Quantity vs. Quality

There’s a common meme among writers today that you should emphasize quality over quantity. It’s better to write one well polished and meaningful blog post than six that were just dashed off without any reflection. It’s better to spend three years writing a really good book then to compromise and release a book every year that’s not your best work.

There is certainly something to be said for doing high quality work. Especially in today’s market we’re swamped by both fiction and non-fiction that are mediocre at best. Someone decides they’re a writer and two months later they can self-publish through Createspace or KDP adding one more pathetic book to the already saturated market.

However, like most elements of this world, this practice can be taken too far. Quality should be emphasized over quantity, but does that mean we should cut out quantity altogether? There arises a mentality that if an author publishes a lot of books they must not be as good as the author who spends more time on his. Writers begin second guessing their publishing goals, and worrying about their stories. If you’re not writing the next epic fantasy masterpiece is your story really worth telling? Isn’t there enough meaningless prattle out there already without contributing to it?

STOP!

Stop right there. Stop thinking that way. This minute.

Writing is good. Good writing is really good. Really exceptional writing is really exceptionally good. But all writing, to some extent,  is a good thing.

Writing can be good and wonderful and happy without being deep and meaningful and life changing. Good, clean, innocent fun can be enjoyed by everyone. We don’t all want to sit around reading the dark and heavy. Laughing is good. Enjoyment is good.

Your best work is going to be the book or blog post that people read and cry over and comment on the most. It’s going to make you cry when you reread it. You’re going to love and hate it all at once, and you’re never going to write anything that good again. Does that mean you should quit writing? Does that mean that, because everything else isn’t as good as the epitome of your career it’s meaningless and shouldn’t be pursued.

No. There is a place for good work that isn’t necessarily your best. There is a place for writing lots of happy books that people enjoy reading without overemphasizing on the  quality. Think of television or magazines.

16 episodes a year for a TV show seems pitiful to the viewers, but to the producers it’s quite a bit. You have to have 16 complete stories, 45 minutes long. You have to find all those writers, and get the actors to perform them and hope they’re all somewhat decent. And then the next year you do it again. TV producers don’t have the liberty of taking three years to polish their work to perfection. They crank it out, stuff it into our eyeballs, and hope we like it. This is an example of focus on quantity over quality, and I don’t think it’s inferior to movie masterpieces like Lord of the Rings.

Having lots of mediocre episodes to choose from means that we all have favorites. Sometimes we disagree on our favorites, and sometimes one or two stories shine high above the others. If all the episodes were that good then the two that are exceptional wouldn’t stand out at all. This would actually be boring. Instead of recognizing brilliance we would expect it. If everything we wrote was the best it could possibly be then there would be no way to write something better.

We all strive to be better. What happens when you hit that point where you can go no higher? Thanks be to God that it doesn’t exist! So what I’m trying to say is…

Stop worrying about quality over quantity. Stop focusing on producing your best work, because it doesn’t exist. Write the story that comes to hand, in the best manner you know, with the skills you have now, and write as many as you like. Quantity is a market driven thing. If people demand more books, write them more books. Don’t turn them away saying “Sorry, I have to spend at least eighteen months on a book before I can release it,” when you know you can cut corners and do it in ten.

So go out and write that silly pointless novella you’ve been putting off because it wasn’t meaningful enough. Write it and let it see the light of day and make people giggle and have several hours of pointless, meaningless enjoyment. And then go out and write another one, because it was so easy. I guarantee that you will have more fun, your readers will have more fun, and the world will be a better place because you can never have too much good writing.


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