UPDATE (8/18/11): Edited for clarity.
No, I’m not saying quality should take a backseat to quantity in general, because no one’s getting far these without turning in polished work as competition gets fiercer.
But you can’t improve what’s not there.
By that I mean we can’t improve writing we haven’t written.
So many stories stay stuck inside writer’s noggins and never see the page, or computer screen, because we let fear of writing another dud stifles our output and the joy that only comes from just doing it.
While chances are much of what we write isn’t publishable, it can be hard to go from project to project, not unlike an assembly line, because in order to write our best work, we have to invest our passion as well as the time to physically produce it.
When projects don’t sell or improve, even after years of refining and tweaking, it can just be da** frustrating and scary to begin again, for fear of the same outcome. While I agree with the countless number of writers who’ve told me that this shouldn’t stop me from writing entirely, it’s vital to let ourselves know it’s OKAY. We can’t let these fears rule our lives, and stop us from writing, but for the sake of our artist’s sanity, we must acknowledge they exist.
Admitting your pain doesn’t make you weak, just don’t let it warp your mind, or rule your life from the shadows, both of which happened to me many times. Only until I hit rock bottom do I see the mess I put myself in.
This year, I will get back much of the diligence and joy I’d lost, when I let what frustrates me about writing get in the way of actually writing, and to do that, I must relearn a skill I had at the beginning. Something I lost when things got tough. Just writing my story.
Not thinking about agents, editors, query letters and the like until I’ve written the story from beginning to end, no matter how rough it will be, because I can only improve by having something to improve. For me, my writing output is more important right now than overall quality.
Fear can’t take hold of a writer who blazes his temples on the keyboard.
(Or for those of you who write early drafts in longhand: Gripping tight to one’s pencil, or pen, as the writer scribes with sharp, and almost rhythmic precision)
Charging in replaces Worry with Work!
That said, once daily (Or consistent) writing has become a natural part of you routine, you will feel good about having things out of your head and in plain sight on the page, and yes, it will be rough, and feel like you’re just setting yourself up for nightmarish edits or rewrites down the line, but remember, the point at the beginning is to have your story on the page, and finding joy in that alone.
If you’re a writer who’s more comfortable with thinking analytically, you can adjust the flow of drafting to meet your needs, or the needs of a particular project.
But for writers who are too petrified to write for fear of not improving, like me, just start typing now!
Longhand drafters, pen or pencil it out, without looking back!
Right now, you need to get a draft your eyes can see, and only then can you edit, remove, and revise as needed.
I know many writers who are quite comfortable with planning out the story as best they can before writing a draft, to lessen errors that come about from being too in the dark about the plot and motivations of the characters involved, but sometimes, or for some writers, just diving in’s the best way.
I tried outlining many times, and truthfully I did learn many things worth learning, but often it made me a paranoid coward who barely wrote a few paragraphs, and while I do agree that knowing what you can in advance will make you less likely to stall finishing a draft of your story or novel, sometimes going in blind’s the only way if you know dawdling’s an issue for you.
Remember, the point of this exercise is to keep fear and self-doubt from having the chance to keep us from doing much of anything, the fear won’t go away, but tell yourself you refuse let it add to the problem.
Now once you’ve finished a draft of your story, novel, or query letter (Hate those letters!) take the time to shift gears so editing is just another step in the process, and feels less like barbarism, and let’s be honest, sometimes it does, positive as we try to be.
This is also the time to call back the Quality Control Cops. now that you’ve finished a draft of your manuscript, they’re input in the form of beta-readers, writer’s groups, and even your homicidal inner editor, will help you, not just hurt your resolve.
If I can do it, nearly anyone reading this now can as well, so do your creativity a favor. Finish the story already!
Until Then, to loosely quote Nike,
Just Write it!