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Monday, January 27, 2014

Quality Words over Quantity Words: A Fallacy

In the book, Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, artists Ted Orland and David Waylon told about a ceramics teacher who conducted an experiment in class. They decided to grade 1/2 of the class only on the quantity of ceramics produced and 1/2 solely on the quality of their project.

The Quality group was told that if they produced a quality pot at the very beginning of the semester, then they'd get an A and wouldn't have to do anything else. The Quantity group was told that if they produced 50 lbs of pots, they'd get an A, 40 lbs, a B, and so on.

The end result?

The students in the Quantity group produced the best work, according to technical and artistic sophistication. As they kept busy, producing pot after pot, they grew adept at working with the medium, refining their process, learning from their mistakes, and producing better and better pots.

The students in the Quality group focused on planning out what they would make, producing flawless work, and only worked on a few pieces over the course of the semester. As a result, they showed little improvement.

You might already see where I'm going with this post, from the title of it.

I want to liken this process to the plotting v. pantsing debate that I discussed in last week's post here. (I know some of your plotters are gearing up to filet me alive, but hear me out.)

The above story about the ceramics teacher can be found in the book Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win, by Ryan Babineaux, PhD., and John Krumboltz, PhD. I found this post on The Daily Beast which discusses this book in further detail, and I have to tell you, I'm on board with what they are saying.

In essence, failing quickly in order to learn fast (also called failing forward) is the chant of successful businesses, concepts, and yes, books. (Click to tweet!)

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, said that authors need to actually write to know what they are doing. We're to expect a "shitty first draft," a better second draft, and so on. In Fail Fast, the authors use the examples of Pixar films, Starbucks, and even comedians to bring home the point that you need to fail FAST to get on to performing well.

So pantsers, who sit down, stringing words together, revising, and then creating again, are actually depicting a great concept from Fail Fast:

You can’t know what writing is like, how you will feel about it, or what will result from it until you actually are doing it.

Let's Analyze

What do you have to think about the Fail Fast, Fail Often approach to writing?