Speed vs Quality: the eternal debate

I’m probably venturing into dangerous territory with this one, but here goes.

I consider myself a reasonably fast writer. Mostly, it’s because I spend a lot of time writing, more than someone with a full-time job, but also because I think my writing process is reasonably efficient. I am, however, a pantser extra-ordinaire, and this brings a measure of inefficiency. I tried, but cannot write any other way. I could write faster if I was better organised, but my process doesn’t allow it. My process involves going over the manuscript again and again, and again just for good measure, until I’m willing to set the piece free into the world.

There are a lot of writers with different writing speeds, from really fast detective writers to writers who only complete a book every few years. There is, however, nothing that gets fast writers riled up so much as the suggestion that fast writing equates poor quality, and the suggestion that a writer ‘should’ only write two books a year.

I’m on the fence on this one. I could write faster, but I could write a heck of a lot slower.

Does faster writing equate poor quality? I’ll stick my toe in the too-hot tub and I’ll say that it does, sometimes. It does when you can tell that a piece of fiction is written fast.

These are what I consider symptoms of writing that suffers from too little time spent on it:

The introduction of each new character is accompanied by a character sheet, in other words, an infodump (usually peppered with the word ‘had’) that lets the reader know exactly and unambiguously who the character is and what events have shaped him or her. It often spells out clearly whether the character is good or bad, and what their main aims in life are. I use character sheets in-text in early drafts. Remember I’m a pantser–I just stop the show and waffle on for a page or so to get myself acquainted with the character. The important bit is that a character sheet in the final version of your novel is boring as hell. It takes any tension out of the character by taking away the reader’s opportunity to wonder and question. A character sheet is first drafty stuff and should be deleted in a final draft. If that hasn’t been done, the story was sent out one draft too soon.

Too much throat-clearing. A character spends an entire chapter musing about the past and nothing much of note happens in the chapter. This is an extension of the character sheet problem. I write chapters like this in order to become further familiar with the character. It happens at a point where I’m at a loss as to what to write, so I start bullshitting the character’s internal thoughts to get the ball rolling again. This sort of stuff doesn’t belong in a final draft.

Simplistic characters. In early drafts, characters often do the job they need to do, and little more. At this stage, they’re merely chess pieces. Subsequent drafts add depth, quirks or ambiguity. If vital characters are one-dimensional, the work hasn’t seen enough drafts.

Sloppy research or worldbuilding. Facts are untrue or inconsistent. Sometimes the facts aren’t untrue as such but lack depth. The worldbuilding doesn’t venture beyond what can be gleaned in five seconds from Wikipedia.

If you can write really fast and not do any of this, great! But I know that I can’t. For me, fast writing definitely equates poorer quality. Then again, fast means something different for each writer, and I think setting limits as to how fast is too fast is pretty silly. Too fast is when the quality suffers. End of story.