Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quantity and Quality by Teresa Kennedy

Yes I know, we all love our gadgets. Computers, smartphones blogs, texts, tweets and social networks have us connected in a way that we’ve never been before.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever would have finished a manuscript without the advent of the personal computer. Word processing takes a good deal of the drudgery out of writing, changing those names, correcting the typos, not to mention doing the research. Knowledge truly is power and the ability of our machines to put whole worlds of knowledge at our fingertips is really awe inspiring.

The problem being that all that information and social networking can keep writers and editors both awfully busy. We live in a world of more or less instant results and it’s that same point-and-click mentality that can really wreak havoc on the creative quality of our work.

As much as the world would like us to believe that creativity is somehow inextricably linked with productivity, quite the opposite is true. An author can write one book or fifty, yet we are continually urged to greater and greater amounts of output, to make more sales, gain more fans and build our networks.

But a good novel just isn’t about how many words it contains, or how fast the author wrote them. Some books take longer than others to write. Programs that insist you can write a novel in a month if you just produce X amount of words per day can be a valuable exercise in discipline, but they don’t necessarily result in quality books, any more than being able to draw that lady on the matchbook makes you a great artist.

I once had an author whose manuscript I had edited text me a corrected scene from her smartphone. She was so obsessed with keeping to her schedule, she wanted immediate feedback in order to proceed to the next “correction.”

Ambition is great of course, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to really take some time to track your own creative process. Where is your inspiration coming from? Chances are, your best ideas arise out of what I like to call “mental free time.” Day dreaming, night dreams, staring off into space, meditation, exercise—whatever it takes. Turn off the phone and (gasp!) even the computer--long enough to detach from the clamor of modern life and find that space of not-thinking, not-doing and not-worrying too much about how to make that scene come out.

As much as writing is a conscious process in the sense that it necessitates applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, typing away and getting that darned book finished, the creative process is largely unconscious, mysterious and full of wonder. The unconscious provides a rich, nearly inexhaustible resource, where ideas flourish and dreams are real. It’s a place where so-called writer’s block doesn’t exist and your characters take on a life of their own. Truly, I think every writer lives for that creative moment when the story begins to tell itself and the actual writing becomes almost secondary. It takes some work to get there, but it’s a magical moment, indeed.

So we have to make the effort to connect with that creativity. It’s in each of us, always. But for most of us, that means disconnecting from our technology, at least long enough to remember that productivity isn’t everything. It’s isn’t the quantity of the words on the page, it’s the quality of the ideas those words represent.

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