You've probably heard the phrase "rough draft". It's the draft before the first draft, the one where you're not even slightly trying for quality, just getting words on the page, clay on the wheel. You can shape it later.
The roughness of the draft is indispensible, a major fundamental reason why rough drafts are important. Roughness isn't just an attribute of the draft, but an attitude towards writing generally. The willingness to write roughly is a lowering of standards, a removal of barriers to entry, a willingness to write even if it means writing badly.
If you're not willing to write badly, then you're not willing to write.
Editing is subtractive. When you reach the stage of editing, you'll be carving away at your draft, removing the nubbly bits that stick out where there shouldn't be bits sticking out. You can carve down a block that's too big, but you can't do anything if the stone is too small. Your rough draft should be about 20%–50% bigger than you want the final product to end up. It'll cook down.
Which is to say: when writing the rough draft, err on the side of including things that aren't up to scratch, rather than omitting things that ought to have been kept.
You may have heard the parable of the clay pots. (Be sure to click through to the original article, as well -- there's more good stuff in there than the included quote.) The only way to get good art is to not worry about the art being good.
One of the biggest mistakes made by aspiring writers and other artists is to develop a grand theory or master plan. If you already know every detail of the plot of your hundred-thousand-word epic, then you've already made a mistake. Rough outlines are fine, but they have to be rough -- specifically, rough enough that they can be changed. If you can't change part of the plan without the whole complicated clockwork of it falling apart, then you're sunk. If there's no room between the ribs to fit more ideas as they come up, you're sunk.
When you have a fixed plan, you're stuck. If you have too much control over what's going on, then you're keeping out most of the good ideas, because they Don't Fit. You have to leave big gaping security holes, stay vulnerable to the Muse, because she doesn't knock on the door. She slips in unannounced like Santa Claus, or else she doesn't come at all.
Let your mind be a drafty house, full of gaps in the roof and holes in the walls. Let the wind and the rain in. Live roughly. Hang loose.
NaNoWriMo is a fantastic idea.
Is there any clearer expression of “QUANTITY QUANTITY QUANTITY”? The standards are clear, objective, and have absolutely nothing at all to do with quality. Fifty thousand words, thirty days. That's it.
My only problem is that it looks intimidating. There needs to be something smaller, a bite-sized version. NaNoWriMo is sometimes called "nano" for short, so this can be a "pico"-writing event. A day, maybe, or possibly an hour. Ludum Dare is two days; Speed-IF is two hours.
NaNoWriMo's pace averages to 1667 words per day. Since industry standards apparently declare a page to be 250 words, that's about 6-7 pages. I could totally get behind a Write Seven Pages Day event.
Better yet, make it a week-long series of events, one event per day: first day is one page, second day is two pages, third day is three pages, and so on, so that you can warm up to it instead of going straight to full speed all at once. It's also less intimidating, because you don't have to take on the full-sized challenge. See how far you can get, and stop wherever you're comfortable. It's accessible.
Lower barriers to entry.
We should do this.
I hereby declare the first Picoscale Incremental Creative Output (PICO) writing jam to begin Sunday the 19th, October 2014. There's a week between now and the first day, so there's a chance to spread the word a bit, and a week between the end and November, so it shouldn't funge too much against NaNoWriMo time and energy.
- Sunday: One page (250 words).
- Monday: Two pages (500 words).
- Tuesday: Three pages (750 words).
- Wednesday: Four pages (1000 words).
- Thursday: Five pages (1250 words).
- Friday: Six pages (1500 words).
- Saturday: Seven pages (1750 words).
These are seven separate events, and you do not have to do all of them in order to participate. Each of these seven events is open to everyone. You can do as many or as few of them as you like.
(For anyone who's still unclear about the scale of what I'm talking about: this post is 865 words long, which comes to a bit less than three and a half pages.)