So as a general rule, I’ve always considered that quality is worth more than quantity in the writing world. If you have a hundred books out but all of them tell the exact same story and are garbage, then I don’t care that you might have fifty best-sellers. But take authors like Harper Lee, who only have one book in the world (because no matter what anyone tries to say, WATCHMAN is just a first draft of MOCKINGBIRD) and that book is amazing. However, I’ve found more and more that I seem to be in the minority on that opinion. There are plenty of people out there who say that they key to being successful is to simply put out more and more and more work, as much as you possibly can, and stop worrying about being good.
I’m not sure I agree with this sentiment, but I came across this article, and I think it says it the way I see it…without realizing that it’s saying it.
The first point that the article makes is that the author themselves don’t necessarily have a good idea of whether or not a book they’re working on is any good. (Using the aforementioned author example, I have a memory of a time when Lee threw the entire draft of MOCKINGBIRD out a window because she thought it was trash.) I’d agree with this. I still have days when I wonder whether or not REVOLUTION is actually any good. I mean, I like it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. Now, I’ve had other people who know better than me what a good book looks like tell me they like it too, but there’s always that sliver of doubt.
I think that doubt is a good thing. The second you really feel confident about something, is the moment you’re going to fail the hardest. (This is why I always told myself I was going to fail tests in school. Apparently that’s the pro-tip for how to get high honors in college. Just be convinced you’re going to fail. All the time.)
The article then goes on to talk about some looking someone did into musicians, and how the greats did in terms of quantity of their work. Needless to say, what they seemed to find is that the ones who were truly great in their time were the ones who composed the most. They were successful because they had written so much in their time.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
In today’s society, it feels a lot more like what we’re being told is that you need to put out (keeping with the writing idea rather than music) a book at least every two to four months in order to be successful. You need to always have your name in front of people or you are never going to succeed. Is this true? Maybe. I don’t know. Speaking as someone with only one book in the world, I can’t really judge.
But here’s the difference. I don’t think you’re truly successful because you’ve put out all these books in a short amount of time. I don’t think the great musicians of the past were so great because they had nine times more work than the next three people put together.
Instead, it’s because they wrote that much…that they became good. The more you write, the better you get.
PRACTICE! WHAT A NOVEL CONCEPT (no pun intended)
But that’s the truth of the matter. It’s not that the people who can crank out eight to twelve books a year are more successful because they’ve released that many books–it’s because they’ve written that many books. They’ve worked hard over and over on telling a story. And that’s what the article seems to really get at. It’s far too easy to get caught up in whether or not any given book is “great.” We spend way too much time stressed about a single book that it means that it takes far longer than it should to actually get anything into the world. (See the fact that it took me 7 years to release REVOLUTION.)
Now, the trouble I have is that I don’t think we need to just be releasing any crap we happen to type into the universe. There is more than enough crap work out there; we don’t need to add to it. Take the time. Make sure the book is edited and reasonable. Don’t just throw whatever onto some pages and send it off on its merry way. I have no doubt that it’s possible to be very successful that way…I just don’t think it’s a good way. Write and write and write and write. And then put something out.
Who knows? Maybe in time you’ll be the type of author who can sit down and write a pretty good book that fast and get a bunch of books out in a year. But we can’t let ourselves get caught up in making sure everything we write is Shakespeare or Dickens or Austen. It’s not going to be, and that’s okay.
I’ve gotten a lot out of some of my groups, but I’m done listening to the people who can only talk about getting books out every month and making millions of dollars. Would it be nice? Of course. But if making that million dollars tells me to sell my writing soul, I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t write books to make money; I write books to tell stories. And I don’t ever want that to be the other way around.
A good friend of mine wrote a song with (something close to) this lyric in it: “I don’t write songs to get girls, I write songs to conquer this world. Did you not hear me when I said I’d be famous?”
I think there’s a good reason that’s always stuck in my head.