This post riffs on a comment I made in its older sibling: "I've written first drafts on the quota system and couldn't make heads or tails of them when I was done".
By "the quota system" (which I also called "the Obligation Mechanic"), I meant the working method where writers ration their output into daily chunks based on word count. Most often, one thousand words. Good, bad, or indifferent, you can push away from your desk as soon as you hit the golden one-K.
That method has a danger the above quote hints at but doesn't clarify. That danger is focusing on the quota to the exclusion of the quality. Sure, you wrote your one thousand, but is it any good? Does it have rhythm? Is the tone right? Does it make sense?
Do you know how you can check for those things?
Read what you wrote.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Did he really just say something that stupid and obvious?"
Yes. Yes, I did.
If we've been taught that quota is the be-all, end-all of working method, we may do obviously stupid things.
Like not read what we wrote.
I have a recent example of a first draft that makes tragically little sense. Why? Because, goddamit, I didn't start every work session by reading what I'd written the day prior. I had characters contradicting things they'd said only twenty pages before. I had locations changing willy nilly. I had tonal shifts driven by my moods and whatever gassy food I'd just consumed.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
I know what I was thinking deep down in my reptile brain. I can sum it up with a phrase I borrowed from film and television production. "I'll fix it in post". In other words, I'd vomit down the words and make them pretty later.
That works for some people, I guess. It doesn't work for me.
When I read the draft in question, I was completely demoralized. What a horrible patchwork of suck. And it could've been avoided if I'd planned my work, and regularly read what I'd done. It was such a misshapen little beast, I didn't want to give it the TLC it needed. I wanted to kill it with a stick.