• Jill Jepson
  • [BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Churning Out Work: How Focusing on Quantity has Improved My Writing
[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Churning Out Work: How Focusing on Quantity has Improved My Writing
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
January 2016
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
January 2016

I recently posted a question on Facebook, asking writers to reveal their publication histories. How many works have they sent out? What is their acceptance rate? What are the most and least times they’d submitted a story before it was accepted?

The most interesting response I received was from an author friend who said that, over the past eight years, he has had nearly 800 rejections. Think of it. So many times he’s heard “no” to his work. How shattering! Except that this particular writer is also one of the most successful authors I know. He has two novels out with major publishing houses and several edited anthologies. He may have had 800 rejections, but he also has over 100 stories published.

“I'm not an author that takes six months to write a story,” he posted as we chatted online about his success. “It either works or it doesn't.” He said he’s written a 6,000-word story in a day, and never takes longer than a week fo finish one. He’s also written a novel in 25 days—and that novel was just published.

 

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When I compared this author’s process with my own, I’m struck by the difference. I was taught to linger over my writing. To dwell and reflect as I wrote. To revise until the work was flawless. It took me a long time to complete work—which meant if it didn’t get published, a huge investment was down the drain.

Several months ago, I realized this slow painstaking process has been a barrier to success. I thought, What if, instead of slowly working through a perfect piece, I pumped out as much work as I could—still revising, of course, but without the continual reflection and perfectionism? Maybe this would be a better recipe for a successful writing career.

Research suggests it would be. In the book Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland tell this story. A ceramics teacher divided his class into two groups. One group would be graded on the quality of work they created. Their task for the term was to make just one pot—but a perfect one. The other group was to focus on quantity. Their job was to get as much done as possible: They would be graded on how many pounds of work they completed!

At the end of the term, an interesting result emerged. The best work was done not by the quality group, but by the quantity group. They had pumped out pot after pot, learned by trial and error, and kept getting better. The quality group dithered, fussed and theorized.

My author friend is like that quantity group. It has paid off in considerable success. For a long time, I worked the way the quality group did—but no longer.

In 250 Things You Should Know about Writing, Chuck Wendig says, “Writing a novel is about gaining steam, about acceleration, about momentum. You lose it every time you stop to revise a scene in the middle, to look up a word, to ponder the plot.” These days, I’m taking Wendig’s advice. Like my author friend with his 800 rejections and stellar success, I’m churning work out fast. I’m sure a portion of it will miss the mark, and some might be downright awful—but there will also be some gems in there, and that’s all I need. Just a few gems.

How about you? How have you balanced quality and quantity in your work? Which approach works best for you? Have you thought about abandoning the slow, painstaking approach and pumping out as much work as you can?

I'm Jill Jepson, author of Writing a Sacred PathYou can get my free biweekly life strategies for writers here

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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Comments
  • Jill Jepson

    Smith's post is terrific! Thanks for sharing it, Michele. Thanks also for mentioning Mary Karr's experience. Those kinds of anecdotes are a shot in the arm for us writers who've had some serious disappointments. 

  • Michele Tracy Berger

    Great thoughts Jill and so timely. I love being spurred on by someone who has had 800 rejections! Mary Karr has written about the over 20 years she sent in New Yorker poems before ever getting published. She kept learning her craft and sending them in. I have just stumbled on to Dean Wesley Smith's work. He is a very well published author both traditionally and now an 'indie'. Check out some of his free books:

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-sacred-cows-of-publishing/

    While he is provocative and I don't agree with everything he says, he makes some excellent points about ideas that we have absorbed as writers that may or many not be true for us (in terms of writing style, personality, etc).

  • Jill Jepson

    I found that story about the pottery class really eye-opening, too, Juanita! I think of it every time I get stuck trying to write a "perfect" story. I'm glad this post sparked for you!

  • What a wonderful post. I learned just what to do to become a better more prolific writer. Really liked the section about the class of pottery makers (quality vs. quantity). This one really opened my eyes. Thanks for sharing.