Quality over quantity when it comes to practising your writing

Iain looks at the process of practising your writing and says that really, the only way to get better is to analyse your work - it's about quality of thought, not ploughing onwards.

This episode came about after reading a nice article by the designer, Frank Chimero, where he talks about the need to write regularly as part of a practice routine.
I agree mostly, but I also think that quality is more important than quantity. For me, it’s about the bits inbetween periods of writing that are important. Because that’s where you get to analyse what you’ve done and make changes.

I first responded to Frank’s article over at my personal blog, Broomeshtick, which led to the wonderfully named ‘tugs’ leaving a comment that pointed me towards another article on a blog called Lynda Teaches Art. It’s about drawing, but the message is similar to mine.

Finally, another response got me pondering even more. It really is that quality of thought that helps us practise and improve as writers, and we can do that by analysing and giving feedback on the work of others, as well as our own.

So there you go – watch away and see what you think!

What this episode on Vimeo


Anonymous 22 October 2010 Reply

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jwr35mm@aim.com 22 October 2010 Reply

My daughter’s softball coach sends the same message, using different words. His take: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Good bit of truth in that.
Just found Write for Your Life this week, and already I’m a repeat visitor. The posts are useful and engaging. Keep at it.


iain@writeforyourlife.net 22 October 2010 Reply

@Joe – Thanks Joe – very kind of you to say so. And welcome!

george@tumblemoose.com 22 October 2010 Reply

Hi Iain,
There is no way I would disagree about any of the points here


When it’s ten days from the start of NaNoWriMo and I know I’m just gonna be sloppin’ the hogs!

Cheers, mate. Send me well wishes and thoughts of strong coffee as I began this NaNo insanity…

robin@altosoft.com.au 23 October 2010 Reply

I agree with you, Iain, in fact I just read a very good article about Nanowrimo,saying the same thing. If you’re going to spend every spare moment next month writing,what’s the point of it if you just end up with a month’s worth of total drivel? I think it’s a delicate balancing act between writing whatever’s in your head for your first draft and not doing too much censoring, and not writing total crap. I have a writer’s journal which I write in most days and that serves as a warm-up exercise before I sit down to the task of my ‘real writing.’

iain@writeforyourlife.net 25 October 2010 Reply

@George – I think you must be absolutely crackers George, but you have all my best wishes! Nanowrimo is not for me, but I know it helps many writers get that first draft underway, so that can only be a good thing. Good luck!
@Robin – Yep, I pretty much agree with all of that. I’m a bit of an edit-as-you-go type of writer, so Nanowrimo is a bit of a mystery to me!

@Randy – Everything you just wrote. I’m totally with you. And great to see you round these parts – you’re very welcome!

cptnrandy@mac.com 25 October 2010 Reply

I completely agree.
I’m not a big fan of “free writing” as practice. It may be OK as a warmup, but real practice means review, criticism, and rework, trying to achieve an idealized standard. Productive practice has form.

If you look at how athletes or musicians practice, they say, “I need to work on X” and focus on repetitive practice, trying to achieve either an internal or external goal or shape. I see too many student writers that are unwilling to edit and rewrite, let alone take a hard look at what they’ve initially written and develop a practice plan to build up their skills. I don’t know why so many people treat writing as something special and different from other art forms or skills.

mistina@marketitwrite.com 6 November 2010 Reply

All excellent points. (And I’m really enjoying your blog, Iain. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.)
My initial reaction was the same as George’s: It’s time for NaNoWriMo – quality goes straight out the window.

It seems that many would-be writers aren’t writing at all. They’re talking about writing, reading about writing, thinking about writing, commenting on blogs when they should be working on their NaNoWriMo manuscripts… In short, doing everything they can to get out of the actual writing.

I truly believe that if you’re consistently reading and writing, the quality will improve. Yes, it depends on what those inputs are, but unless you restrict your reading to student writing workshops and blogs (all fine writing here, of course), something positive will rub off. We instinctively process those important aspects of craft: voice, pacing, setting, etc.

I hear what you’re saying in that fabulous British accent. My concern, however, is that far too many aspiring writers will use the advice as yet another excuse not to write. Sort of like research. “I’m far more concerned with quality than quantity.” More people need to get off their @ss and just write. Myself included.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 6 November 2010 Reply

Thank you for the comments and the kind words! I agree completely that you have to find a balance, but I do think it’s important to include that analysis into everything you write. Always go back and read again, be constantly learning, whether you’re reading OR writing. That’s the main thing.

jasmin.nanda@gmail.com 18 November 2010 Reply

I agree with all the reactions to your post above- there has to be a balance, and ofcourse the demand-whether you are writing for a daily, weekly or monthly work/project/magazine etc..

iain@writeforyourlife.net 19 November 2010 Reply

My key point is about making sure that there is always a level of analysisgoing on with your writing, whatever it is you write. It’s important to
stop, check and improve.

contact@zahrabrown.com 26 November 2010 Reply

I was getting stressed over my word count. I read that Fantasy novels should have approx 90,000 words, but right now I barely see myself reaching 80,000. I’ll keep in mind that quality is definitely far more important. When I took that approach last time, the extra words naturally came with quality.
I’m glad I’m not the only one surprised by the 50,000 words Nano expects. I guess sometimes just getting the story out is important, but so many of my ideas have come since I started this book in August. It wouldn’t be the same novel if I’d finished it by September.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 27 November 2010 Reply

You should never get too hung up about word count. It’s only ever a guideand I’m a firm believer in a novel is as long as a novel is. They come in
all shapes and sizes. That said, anything below, say, 45,000 words is
probably more like a novella. But that’s fine too, if you’ve done what you
need to do with your manuscript.

Anonymous 10 July 2011 Reply

[…] Not only does it provide a more tangible history of my work, it slows me down and forces me to be more analytical. […]

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