Speed & Quality: Not Mutually Exclusive

Photo credit: Steve Rhodes on Flickr
When writing about fast-drafting, I’ve often said it’s ok to write badly. I’ve said first drafts are ugly about 95% of the time, and it’s totally fine to write something that you tear apart later, and it’s normal (and completely acceptable) if your first draft sucks.

All of that is true.

But the bit I didn’t cover is just because you finish a draft quickly—even insanely quickly—doesn’t mean it’s going to suck. Just because you speed through a first draft like it’s your job doesn’t mean that what you’ve written is guaranteed to be total word vomit.

I say this, because I’ve heard of writers online getting crucified for finishing 50k in a couple days. I’ve seen some truly amazing people write 100,000 words or more in a week, and then feel discouraged because other writers accuse them of cheating or say that what they write must be total garbage and other rather unpleasant (and untrue) accusations.

Look, the thing about fast-drafting, or first drafting in general, is that your first draft is likely to be ugly. It’s likely that you’ll read it back and cringe in certain spots and it’s likely that when you read it back, you’ll destroy it with a red pen.

But are first drafts guaranteed to be horrible? Not at all. Even first drafts written a couple days can be relatively clean (relatively, because all drafts need work).

The truth is this: every writer is different. Some writers slam out a pretty cleanish draft in a few days and the rest of us envy their ability, but the thing is, it’s not impossible, and it’s not cheating.

Some writers take years to write a first draft, and the draft comes out ok. Or it comes out terrible. Or it comes out wonderful. All of these writers are equally awesome.

Some writers take a couple months to write a first draft, and the draft comes out average. Or it comes out horrible. Or it comes out clean. All of these writers are equally awesome.

Some writers take a few days to write a first draft, and the draft comes out meh. Or it comes out ugly. Or it comes out sparkling. All of these writers are equally awesome.

No two writers work the same way—hell, many writers don’t even work the same way with different manuscripts.

Fun fact: the fastest I’ve ever written a full first draft was in roughly three weeks (though this may change with this NaNo WIP, but I digress). When I read it back a month later, I’d expected it to be pretty rough—after all, I’d never finished a full manuscript in three weeks before (my previous record had been somewhere around a month), so it made sense that this WIP would be a little uglier than usual.

Except it wasn’t. To this day, that draft is the cleanest first draft I’ve ever written.

This NaNo draft, meanwhile? I’ll be the first to admit it’s going to get torn apart in edits and revisions. And that’s ok. Every MS is different.

My point is this: just because something is written quickly doesn’t mean it’s not written well. That’s not to say it’ll be perfect—nothing is perfect in the first draft stage—but writing quickly doesn’t automatically mean writing badly.

Speed and quality are not mutually exclusive. Every writer is different and it doesn’t matter whether it takes you two days or two years to finish a first draft, or if you need three rounds of revision to make it shine, or twenty before it’s presentable. Your process is yours and yours alone.

Own it. Keep writing. Ignore the haters. And know that you, writer, are amazing.

What is your first draft process like? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Just because something is written quickly doesn't mean it's not written well." (Click to tweet)  
Are all first drafts guaranteed to be horrible? Here's why one writer doesn't think so. (Click to tweet)  


Jen Donohue said...

I try to write the story, beginning to end. If it's NaNoWriMo then yeah, I try to do it quickly, but if it isn't, I get there when I get there. I have numerous (numerous!) unfinished first drafts of things, novels or shorts.

But I agree. I do not think quantity and quality need to be mutually exclusive, especially if you take yourself and your work seriously as a writer.

Ava Jae said...

Agreed! Speed is totally unrelated to quality (and it definitely varies, even WIP to WIP with the same writer). Thanks for sharing, Jen. :)

RoweMatthew said...

It's just basic human jealousy rearing it's head again. Even us writers, super awesome and amazing god-like beings that we are, are not immune. Ignore the idiots and move on.

Laura Pauling said...

Love this! I know many writers who write very fast and very well. Just because we spend a long time on a manuscript doesn't mean we're always making it better! :) We're just making it different!

Ava Jae said...

Couldn't agree more, Matthew. I didn't have anyone criticize me specifically, but I agree entirely that it's entirely jealousy-related. Sad, but it happens.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Laura! I love what you said about making it differently. Thanks so much for sharing!

Katie G said...

Oh my god, I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this post! I wish I could force every person I've ever met to read this, because this is exactly what I've been trying to tell people for the past year.

I'm one of the people who wrote 50k on Nov. 1. My current total for NaNo is 217k. And I'm so sick of seeing people talk about how everything I write must be crap. I mean, it is, but it's no worse crap than anything else I've written. I always throw out my first draft, no matter how long it takes me to write it, because my outlines are never enough. I need a practice draft to figure out what I'm doing, and then I can turn around and write draft 2 (usually also in a month), and that one I'm mostly happy with.

To this day, the only first draft I have ever liked was the 30k novella I wrote for Nov. 1 last year. So, yeah, not everyone can write that fast, but just because it's written fast doesn't mean that it's any worse than any other first draft. And I'm so glad you posted this so hopefully other people will realize this, as well! <3

Fey1IsleofSkye said...

You are spot on, Ava. I detest it when people make blanket pronouncements about writing. It's total crap. It's as individual a process as the scribe. Good for you. LOVED it!

Ava Jae said...

First and foremost, you are totally amazing. I can't even imagine completing 50k in a 24-hour period. WOW. And kudos to you for pressing on even after you hit the 50k goal. :)

I mostly suspect that the reason those kinds of accusations fly around is because sadly, people get jealous. It's easier to see others way outdo you if you make up excuses for why it seemingly comes so easy to them, and the "everything they write must be terrible" excuse seems to be a popular one.

It's sad, because everyone is working very hard and pushing themselves to accomplish something amazing, and for some people that's 50k in a month and for others it's 50k in a day—but the point isn't to compare numbers and point fingers at each other, it's to come together and support each other because in the end, we're all making a commitment to our writing. And that's all that matters.

Keep doing what you're doing! Ignore the haters and know that you are totally amazing. <3

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much! I couldn't agree more. Blanket statements about just about anything (except maybe this blanket statement) are usually no good.

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