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Opinion: Quantity Plus Quality – Why Sometimes More is More

Headshot of Fran Pickering

British novelist Fran Pickering

ALLi’s latest guidebook, Opening Up To Indie Authors, calls for self-published authors to strive for quality, making each book the best it can be before publication. In today’s post, Fran Pickering points out that quality alone is not enough – striving for quantity is also an important part in the success of the indie writer.

‘I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’

William Faulkner

Debbie Young’s opinion post on quality last week had me nodding my head in agreement. Writing my first book, The Cherry Blossom Murder, quality was what mattered to me – I wanted a book that was just as good as traditionally published books. So I spent a long time (years!) writing it and only published after nine drafts and a lot of agonising. It paid off : I got five-star reviews, and I’m currently at the quarter-final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, beating 95% of the 10,000 entries from indie authors worldwide.

Cover of The Cherry Blossom Murder

Fran Pickering’s debut novel

I planned to give myself a year or so to write the next book, but I found readers had other ideas. The Cherry Blossom Murder is the first book in the “Josie Clark in Japan” mystery series, and everybody said they couldn’t wait for the next one to come out. I didn’t want to keep them waiting, so I had to up my game. I’ve never been a fan of NaNoWriMo – I didn’t think you could produce good writing to such a tight timetable. But I came across a quote that Orna Ross had pinned on Pinterest: “Did you write 1,000 words today?” and decided to take up the challenge.

Writing 1,000 Words A Day

At 1,000 words a day, you can produce a first draft in a couple of months. I stuck to moving forward – no going back and rereading, no rewrites. And I found that writing fast has a pleasure all its own: you get in the zone and it flows in a way it never does when you allow yourself to stop and look back.

1,000 words a day isn’t even that ambitious. Many writers set themselves a higher target than this.

To keep up the speed, I made sure I never sat down to write without knowing what I was going to say. All the planning and plotting took place away from the screen, mostly at the barre in ballet class, a great place to let your mind run free while your feet are hard at work.

There were a few glitches along the way, especially at the midway point where I had to turn from creating a mystery to solving it, and I realised I didn’t know how to pull all the threads together. That was the one time I stopped and spent a couple of days going for long walks and just thinking until I saw the way forward and could start again.

Quantity Before Quality

Badge for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Fran Pickering’s first novel is in the quarter-finals for this quality award

Of course, the quality test comes at the second draft stage, and I have to admit, I’ve had to do some serious rewriting in places. But it’s easier to fix your mistakes when you’ve put some distance between you and the text, and having the whole book in my head by the time I started the rewrites helped a lot. Next stage is input from beta readers, then comes a third rewrite. Hopefully, that will give me the quality I’m aiming for, and a new book written in under six months as well. Editing and proofing will take a bit more time, but I’m looking at an autumn publication date, well ahead of my original plan.

The Professional Attitude

Screenshot of mobile phone app reminding you to write 1000 words

How to keep those words coming – nag yourself!

I’ve learned to think of myself as a professional writer, and professional writers write every day. Probably many ALLi members already know this, but it’s been an important lesson for me. I’ll be keeping up my 1,000 words from now on. How about you?

To make it easy to share this provocative advice with your author friends, here’s our suggested tweet:

“”Why self-published authors must strive for quantity as well as quality,” says @FranPickering via @IndieAuthorALLI: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-quantity-plus-quality/.”

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22 Responses to Opinion: Quantity Plus Quality – Why Sometimes More is More

  1. Zachary May 3, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    An excellent article. The “write everyday – with targets!” mindset is essential for getting work done, particularly if one has commercial aspirations.

    A bit of a silly question, but what is the app pictured? Looks like a digital version of the “Seinfeld” method of writing and I rather like it. 😀

  2. mari howard April 29, 2014 at 1:30 am #

    While not being at all romantic about ‘being in the mood’ etc, I can’t say I’d get anything like a whole novel, first draft, done in a couple of months. (And I do work every day, a working week). That would be, at 1,000 words a day, only 60,000 or so? (ie 30 days hath September, etc, and no days off?)… This depends, obviously, on the kind of book a person writes, as well as circumstances (e.g. the demands of others, and of keeping the house sorted without ‘help’) and energy levels, doing the 1,000 words (which is certainly do-able) and whether or not you need to shop, get exercise, keep up with some friends! Interesting, anyway, how others of us do things!

    • Fran Pickering April 29, 2014 at 11:58 am #

      Hi Mari

      Yes, you’re right, it takes a bit more than a couple of months for a first draft of 80,000 words or so, but not a huge amount more. And personal circumstances do affect it. But having a daily target helped me a lot, as I wasn’t the kind of person who wrote every day before. I agree, we all need to do things our own way.

  3. Seeley James April 28, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    Great article. When I first started writing seriously, I was working 60-70 hour weeks and trying to squeeze in a full book. I realized I had to write 2,000 words a day to make any progress because at least half of them would end up on the cutting room floor. That worked very well.

