When I was six or seven I learned an important lesson about quantity and quality. We were in class, writing stories. I was on a table with a few of my kid colleagues and we were busy inventing imaginary worlds. Then one of the other kids put their hand up,
“Miss, I’m finished”, she called to the teacher.
“Already? That was fast, are you sure there’s nothing more you want to add?”
“No. I’m definitely finished” She insisted.
“OK, well in that case you can do another one.”
As you might be able to imagine, that was that. We had been given the green light. I remember scribbling through pages and pages, I must have ‘written’ about eleven or twelve stories by the end. Some of them would have consisted of no more than six words. I was pounding through like a machine. I had my eye on my ever growing pile of pages. It was all about sheer quantity. I wanted to create an anthology of epic proportions by the end of the lesson. And I did. I was proud.
I put my hand up and showed the teacher…
She wasn’t quite as impressed as I was proud. In fact she wasn’t happy at all. Her voice and words have always stayed with me:
‘Andrew, as you go through life you will learn that quantity is not important, it is quality that counts. You haven’t spent anytime on the quality of any of your stories.’
Quantity begets Quality
She wanted me to write one story and to spend time writing descriptions or developing characters or something. But I was in a different place. And in fact, when I look at it now there was a mixture of showing off (the pride I took in my stack of paper), and also idea generation.
I have never been one to knuckle down and work on things in a class or group context, and this was evident back then. Rather, although I wasn’t aware at the time, I was using that time to generate a huge number of ideas. There would have been spacemen, animals, digger drivers, football players, pop stars, talking furniture/vehicles, dragons, all sorts. Each page would have been different.
Quality Can Come Later…
And this is an absolutely vital part of the creative process. It’s about ideas. It’s about flow. It’s not about getting bogged down in technique, description and intricate details. And ultimately, it’s about quantity. Ideas, ideas, ideas. Write, write, write. Sorting comes later. In this respect quality is borne of quantity. Apart from the freaks of luck, it can’t exist without it.
I have recently begun adhering to a daily word count. I have committed to meet this quota every single day without fail. It doesn’t matter how or what I write, just as long as I get my words out and onto the page. This is an important subversion of my teacher’s ill-founded lesson. Here is why it matters:
Writing is therapeutic, and it offers a window into a deeper level of consciousness. So much of our every day is spent on our surface level, but writing, like meditation allows you to enter into otherwise untapped reserves. As you write you start to see new ideas emerge, new insights and inspiration jump out, paving the way for surprising projects and pursuits.
You shouldn’t wait to be inspired to write. Writing even though you don’t feel inspired is where you find inspiration. On those days nothing but quantity or extrinsically set goals can motivate you. If you’re waiting to create inspired quality then you’ll never get started.
My teacher obviously had some learning objective she was trying to meet. I don’t know what it was. But there is some irony in the fact that if you are going to create quality then you need to create quantity. You need to fail.
Failure doesn’t feel like failure when you’re in a world of abundance. And a failure in quality against the backdrop and drive of quantity isn’t really failure at all. The only failure in that context is doing nothing, and we only do that if we’re scared that we can’t produce quality. That fear is negated when we place quality into the hands of quantity.
The more you write (and read), the better you’ll get.
For me one of the hardest parts of writing is letting go. Allowing others to read and interpret what I have said. But the more you do something the more comfortable it becomes, and the less importance you hang on each individual effort.
A good example is Twitter. When I first started on Twitter back in 2008/2009 I barely posted anything. I was scared about what people would think and that people would hate what I said. This might be your experience.
The truth is, no one really cares what you say (within reason) but they just like that you’re there (that’s why they follow you). The more you post and connect with people the more you’ll get out of it. In the same way, the more you write, or publish, or Tweet, or cook, or go to the gym, or do ANYTHING the less it becomes a struggle. It develops its natural rhythm, it merges into muscle memory and becomes second nature.
Quantity and quality are not opposites. They need each other. We can’t expect to acheive quality if we aren’t willing to go through the process of producing quantity. And quantity is of no use if our end goal is not to be constantly improving the quality of our work.