Why, in Writing, Process Trumps Product, And Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The Quality of Your Work

Everyone's obsessed with quality, but the way to achieve it is not to focus on it. That's because: 1) Quality is an Emergent Property An emergent property is one that's intrinsic to a system, and that arises organically as that system operates. Think of relationships: if you try to force them, they wither and die. The best relationships are not forced, but arise naturally as the yield of many interactions. Quality in writing and other work similarly occurs organically via an effective process, through your numerous interactions with your subject matter. It's the result of your years or decades of preparation--your reading, writing, training, life lessons, etc. In other words, your ability to write well is "part of your DNA." You don't have to force it. And, in fact, you shouldn't force it because... 2) Striving for Quality is Inimical to the Creative Process If you focus on achieving a quality outcome, you'll likely either: (a) Succumb to perfectionist terror and get stuck midway through; or (b) … [Read more...]

Ira Glass on Developing Your Creative Skill: Go for Quantity, Not Quality

The below 2 minute video of Ira Glass explaining how the secret to artistic quality is to do a lot of art is well worth your time. Bayles and Orland make the same point in their terrific book Art & Fear. They tell a (true, I believe) story of two pottery classes: One class was told to create one fabulous pot by the end of the semester. The other was told to create as many pots as possible. In the end, it was the students who created many pots who also tended to create the best ones. This is for at least three reasons: As Glass notes, it takes a lot of time and practice to develop a skill. The "quantity" students were being nonperfectionist - i.e., focusing on process, not product. (It is likely that some of the "quality" ones didn't finish even a single pot.) Quality is not something you can force, and when you try to force it you sabotage the creative process, which demands freedom and flexibility. Rather, quality is something you work towards and hope for. As Flaubert said, "Success … [Read more...]