books.
It was an interesting discovery for me. The revision and the adjustment of the quantity to increase quality doesn’t always mean cutting the word count down, as many — among them Stephen King in his famous book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” — suggest while revising. It can also — as I understand now — mean to add much more material and restructure it to make the whole story, or even the world of this story completely impossible to leave it, at least not for a while.
I realize now that if I haven’t loved Jojo Moyers’ other books before “The Girl You Left Behind”, I might not have finished reading this book. Yes, there were moments in the day, when I loved the challenge she posed, but in general I love being unseemly challenged and not have to work hard to figure out the story.
I rarely dare to critic the masters and famous writers, but strangely I managed to critic not one but two in this article. It is scary, but I see that through this I find my own way in writing, the one which appeals to me right now. It might change in future, when I write other kinds of books, and I am curious to discover the quantity and quality of them.
Dear writers friends, let’s not get intimidated by the word count. It doesn’t matter that much. We can use quantity is a vehicle to achieve high quality. Quantity is not quality’s enemy. By manipulating quantity in a certain and intentional way we can reach the quality we are aiming.
Have you ever been critiqued about your word count (either internally by your own brain or from the outside)? If yes, then in what way? What do the quantity and quality mean for you in respect to writing and life in general?
Picture: Here is an example when increasing quantity enhances, in my opinion, quality. When there is harmony in a family or between friends, then the more time you spend with these cherished people the more wonderful the time spent with them feels like. Here is my son heading to his first graduation ball. It was “just” a kindergarten graduation ball, but I realized that the time will pass extremely fast until he will start heading to parties from his own home and not ours together. So being aware of every moment and enjoying as many of them as possible with my family, friends, colleagues, new people I meet, as well as on my own, or in other words the more of those intentionally enjoyed moments the higher the quality of my life.
“Cheerleading For Writers”, copyright © 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels