Quantity or Quality in Fiction Writing?

graphs notebook illustration

I saw a Twitter thread at the start of the year in which people were discussing the Ray Bradbury Challenge (I’m not gonna share it ‘cos I can’t find it… bad blogger alert, sorry), and it got me thinking. So naturally, I’m going to ramble on about it for a few hundred words or so.

The idea behind the challenge is that you write a short story ever single week for a full year, because it’s not possible to write 52 bad stories in a row. At some point, you’re bound to come up with a gem, right?

One of the comments on the thread said something along the lines of: “There’s little point in writing a huge quantity of fiction if the quality isn’t good. Focusing on quality may mean fewer stories, but better stories.”

It’s a fair point. If you’re under pressure to complete a story a week just for the sake of it, you may be more focused on getting any story down on the page than you are on writing it well.

That Twitter thread has lurked in my mind for months because it made me question whether I was wasting time spewing out so many individual ideas when I could have been focusing on larger, better quality projects. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m actually on the right track.

In my opinion, writing fast and often can be a really great way to develop the skill of fiction writing and produce better quality stuff in the long term.

I write in large quantities to practice in large quantities

I write three short stories each week. Granted, they’re usually under the 500-word mark and could be defined better as flash fiction or micro fiction than short stories. But nonetheless, I come up with three unique concepts and casts of characters every single week, and I do my best to make sure they’re as good as I can make them, too.

Ultimately, these stories are my own version of morning pages, and they achieve the following things:

  • They make me use my imagination as often as possible;
  • They force me to write regularly and practice writing in the same way a musician would practice an instrument;
  • They give me an opportunity to just have fun with concepts or ideas that aren’t suitable for novels or wouldn’t work as longer short stories that I might submit to competitions or publications.

Bad quality doesn’t mean worthless writing

Even if a story ends up being bad quality, it might have the makings of something exceptional hidden within it. There have been pieces of fiction I’ve posted here which are mere snapshots of bigger stories I could tell and would like to tell in future. There are characters that could be lifted from tales here and inserted into a novel in future. I often get ideas for large projects that emerge from the short ones I publish here.

Writing lots of different things on a regular basis is an excellent way to build a catalogue of concepts that I could use elsewhere. I could write a truly terrible story, but one day that story might push me towards creating the best thing I’ve ever written.

Plus, writing bad quality stories can be valuable in the sense that it forces you to acknowledge your own naff writing, and strive to improve in the future. Written something that’s awful? Figure out why it’s bad. Pick it apart, find out where it went wrong. Ask yourself which parts work and which don’t. Then learn from it. Practising self-critique at every opportunity is only going to help you make your good quality stories even better, and help you to gradually improve on the quality of your work.

You do you, y’know?

I realise that my preference to write as many stories as I possibly can may not be for everyone. However, I do think it can be valuable to step out of your comfort zone and really push yourself to write as regularly as you can, or practice whatever skill you’re working on.

No matter if it’s daily, weekly, monthly, or even less than that, having a bash at creating a new thing on a regular basis is guaranteed to help you learn a few things and develop your craft, even if you have a load of failed projects along the way.

“Alright, Ellie. Enough rambling. What’s your point?”

My point is this: challenge yourself in a way that works for you, but always challenge yourself. That’s how we get better.

Author: Ellie Scott

Ellie Scott is a freelance content writer and copywriter from Yorkshire. She writes speculative and silly short stories and flash fiction every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, writing-related blogs posts every Sunday, and book reviews for short attention spans once each month. Her most common pastimes include procrastinating on Twitter (@itsemscott) and hibernating on her sofa with a book and a (very large) glass of gin. If you like the cut of Ellie's jib and would like to support her writing habit, you can buy her a coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/H2H059UG

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