Quantity Produces Quality – A NaNoWriMo Post

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

As November approaches and I still haven’t had a chance to do things like outline or plan my next novel, largely thanks to work on other consuming projects like  NaNoToons and the NaNoMusical, I’ve been feeling the need to explain why I love doing NaNoWriMo so much.

I can understand why people don’t like it. Look, we, as wrimo’s, are crazy about it. We’re like a cult. And some wrimos think that if you DON’T do Nano, you’re a creative dunce. No wonder there is backlash.

Some people have different ways of expressing their creativity. That’s fine! I won’t force anyone to do it. It’s silly to look down on someone who doesn’t do NaNoWriMo, just as it is silly to look down on people who do.

Why do I continue to do NaNoWriMo? Because I believe that creativity can be practiced. I don’t get writer’s block. Ask my creative partners. There are probably many reasons for this. Some say I don’t have any filters (I don’t really), others think I’m a loony (possibly) but one of the main reasons, I think, is that I practice it.

I practice it all the time. I practice it when I talk to my children (they don’t like that). I practice it when I talk to my friends (they definitely don’t like that). I practice it when I post on facebook, write blogs, update my webcomics, write music, write stories, perform and do improv, update twitter, write cover letters for jobs and also when I talk to telemarketers… ok, especially when I talk to telemarketers.

In the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, there is an awesome quote about how Quantity trumps Quality. It’s in the section Fears About Yourself – Perfection:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group… Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A.” Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Your NaNoWriMo novel will not be amazing on its first draft. That’s a given. This is my seventh year doing it, and it still holds true. However, you are getting better at it. And if being creative is something you truly enjoy, something that’s a part of you, then it becomes even more rewarding when you can let it go unhindered, when you aren’t plagued by doubt, the inner critic, or writer’s block. Malcolm Gladwell has his 10,000 hour rule which most of you must be familiar with by now. You will get better the more you do it.

Heck, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes you can only be truly happy if you practice Creative Flow.

I will leave you with one last quote, because I doubt anyone ever believes anything I say, (maybe it’s because I keep practicing ‘creativity’ on them). It’s an excerpt from a February 1976 Writer’s Digest interview with science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury (interview by Robert Jacobs).

“WD: You’re terribly prolific, but a lot of writers produce one book in a lifetime. Would you advise young writers to spend all their time polishing one piece or to go for quantity?

BRADBURY: It simply follows that quantity produces quality. Only if you do a lot will you ever be any good. If you do very little, you’ll never have quality of idea or quality of output. The excitement and creativity comes from a whole lot of doing; hoping you’ll suddenly be struck by lightning. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. The history of literature is the history of prolific people. I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That’s three or four hundred thousand words a year. Most of that will be bilge, but the rest … It will save your life!”


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