Quantity and Quality



My morning writing spot

Late this spring I read a blog (probably through Slice of Life) and the author shared her goal to write 3 pages a day each morning in a writer’s notebook. She invited others to join her in doing this.  (If anyone remembers who blogged about this, please let me know so I can mention her by name and thank her for motivating me!) So, these days after I make my coffee and feed the cats, I take about 5-10 min. to glance at e-mails, messages, etc. then I close my computer and write in my notebook. I’m writing at least three pages almost every day. It’s a hodgepodge of thoughts, concerns, poems, story ideas, etc., but it’s amazing how quickly the pages pile up! For some reason I got into the habit of writing my starting and ending times, and I’ve found that it only takes me 15-20 min to fill three pages. (So, once school starts back up, I’m going to have a harder time convincing myself that I can’t find time to write!) But sometimes I wonder about the quality of what I’m writing. Will I do anything with all this … stuff!? Will it really serve any purpose? Will it help me with my writing?

I’ve heard/read two different things recently that relate to this and have really stuck with me and reassured me:

Not long ago I heard someone talking on the radio, recounting a pottery teacher’s experiment with his class*. The teacher divided students randomly into two groups. Group A was told to make as many pots as they could. Their final grade would be determined by the weight of what they produced: 50 pounds=A, 40 pounds=B, etc.  Group B was told they needed to make just one pot and they would be graded on the quality of that pot. At the end of the class all of the highest quality pots came from Group A. Apparently the first group dove in and started making pots immediately. As they created, they also learned, tweaking and improving along the way. The second group , intent on creating one single perfect pot, was less productive and their final results were not as high quality. Fascinating, right?

Then I read an interview in which Tom Petty told a story about touring with Bob Dylan in Australia. Apparently an interviewer was giving Dylan a hard time, claiming his songs weren’t as relevant now as they had been. Dylan’s response was “Well, I’m out here writing songs. What are you doing?”

So, my plan for this summer has been simple. Create a quantity of writing and worry about the quality later. In other words: Write! Write! Write!

*I couldn’t find the original source for this experiment, but apparently it’s retold in the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

10 thoughts on “Quantity and Quality

  1. Love the pottery teacher’s experiment. Do you know of Don Murray? Big time writing workshop proponent (has since died) who was a mentor of mine at the University of New Hampshire. He had a great line for writers “Lower your standards.” If we only want to produce some memorable writing, we write less or often not at all. We don’t take chances. We don’t experiment. He and the other folks at UNH writing program promoted daily writing. When you were in my semester-long Language Arts class at the U of New England, we spent the first four weeks of the 3 hour class on your writing (and that of your classmates). Each of the first three weeks after I got the writing juices flowing, I had you each write what I called a ten minute writing experiment. Don’t let the pen stop moving. Your three pages of writing per day will make you a better writer. You are a writing craftswoman!

    Liked by 2 people

    • mbhmaine says:

      I do know of Don Murray, Dan, and probably because of you! Your class was a very important part of my development as a teacher and a writer (both still ongoing processes!) I love the quote, “Lower your standards.” It reminds me of Jane Smiley’s quote, “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.”


  2. Amy Warntz says:

    Thanks, Molly! I’ve actually been in a rut lately and…I don’t know. Your post has inspired me. I’d like to start with the goal of one page and see where it goes. It also made me think of my running, imagine that! Running basically for me has been just get those miles under your belt. I can’t worry about speed, just run and naturally my speed has increased.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Amy, ruts are no fun! I’m naturally a morning person, so morning writing works well for me. It’s become part of my morning routine and I look forward to it. Some days it’s definitely easier than others! By the way, I write whatever I want–it’s a total hodgepodge–no judgement allowed! Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Melanie Roy says:

    Molly, I think it was Michelle Haseltine who did that slice of life post. I love the idea of writing three pages a day! I’ve been putting it off but you have inspired me to try. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Thanks, Melanie! I need to learn how to keep track of all that I read and who wrote it–Throw in radio programs and I’m totally at a loss! I hope you enjoy the morning writing process as much as I have.


  4. Wendy says:

    This is GOLD. Thank you! It reminds me of when we set up mugs and permanent markers at my daughter’s 10th birthday party. All the girls dove right in, all created something different and wonderful. I’m pretty sure adults would have stood around hemming and hawing, making rough drafts on paper, and disparaging our final products


    • mbhmaine says:

      That sounds like a great 10th birthday party activity! I guess, as in all things, it comes down to balance, doesn’t it? With my morning writing, it’s all about quantity. Later, I work to revise and work toward quality. As Kim points out, quantity alone won’t lead to quality. But immediate expectations of quality sure can lead to creative paralysis!


  5. kd0602 says:

    I think that fluency is necessary but not sufficient for the achievement of quality (for writing and other things). I love the study you talk about. It totally makes sense to me. And it matches my experience with students–if you can get them writing, you can work at improving the quality. But it’s hard to work on quality when there’s not much to work with! I’m pretty impressed that you write 3 pages a day!


    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      I fully agree with your first statement, Kim. Quantity isn’t sufficient to achieve quality. There are other components that have to go into the mix. For example, I’m sure all those pottery students were getting instruction and support as they worked. They learned what quality looked like and created their work with that in mind. For now, I’ve been very quantity-focused in my morning writing (and very tolerant with myself!–anything goes and NO judgment of its worth.) This process has been very helpful to me as I tend to revise so much as I write that I get little done. I’m learning to let go and just write. I do find that often I’ll go back and pull something from my morning work and revise it for a slice or Poetry Roundup or just for myself. Much, if not most, of my journal will never be used, but I like to think it gets those “writing juices flowing.”

      Liked by 1 person

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