I was reminded today of this wonderful experiment that was undertaken and documented in David Bayles’ and Ted Orland’s book Art and Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking (2001, Image Continuum Press).
‘The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.’
So what does that have to say to me and other writers’ alike? That quality comes out of quantity. That time spent in the craft of writing benefits the end product even if there are a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand duff sentences along the way.
Therefore I should spend less time on each sentence, less time mulling over the plot, less time fretting over that piece of dialogue or subtle character trait and just write and write and write. Out of all that writing there will hopefully be a few sparks of gold which could not have been achieved without the dross that surround them.
But then you remember a novelist like Nelle Harper Lee whose only major publication was, of course, the great, Too Kill a Mockingbird and you realise that maybe that’s not the whole answer. (Unless there are countless works by Harper Lee to be discovered in an attic one day.)
Maybe, just maybe, there is not one method for any creative process, but I know it involves writing and I am still in the first chapter, so goodbye.