A million words and counting…

wordsDuring the course of sailing the internet, one crashes into various bits of information. Some of it is interesting. Most of it isn’t but there are lots of pictures. Recently I read (somewhere) that once a person had written a million words of fiction, they’d probably written through most of the “bad, no-no, don’t do that” phases and had figured out how to do it the right way. Whatever that is.

I laughed and raised sail, moving on.

But I kept thinking about that idea. One million words. It’s the sort of tripe that agents and reviewers like to spackle all over rejection letters and emails. Practice more and you’ll get better.

It’s true. Imagine Charlton Heston proclaiming this in deep rich tones, his voice ringing with judgement.

We all know that’s how things work. It’s been pounded into our noggins since primary school. Practice anything long enough – and with enough commitment – and you’ll improve. Either that or you’ll become convinced that violin is not your instrument of choice. Or, maybe being a culinary genius is best left to others. Or, perhaps you should just read books rather than write them.

You get the idea.

I think there’s something to this equation though. Accumulated knowledge of craft and determined effort at applying said craft to one’s written work does produce a superior end-result. Unless you jettison all that good advice offered up by experienced writers and plow forward like an Original-Diamond-of-the-First-Water, there should be a discernible improvement between the first book you wrote and the tenth. There’s a reasonably good chance you can see a difference each step of the way.

Out of curiosity I sat down this afternoon and opened all the files that hold finished drafts of my fiction. I didn’t count the stuff that’s “in progress” because I’ve always got a bunch of stories in various stages of completion. I was surprised to find that I’ve just about hit that one million word mark.

Isn’t that a pip?!files

The weird thing is this – I’ve recently felt like I’ve finally figured out my personal writing process. After trying a great many methods and ideas for structuring, defining arcs, planning, plotting, etc. – it’s all boiled down to a system that works for the way I process, organize, and create. Coincidental? I don’t know but I do think it’s curious.

For me, not all writing is equal. Some folks say, “words are words.” And while I appreciate that idea, it doesn’t work that way for me. I do a great deal of writing in my day job. I’ve easily logged over a million non-fiction words in that process during the last two decades. No doubt that practice honed certain skills, just not necessarily the same ones I use in writing fiction. The same is true for blog posts. Those are usually a cross between writing a letter to a friend (that’s you) or writing  information for an audience (that might still be you). Both are different head spaces than the one I inhabit when I write fiction.

question markMy fiction is written primarily to entertain me. I sometimes share stories that I think others might enjoy. Hopefully, that includes you, because I like you. You’re still reading. Here’s a present. So, weigh in on the debate and tell us, what do you think? Is the million word mark a legit idea or just another arbitrary notion?

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  1. #1 by Richard on February 10, 2014 - 7:35 pm

    This aligns well with the idea of 10,000 hours. Not sure anyone starting out would reach for a goal like a million words, but if you keep at it, as you have, it’s a natural progression. Congrats, and best wishes for the next batch!

    • #2 by Lesann Berry on February 12, 2014 - 12:03 pm

      I hadn’t heard the thing about 10,000 hours. Now that seems far more daunting than word count. I don’t think I could track time spent writing with much accuracy. I scribble here and there all the time. Does that include time spent writing in your head? I almost think 10K hours is a lot more investment than a million words – at least for me it would be. Thanks for the encouragement! I’m hoping this more refined process continues to work. I’ve been fooled before.

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