NaNoWriMo: Quantity or Quality?

It’s that age-old writer conundrum: is it better to write only a few quality words or lots of less-than-stellar ones? There’s no definitive answer to that, but here’s my take on the matter. It starts with a quote from Louis D. Brandeis:

“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.”

True quality comes in the editing and rewriting. But how can you edit something that hasn’t been written yet? Many writers struggle to get those initial words down because they’re paralysed—by the fear of not being good enough, by perfectionism and writer’s block and self-doubt.

Here’s the thing, though—you can’t write a good quality story if the words never make it onto the page. Once they’re written, you can work with them. That’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: getting words down. Even if they’re the worst words ever written, they’re better than words never written.

The funny thing is, the stuff you write during NaNoWriMo or word sprints is often a lot better than you think. When writing, have you ever felt as if you’re dragging words, kicking and screaming, across a field of broken glass and throwing their bloody, beaten bodies onto the page? What about tossing the words onto the page so fast they seem like ill-formed blobs of gibberish?

I know I felt that way during my first NaNoWriMo. I cringed as I wrote some scenes, thinking the words were as painful to read as they were to write. In other scenes, there was so much padding and fluff that I could fill enough mattresses to put the bed from the Princess and the Pea to shame.

Then, six months later, I opened up the file I’d buried deep within my computer and re-read my NaNo novel. And I was astonished. The words that had felt so terrible while writing them were actually good. Sure, there were places where they needed tightening up or rewriting slightly, but for the most part, they didn’t need much altering at all. The ideas I came up with were interesting, the characters quirky, and some of the lines were just golden. NaNoWriMo had not only helped me to write a big chunk of my novel, it had made my writing better in the process.

How is that possible? How can you write something good when you’re not even properly considering the words you use? How can your ideas be so fantastically thrilling and your characters so engrossing when they’re popping into your mind without warning? Doesn’t good quality writing need to be well thought out?

Well… no, not necessarily. When you write without inhibition, without restraint, without censoring your thoughts, your muse comes out to play. That creative part of your psyche that whispers your very best ideas to you in your dreams, both waking and sleeping, is easily silenced. Your inner editor—the critical voice at the back of your mind—is usually the culprit. Fortunately, NaNoWriMo has a strict ‘lock up the inner editor’ policy.

With that critical voice shut out for the month, you and your muse are free to frolic across the page. Because you’re uncensored, your word count soars and you produce some of the bravest, most imaginative stuff you’ve ever written. Just ask Rainbow Rowell. In this case, quantity and quality go hand-in-hand.

Cristina Guarino has written a brilliant article on how word sprinting can unleash your creative potential and sweep aside writer’s block. Try out her tips and see your NaNoWriMo word count sky-rocket!


So do you still think that NaNoWriMo can’t let you produce quantity and quality? Let us know in the comments below or join the debate at @TheSprintShack!

4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: Quantity or Quality?

    • Thank you! I have so much respect for novels that were written during NaNoWriMo (‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern being one that I’ve read). Knowing what goes into writing 50k in a month–and the rewriting that’s usually required afterwards–makes me really appreciate what these authors have created.

  1. This was a great post Skye. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before this year. A lot of my progress has been stifled trying to make too much of my quality. This month has freed me in so many ways. Totally agree with all your points.

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