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So quantity or quality! Which one is it?

Writing Sep 20, 2021


Every beginner knows how hard it is to keep writing something that they know they are going to share with other people.  But what they do not realise is that this difficulty never ends even if they go on to become professional writers.

The difference between the beginner and the professional is that the latter has learnt to grow up. They know enough to understand that patience is the biggest virtue for a writer. They were patient enough with their craft to realise that, with enough time, something will come out of their pen or keyboard. And then it is a matter of kneading those words on paper to create something that's 'relatively' polished.

The truth is that most beginners lack a sense of reality when evaluating themselves. They have this false expectation that everything they write has to be good or of high quality. This isn't a bad aspiration in itself, but their bars of quality is just too unreal and impractical.

If you are indeed a beginner writer there must be writers who you look up to; the ones that you admire. You find their work to be of higher quality. And as genuine and realistic as you are, your automatic expectation for yourself is to write something at their level from the get-go. But the reality is that these great authors have left a humungous body of work, published and unpublished. Some of them are plain boring stuff, some of them are exceptionally good and most of their work will fall somewhere between the two.

The work you admire of them doesn't exist in a vacuum. In a way, the work that stands out is the culmination of the work they have created over their entire lifetime. You are taking a sip of the crème de la crème of their lives work.

The point I am trying to make here is that quality comes with time, as you spend time refining and refining your craft. So if you want to be a better writer, ditch quality and embrace quantity. Your first work is not going to be what defines you as a writer.

By now, you have probably heard many people say ideas similar to the above again and again. I genuinely think that is true. I just have only one more thing to add to it. Don't ditch quality as you embrace quantity. You just have to change the way you think about quality.

Reframe quality as being "good enough" when you are creating something. The best way to enforce this kind of quality when you are creating in quantity is to make your practice deliberate. The more deliberate you are, the faster you learn from your failures. This approach to quality will ensure you maintain a certain set of standards as you produce your work.

Now, this was about the creation part of our process. But then creation also does not exist in a vacuum. To create you need to consume enough raw materials. For writers, the raw material can be anything that makes them think or react to! It can be an idea, or a person, a tweet, an art or a youtube video. There is absolutely no creation ever without the raw material that went into its making.

If you didn't know about this let me just break it to you now, creativity is not divine, and there is no such thing as originality. What we see today or what we experience as novel or fantastic are remixes of things that have already been, here.  The artist makes their art by adding a part of themselves to existing ideas with slight improvements or by reframing the idea to make it fit the current context in which it is used. Or they just fully attach their personality to existing ideas to make them fresh, unique and 'original'.

Human personalities are so complex that, at a subjective level we are all uniquely different. How you and me perceive the same idea will be completely different  fromone another; We see only what we want to see.

And it is from this perspective that I argue quantity and quality are sides of the same coin. So much of our personality is a derivative of the world we interact with and the content we consume. You must create in quantity because that is how you get to quality. That is true for both creation and consumption. But the problem is that our time here is limited and we do not have the luxury to consume everything to find the right raw material that would work for us.

I keep the stoic quote "Memento Mori" close to my heart.

It reminds me that every day I am alive, I spent time marching to my own inevitable death. While it may seem dark, it is this limitation that gives life more meaning. I think immortality gets boring after the first 100 years! The constraint of one life in fact might be the greatest motivator a human being can have.

Since that is out of the way I will come to the meat of my argument.  There is just one life. So, you can't be wasting your time consuming every bit of junk out there. When consuming go for quality (Note: Quality here has to be seen both as objective and subjective, if you are not ready to subjectively enjoy the quality of Shakespeare's work, don't waste your time reading it, start from what is objectively close to you and then with help of other books and people get to classic Shakespeare).

We have grown tremendously in the past 50 years or so. The level of connectivity that exists today is unmatched and because of that, we have access to a lot of information. This is both an opportunity and a disadvantage.

Opportunity is the fact you have more material to work from, while the disadvantage is that the abundance of material that is not so organised can overwhelm you and paralyse you away from creation. You default to consumption without creation.

Hence go for quality in consumption. Be selective about the things you consume. Go for the top sources, take advice from first principle thinkers. Time tested literature has more ideas worth exploring than the latest bestseller. Curate your information diet in such a way that you only have the best quality raw material to work when you start writing in quantity.

This holds true for every other creative endeavour, not just writing. I guess that shines enough light into the false dichotomy of quantity and quality. As I said, they are the sides of the same coin. Consume in quality, create in quantity.

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