Quality vs. Quantity

by Sven Michael Davison

How good am I as a writer?

I find most of us who proclaim membership in this reclusive tribe have asked this question of ourselves. I ask it on a daily basis. Should I rewrite every sentence before moving on? Are authors who crank out material at blinding speed any good? Should I second guess myself until I experience writer’s block? How can I stay productive and stick to my goals?

My answers, in order of the questions, are: yes, sometimes, no, and see below.

Write Every Day

My philosophy on writing is that I must write and read every day. Reading keeps me apprised of how others approach the craft, and writing is like a workout. Since 1994, I have been waking up at 4:40 am to hit the gym and then I sit down at the computer for a minimum of ten minutes. I have been in many situations where I have worked a day job for sixty—even eighty—hours per week, and in times like that, I drop the reading but I still push the writing.

Like my physical workouts, the only time I can guarantee the writing muscles will get their due is if I attack it first thing in the morning.

With a truncated creative window it is nearly impossible to produce any significant body of work, especially if I am constantly focused on perfection. So I give myself permission to write garbage. To hell with quality! It doesn’t matter if there is not one salvageable word, as long as I put something on the page.

There are days when I feel completely uncreative. In times like these, I document my word associations. After a few minutes, I find my old imagination rises from its dirt nap and I’m able to generate something that could be worth reading. After a year, I might even have the vomit-draft of a manuscript.

Commit to a Schedule

In addition to writing daily, I also set monthly page goals, or a milestone to complete a manuscript by date X. This allows me some light days and some crunch days, but no matter how busy I get, I hit my targets. Since 1991 I’ve written fifteen screenplays, nine manuscripts, and thousands of pages of notes. Not all are worth reading, but that was not the point.

Currently, I’m a consultant and I’m able to commit to a minimum of two hours of writing a day and one manuscript per year. I failed to hit my manuscript goal this year, but I was extra productive in 2016 so I don’t feel too bad. During my two hours, I keep my fingers typing. I don’t shoot for word or page counts. I commit to time at the computer that is dedicated to writing. No surfing, no procrastinating, just solid writing. I never fool myself into believing these drafts are worthy of publication.

Revision, revision, revision… and more revision

I have met writers who feel their first or second drafts merit the printing press, but I have only seen this in practice with the likes of Stephen King—whom I have not met. I have hundreds of ideas in my head, and I allow myself to jot notes on any of them when the mood strikes, but I always return to the manuscript I’m committed to finishing.

After four to five revisions, I’m able to show my work to others and gain feedback. From there I write a few more drafts. Typically, I spend between 1,800 to 3,000 hours on a manuscript before it’s ready to publish. Using this method, I’ve penned the work I’ve detailed above while holding several full-time jobs (consecutively, not all at once) spending at least an hour a day with my son, helping around the house, and giving my wife moral support in between.

Give yourself permission to suck

This deserves repeating. Give yourself permission to write something that even you will be embarrassed to read the next day. You never know what material you’ll find in a later excavation. Don’t pore over the same material in an endless loop. Try finishing an entire draft, then go back and start the endless editing process.

Then Edit for Quality

I allow myself quantity in private. I can dump on the page as much, and as long, as I like without fretting over validation. But when it comes to showing my work to others, I switch to quality.

I would love to put every idea I have into books but I simply don’t have enough time on this earth to do so (even if I could write 24/7, which is my heart’s desire). No, I’d rather challenge myself to be a better writer with every book by drafting and redrafting to tell the best story possible.

***

Sven Davison, author and YouTube host of Author/Author

Sven Michael Davison, author and YouTube host of Author/Author

Sven Michael Davison is the author of Blockbuster, a satirical look at action films and the people who make them. He has also penned The God Head Trilogy, a post-cyberpunk tale that examines the darker side of singularity theory, mass effect, and artificial intelligence.

Sven spent many years in Hollywood trying to break into screenwriting while writing trailer copy for movies like Beavis and Butthead Do America and The Relic. He then launched the DVD Production and Content Group for Twentieth Century Fox and spent ten years managing the department where he was responsible for all special features on DVD, Blu-ray and UMD media.

In addition to hosting the YouTube channel Author/Author, Sven is close to releasing a memoir about traveling to all seven continents in seven years as well as putting the finishing touches on a contemporary fantasy trilogy.

 

*O.C. Writers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. By clicking on the book links anywhere on this site, we earn a small commission from your purchase.

 

6 thoughts on “Quality vs. Quantity

  1. 4:40 am? monthly page goals? revisions? You mean there’s a reason I don’t have “fifteen screenplays, nine manuscripts, and thousands of pages of notes?” I’m getting to see a connection here. Message received!
    And, on another note, so glad I just went to your “Author, Author” channel on youtube. Terrific interviews! Very well done. I subscribed!

  2. Always interesting to hear about other writers’ strategies for success — thank you for sharing!

    My question is that it sounds like your schedule works great for writing the first draft, but what about when you are revising? Are you doing that instead of the two hours of straight writing or in addition? How do you approach it? I find that whipping out that crappy first draft of lots of words is one thing, but revising? ARGH. That takes a lot of thinking, and re-reading, and taking notes, and moving sections around, and rethinking all over again — a whole lot of not-writing before I even get to the part where I revise specific sentences.

    Do you find that when you’re at the “quality over quantity” stage, your strategy is any different?

    1. Hi Joy,

      I have found that if I’m limited to just ten minutes a day, my subsequent drafts are painfully slow. I do need larger blocks of time to play god with my world and make the hard changes. If I find I simply can’t do this, I move on to writing notes for other stories, create a character study, or focus on describing a location. I’d rather keep the creative juices flowing, than let it all die off. It took me ten years to write “State of Mind” because of the day job. It was tough, but I still got it out.

  3. Great advice, Sven. We just had this conversation at a Write In. I feel most of those authors who are churning out a book every 6 weeks must be cutting prose corners. I’m revising my manuscript now. It’s staggering how bad some of it is! I’m spending hours a day – more than two because I can – to get it in shape for my editor. Then she and I will go back at it at least three more times.

    It’s great to watch the words pile up on the first go round, but then it’s time to put aside the number goals and get crafty!

    1. I completely agree, Greta. My comments were more for the folks who get bogged down in second guessing every word they put down and fall into writer’s block. I clarified more in my reply to Joy.

      All the best,
      Sven

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