    Peace, Seeley

    • Fran Pickering April 28, 2014 at 10:50 pm #

      Hi Seeley

      2,000 words a day is pretty challenging. I’m impressed it works for you.

  4. Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn April 28, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    I agree, Fran. I feel happy if I achieve 1000 words a day, miserable if I don’t. It seems to provide a nice pace for keeping the momentum going, but not rushing it so much the outcome is rubbish. Everyone has to find their own goals, but I don’t think 1000 words has become a goal for so many writers by chance.

    • Fran Pickering April 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

      Hi Lindsay

      I agree, hitting 1,000 words a day definitely makes me happier. It kind of gives me permission to do other things without feeling guilty too.

  5. Martin Lake April 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    I enjoyed this post, Fran. It is easy to sneer at people who write a lot but I think this is sometimes due to a belief that art should be a painful struggle. I’ve never understood this. I spent years waiting to for the muse to come. She rarely did. I suspect that a lot of the best fiction was and is written by people who need to write to earn a living and speed meant something for them.

    I don’t have a set target to write but I always note down what I have written. It is a great incentive and I almost always manage more than 1,000 words a day. I now write on Scrivener and I love the little target bar and seeing my progress inching along it. I’ve just completed the first draft of my latest novel and am resting it like you do. Except now I’m restless.

    • Fran Pickering April 28, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

      Hi Martin

      I’m interested you use Scrivener. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend it but I’ve stayed with iWork Pages so far. A target bar sounds like fun.

    • Wendy Percival April 29, 2014 at 9:15 am #

      I’m interested in your use of Scrivener, Martin. I’m considering getting it as it seems to be set up in a way that suits me. I like the sound of the progress bar.
      As for editing… I never fail to be amazed at how long it goes on for! I liken it to someone regularly turning off the light at the end of the tunnel!
      I identify with your restlessness, too. But I’ve come to realise that taking myself off and getting my head stuck into something quite different for a while, (e.g. travel, gardening, reading, family history research) can free up the brain, rejuvenate the body and make for a much better edit. Anyway, we all need to keep adding to life’s experiences or our writing ideas resource pot will dry up!

  6. Michael La Ronn April 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Great article, Fran. Couldn’t agree more. Write fast, edit long. If you wait around to be in the mood, it’ll never happen.

  7. William Ash April 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Excellent advice. There is a lot of myths about the creative process and one of them is that you need to be in the mood. It is just like any work, you simply do it. The inspiration will come.

  8. Debbie flint April 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Oops – sori for any typos – obviously not proof read! Lol x

  9. Debbie flint April 28, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Fran – music o my ears. Have forwarded your piece to my writing group, where a rather unpleasant member of the group just left over a debate that began with quality/quantity and included her negating beta readers.
    Quality is of course necessary. Anyone can believe it’s not possible to write quality at volume, but their belief can only be limited to themselves. And quite right too – we each have to do what’s right for us.

    I personally do immersive writing, taking breaks from work to get the job done. i find my brain works well this way. First draft as u describe, to get the words on the page, sometimes 12000 in a day (I don’t have a life! lol! and apart from walking dogs, eating, sleeping a bit of social media and frequent yoga, I write all day.) This works for me. Then when I’m back at work sometimes I can’t even write a hundred words, I’m just not in the zone at all.

    I’ve currently got four books on amazon, one a short novella, and three were done within the last seven months. They need a bit of research but not much – they are pure commercial fiction.

    But I’m aiming for the day when I can do some every single day, so your piece was timely.

    As was the mention of beta readers. I swear by them.

    Do u also use an editor or proof reader too?
    Debbie Flint
    http://Www.debbieflint.com

    • Fran Pickering April 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

      Hi Debbie

      Wow, you really get a lot done in a day! I used a copy editor on The Cherry Blossom Murder but proof read it myself – cheaper but you really have to concentrate and spend a lot of time on it. I couldn’t manage without my beta readers – they’re crucial.

  10. Eamon April 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    I write only non- fiction both academic and self-help. I am quite heavily dyslexic so reading and writing are not easy. I do most of my writing now using the voice recognition program
    Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Like other dyslexics, I find that this helps me get the words down very quickly. Once I’ve finished the first draft I very heavily edit. At least ten times. I hate writing the first draft but enjoy the editing.

    • Fran Pickering April 28, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      Hi Eamon

      Thanks for your comment. I enjoy editing more than doing the first draft too. Ten edits is a lot! It must take you some time to do.

  11. Fran Pickering April 28, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Hi David

    No I don’t count blog posts (I post twice a week, 500 words or so a time), Twitter, Facebook or other things I write, like this guest post. Just work on the book. I do revisions in the second draft, so they count towards the 1,000 words. It may not work for everyone, but it’s working for me.

  12. David James April 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    Well, I don’t write 1000 words a day, or anything like it. In fact I’ve never been a fan of word count in any form. I just can’t imagine sitting down every day to reach some spurious target. But everyone has his or her own foibles. Just out of interest do you count blogs and the number of threads or forums you contribute to? What about re-reads and revisions?

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