Saturday, 5 January 2019

Quality or Quantity, or Both, or Neither (Cecilia Peartree)


Happy New Year 2019
I think it was about this time last year, or maybe it was the year before as this is a perennial thing for me, that I made a resolution not to write as much as I had the previous year. This does seem rather a contrary resolution for a writer to make, but it was a response to a kind of pressure I was feeling to rush the next book out instead of taking my time and perhaps producing something better. Assuming it's an either/or choice, that is.

Sadly, if it was indeed my 2018 resolution I have driven a coach and horses through it over the past year, at one point even completing and publishing two novels within a couple of weeks of each other. Being over-excited about the impending birth of my first grandchild was really no excuse, I told myself sternly. Actually I had several additional excuses lined up, including the fact that I wanted to enter one of them into the Kindle Storyteller competition which, with a typical lack of forward planning, I had only found out about a few weeks before the closing date.

In any case I am in two minds about whether taking your time over things always results in better quality. Sometimes it's the act of rushing at them that helps to focus your mind and create something new and surprising. When I was a history student all those years ago, that approach worked for me when it came to examination times. I know I achieved one of my best results in one paper where I had to use extreme lateral thinking to come up with any kind of an answer, and I only managed that because we were all trapped in a room with nothing else to do but think of something to write. No chance to edit or proof-read under those circumstances either.
I am not arguing against making sure your work is up to an acceptable standard of grammar and spelling, however. In that sense, quality is essential when you're expecting people to pay for what you've written.

I've been mulling this over during my seasonal down-time as I procrastinate over re-starting the novel I abandoned just before NaNoWriMo, and I think what I lose out on when I write too fast is not so much quality as depth. This is partly because I prefer to skim across the surface of life, avoiding the difficult topics until they rise up and hit me in the face, and only partly because I like to make people laugh and help them to avoid the difficult areas too, and I know I would feel guilty if I made them cry instead. If this means I never write 'Crime and Punishment', 'Wuthering Heights' or 'The Mill on the Floss', to name some of the grimmest novels I know (not that I know either of the latter except in passing since their grim reputation precedes them and I've never been able to face reading them), then so be it.

2 comments:

Susan Price said...

"...what I lose out on when I write too fast is not so much quality as depth."

I know what you mean, Cecilia. The books that it too me ages to write for one reason or another certainly gained in depth -- The Ghost Drum, for one. The chance to reconsider phrasing, plotting, motivation -- oh, the whole box of tricks -- certainly helped.

On the other hand, I wrote several books for younger readers to a strict deadline (Odin's Monster, Thomas Katt, Feasting of Trolls.) If I'm honest, I rather looked down on them for a while. Rush jobs, I thought, hastily cobbled together. Then I started reading them aloud in schools and you know what? They weren't bad at all. And the children loved them.

So I'm with you. It's the quality that counts, not the length of time it took to produce it.

Umberto Tosi said...

Well spoken. Steady wins the race. I know this one well. I fight impatience all the time, a whiz-bang-up deadline writer during my many years as a newspaper and magazine writer. It was good discipine having deadlines, but fine fiction doesn't do well with rushing. One can burn the toast on high. Then there's Mozart syndrome with which to deal - the cliche ideal that one can dash off transcendent pieces in the heat of divine inspiration when one is crearly not a Mozart. Still, I fear interminable dithering over my prose, past the point of improvement - or my capacity to improve it. Then one has to go with one has got and move on to the next story.