Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Formula for Successful Writing

Tell Me A Story

This post was originally published on the Daily Writing Tips. I thought it so important I have re-posted it here.

When I wrote the heading for today’s post, I thought to myself, “I should be making infomercials and workshop presentations, offering my ‘secret’ for a thousand dollars.” A thousand dollars a head for even a few dozen participants? That’s what I call successful writing: With one phrase and a few platitudes, I could take a couple of years off from work.
Nah. I’ll give it to you free of charge:
Quality requires quantity.
Yes? And?
That’s it. Quality requires quantity.
Oh, all right. I’ll expound.

That’s a layered statement, one that’s as deep as you want to dive. But on its most basic level, it means that an output of high quality must be preceded by an input of high quantity. In other words, a return of quality takes an investment of quantity.

The new publishing model is that, thanks to the Internet, everyone’s a writer. That’s the good news. But it’s also the bad news, because it means that because many writers in this suddenly expanded universe are not highly qualified, the universe is degraded. There have always been less-than-stellar writers, but it was more difficult for them to publish their work and sustain success.

Now, however, nonprofessional writers can be forgiven for believing that because it’s easy to type, it’s easy to write. And the remaining exemplars of great writing are lost in the leveling of the signal-to-noise ratio — if they are sought out at all anymore.

The brave new world of formal publishing is also degraded, in this case by a business model that no longer values quality — because remember, quality requires quantity (and quantity, of course, requires financial investment). So now, I can find six typographical errors stuffed into a twenty-word caption in the website for a major metropolitan newspaper (since corrected because, hey, it’s the instant Internet, and we can always fix it later!), and I can find my enjoyment of a newly published book compromised by shoddy editing (improvement of which must wait for the second edition, if there is one, and if there is the wherewithal to improve it — but that’s too late for me).

That’s why I may come across as a dinosaur about these things, because I believe that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. And because I believe that, that’s why I’m proud to remain part of the old-school old guard, editing book manuscripts for publishers willing to spend time, effort, and especially money to ensure that their products reflect their high standards.

Quality requires quantity. Oh, quality is sometimes accidentally produced with a minimum of quantity, but standards cannot rely on serendipity. The work ethic is called that for a reason: Good isn’t easy. It takes effort. Quality requires quantity.

There’s at least one other layer to the formula. Last week, I wrote a post about another formula, what I call a writing-competence matrix. Rather than explain it here, I invite you to read the post, if you haven’t already, or to review it, if you have. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

What does it take to score high on this matrix? Don’t expect to ever hit “Expert” on all three counts; many successful writers may excel in only one category. But to rate highly in even one area takes time. Remember the 10,000-Hour Rule? (That’s all right. I’ll still be here when you get back.)

If you want to be a great writer, be content at first with endeavoring to be a good writer. Great can wait. But to become a good writer, you must invest quantity in your quest for quality — quantity of time and effort. And you must be willing to labor not only longitudinally, putting in years of skill development, but also latitudinally, massaging, refining, and polishing each piece of writing along the way.

Remember this truism: If it’s easy, you’re probably not doing it right. Quality requires quantity.


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