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Quality, Quantity and NaNoWriMo

In 2009, I “won” NaNoWriMo, meaning that I wrote a 50,000 word novel in one month (November).

The only qualification for winning was word count. The quality of the story didn’t matter, and you only competed against yourself.

I had a ton of fun, but, honestly, the novel was a mess. I had a basic plot arc, a few characters and some images that had been running around my mind for a while as the clock struck midnight on November 1.

I did not have any notes, an outline, or any experience writing long pieces of fiction. But it didn’t matter.

I was proud of myself for completing something. Especially something that was a big undertaking, but I never would have won had I been too concerned about quality. In that month, I suspended quality for quantity, and got something done, even if it never would win a bunch of awards, or sell a bunch of copies, or would ever be published (it won’t be, that one was just practice).

Completing stuff is underrated, and perfection is overrated. As a beginning fiction writer what I really needed at that time was to get a finished work under my belt. It did not need to be good. It did not need to be publishable. It only needed to be completed.

The working title was The Temple, and it was about this structure (the temple) that sat on a hill above a city. For some reason, the citizens of the city ignored the temple, even though it was the biggest thing on the horizon. But there were a few people interested enough to try to get inside, which it was rumored you could do. Once inside all manner of things could happen. Things that couldn’t normally happen in reality, and you would leave transformed.

It wasn’t really sci-fi and it wasn’t really fantasy, even though things could happen that can’t happen in the physical world. My main character wanders around by herself for half the book, and the plot is all over the map, but none of that really mattered. It mattered that I got it done.

In October 2009, I had written a few pieces of short fiction, and in December 2009 I was a novelist. That was pretty cool. I wasn’t a good novelist, but a novelist nonetheless.

The idea of creating something that not only isn’t perfect, but might not even be good is sort of horrifying to a lot of writers, and probably to a lot of people in general. But the thing is that you might not get it right the first time around, but if you don’t start, you’ll never get it right.

Starting and finishing were probably the two most important things for me to practice as a storyteller at that time. I could whip out a 500 word blog post no problem, but spending day after day with a pretty high word count for a newbie was challenging. And being able to focus on just one thing (completion) was positive and productive.

Once you get into the practice of completion, you can then start to focus on better quality. Not to mention that just sheer repetition will help you get better.

If you write one book, finish and then start the next one you are going to feel more comfortable automatically because you’ve already been there! Things that were unfamiliar are no longer.

I’m two more novels down the road at this point, and I can focus on improving quality because quantity is something I have down at this point. I hate, and I mean despise, starting pieces of fiction without finishing them, so everything I start gets finished. Even when I’m not entirely sure that it’s been successful.

I can always get better the next time around. 🙂

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  1. Thank you for writing this post. I have always wanted to be a novelist. I even have four chapters written out and edited. I have had the idea for my first novel floating around in my head for years, and I already know all the main characters. For me, the problem is actually finishing the novel. I stress a lot about quality, and I want everything to be worded perfectly. I have heard of National Novel Writing Month before, but I always wondered how someone could write a quality novel in a month, particularly with all the editing it takes. Your post really helped clarify the importance of starting and completing the writing, and that it doesn’t always have to be perfect. I always feel really accomplished when I actually finish a piece of writing, the problem with my novel writing is that I can’t ever get it finished! I am now planning on hopefully participating in Novel Writing Month sometime soon, because now I understand that it doesn’t always have to be great. All writing can help writers write better. Once again, thanks for this post.

  2. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Tiffany – Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found the post helpful. I still find that getting started and getting things completed are some of the most important parts of the writing process. Good luck!

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