From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, October 26, 2015

Quality vs. Quantity: Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?

One of the best things about being in an MFA program is that it is absolutely forcing me to learn, and to look all my writing habits straight on and determine with a clear head weather they are productive or not. There are a myriad of ways to do this, not just school, but I encourage you to find a way to put yourself in this situation. 

One thing this school situation has been forcing me to think about is quality versus quantity. (And I don't mean to dichotomize these two things--I definitely do NOT think they are mutually exclusive, but let me explain.)

So, I've been doing this writing thing for a long time, which means I've got a good chunk of stuff in the metaphorical drawers. I'm definitely not talking quality here, because much of my backlog is about as pretty as a baboons poop drawing, but its, ya know, there. I've even got a few novels handy, which are hopefully better than baboon poop.

In my efforts to make my creative writing workshops the most effective and beneficial I possibly can, I've been forced to make some decisions: do I focus on reworking old stuff, getting as much feedback on it as I can? Or do I put out something new?

The ideal answer to this question is obviously both. We want bright, polished trophy-winners, and actually an armful of them would be nice. But the thing is, I think we as authors tend to naturally fall somewhere on this spectrum of Rework to New, and each extreme comes with writerly downfalls. There are two extremes:

Stuck in a rut. If you've been working on the same piece for the last several years and are still workshopping it, it might be time to do some re-thinking. I mean, if this piece is one that you've totally flipped, and you're just getting the new version off the ground, that's one thing, but if you're niggling over the same things you've been angsting about for years and years, you might want to consider moving on before your writing partners feel tempted to duct-tape you to a chair and force you to watch them feed page after page of your glorious manuscript into a fiery furnace. If this piece isn't working, let it not work. Write something that does.

Pez-dispenser. Does anybody really like Pez's? The candy, I mean (the dispensers are pretty cool). They're just sort of meh. You can eat chalky brick after chalky brick, but it doesn't really do much for you. Don't be a writer like this. And I confess, this is the tendency I'm working against. It's so easy for me to put down a piece, get a little feedback on it, and then move on. It's like leaving the pot unpainted, or the cake unglazed. DO NOT LEAVE THE CAKE UNGLAZED. I have to consistently remind myself that no one particular piece is going to be my magic pill that makes everything happy happy rainbows of author fame and fortune. The true magic is in a long career of high quality stuff. That means taking time with each worthwhile piece and massaging it and doing whatever needs doing to help it reach its fullest potential. Don't leave that baby half done. Let it gestate until its heart beat is nice and strong. Don't let it live at home until you retire, either, but give it its needed care.

Okay, my metaphors are getting weird now, so its time for me to stop. Anyway, my point is that there is, as in all things, a need for balance. I'm working on not rushing--on taking a very serious look at the feedback I get, and looking very closely at each piece until I can really, truly hear it sing. It's like hitting a tuning-fork--you know when its got that right pitch. No piece will every be perfect, but its important to work with it until it has that music, and then to Let. It. Go.

I'm going to try to do both.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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  1. I don't think anyone like Pez candies.
    Reworking the same thing over and over would be frustrating. Dumping it for a good long while and working on something new would be a better option.

    1. Glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about Pez's :) You've always got such great advice!

  2. ACK the pez dispenser metaphor is one I struggle with and I am trying to battle back against. I see so many people I've known through blogging publish book after book meanwhile I am working on this one short story for about 8 months now and feel like I'm finally making progress and I'm I doing something wrong here? But quality over quantity is so key. I am finally not focusing just getting to that "published" status and just focusing on telling quality stories. I used to just disregard a story after initial feedback and lose interest but that isn't happening anymore. I am getting feedback and actually using the critiques to polish the story up! I hope hope hope that my approach will turn out with some success.


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