Speed vs. Quality, Or Writing Around Your Inner Editor

I’m thinking a lot about quality versus speed currently, especially as November lurks around the corner, ready to clobber us with cheap Halloween candy and miserable weather. November means NaNoWriMo, as I’m sure you know, and one of the chief lessons it has taught me over the years is to get the first draft out as quickly as possible and worry about making it pretty later. I’ve done Nano five times now, and succeeded each time (twice this year already, weirdly) so you’d think I’d have this lesson burnt into my brain tissue by now.


However, I’m working my way through the Copper Promise* at the moment, trundling along, reasonably happy, and suddenly my inner editor has started to get lairy. You want to go back, it insists, go back to the chapter before last and just fix that one bit where you forgot someone’s name. And go back to the part before that where one of the guards was a bit dopey and make him curious instead. Actually, sod it, go right back to the beginning and make it all fabulous and pretty and word-sexy, and then you can carry on to the final five chapters with peace in your heart and a smug look on your face.


I’m trying not to listen. But the Copper Promise is a novelette, about two thirds complete at this point, and it’s horribly tempting. What stops me is the certain knowledge that if I take my eyes off the ending I will lose it forever, and be lost in the world of word-sexy. I will be strong. I will finish. After all, this is only part 1 in a series…


* which may well now be The Sea-Glass Promise, or the Crosshaven Chronicles, or Tales from the Sea-Glass Road – I’m fluctuating at the moment. If you have a preference, do let me know!

6 thoughts on “Speed vs. Quality, Or Writing Around Your Inner Editor

  1. Haha, word-sexy. I love it. Yeah, that little voice can be very pushy and hard to resist. There’s nothing like pages of words that just flow. But there’s also nothing like blank pages that are supposed to have words on them.I sort of like Tales from the Sea-Glass Road.

  2. Ah yes, the Blank Pages of Judgment. It’s so easy to lose your momentum in the middle of a project so it’s vital to keep your arse moving, I think. And thank you! That’s one vote for Tales from the Sea-Glass Road.

  3. Not that I’ve ever tried it… but I would guess, for NaNoWriMo, there’s no real time to do anything else but bang it out and edit later?It’s not the only way to write though, obviously. Everyone is different. Ultimately it’s the quality of the finished manuscript that counts, not how you get there.There’s a certain, dare I say, macho approach to writing adopted by so many authors… seemingly obsessed with the word count. I’m not saying it’s wrong but I can’t write like that. Or rather, I don’t like to write like that. I used to be worried I wasn’t (or couldn’t be) a writer if I didn’t hit at least 2000 words per day… which is nonsense. I’m not worried any more. And you do get faster anyway, the more you do it. I’m currently at a comfortable (edited – based on a comprehensive outline) 1000 per day. But who knows… I may change the way I work at some point.There are advantages to writing first and editing later of course. You can have several novels/things on the go at once… i.e write draft 1 (or draft 0, if you prefer) of a novel… then put it away in a drawer while you get on with the next… or edit another. Indeed, for published authors, this might be the only way to work.I do worry about the quality though, when people are chucking out a novel per year (or more!), stuck in front of a computer all the time. I mean where are they drawing their ideas and influences from? The internet? TV? Laughable, really… So, yeah. Write how you want to write. Reserve the right to change your mind when and where you want, too. There are so many experts out there but nobody really knows anything…

  4. I think I agree with you. As a wise person once said to me, “You can shovel shit, but you can’t shovel nothing.”However I think there is a lot to be said for planning and world building before commencing on the first sprint.I also think there is an assumption that writing lots in a short time equals low quality. I’m not sure that’s true. Often it is an advantage to work in this way, there’s less room for other things to intrude and keeping the work top of mind is more efficient than doing things slowly. There’s more likely to be a feeling of coherence to the work. (In my humble opinion anyway!)Oh and for what its worth, I like: The Copper Promise or Tales from the Sea-Glass Road.

  5. @Darren – Oh absolutely. Obviously, the stuff I write on this blog is only a summary of my own experiences and what works for me, and in the end everyone’s path is different. NaNoWriMo taught me discipline and time keeping and lots of other good stuff, but I agree that word count chasing the whole year round can sometimes be counter productive – it’s too easy for the writing to become purely about the numbers, and you get all stressed and miserable if you don’t reach your target every day. I try to write every day if possible, mainly because I know that if I take a long break or start editing bits and pieces I’ll get distracted by some other new and shiny project, and nothing will ever get finished, but likewise I do not hate myself eternally if I miss a day. Daydreaming time is important too.

  6. @Peter – This is true. When I wrote my first book, it took me nearly 2 years because I kept stopping and starting. Reading back through it now I can see how wildly different some chapters are from others, simply because I was writing them weeks apart. And the sheer gung-ho speed of Nanowrimo sometimes forces your imagination to go in directions you couldn’t predict, so you end up with some surprising (and surprisingly good) writing. (and thank you for the title vote!) :)

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