One of my favorite books about writing craft contains a quote that really resonates with me. In On Writing, Stephen King offers this sage advice to budding authors:
“The first million words are practice.”
That sentence is powerful enough to make anyone stop and re-think his career. Those six words might have a person doubt her own drive and ambition.
I’ve been there. More than once. But I also haven’t given up. And that’s the stuff of writers are made of.
A note before we get any further: I’m a “1/2” fan of Stephen King. Half of me loves him. The other half of me shudders at the thought of reading one of his horror stories. Put Cujo, It, or Rose Madder on my bedside table and I won’t sleep a wink.
But, The Green Mile is a favorite book of mine, and I love “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” I’ve also recommended On Writing more times than I can remember–at conferences, talks, book signings, and to anyone who asks.
King’s wit and humor shine through in On Writing. He shoots straight from the hip. He shares his own stories of failure. He talks about having enough rejection letters to paper a wall. And he shares that he didn’t give up. That’s the stuff of one million words.
And King doesn’t mean a million words haphazardly strung together. In my humble opinion, he’s talking about one million words of blood, sweat, and tears. One million words of emotion and insight into the human experience. And learning. Always learning.
Author Ray Bradbury agrees. He is quoted as saying this:
“Write a thousand words a day, and in three years you will be a writer.”
Here we go, again, with the one million words (plus or minus 95 thousand) rule.
Taken literally, should this formula produce a bestselling author when he or she crosses the million-word mark? Can we, then, as writers, set our laptops aside and lounge by the pool?
Sorry. No. Afraid not. Like a professional athlete or a concert musician, perfection comes from dedication, passion, and daily practice. Even with great talent comes a learning curve. Stephen King still writes almost every day. Jodi Picoult says that she does.
In my estimation, I’m hovering around the 600,000 mark. Each novel that I’ve completed ran 90,000 words in the first draft, with another 10,000-20,000 revised and cut. The short story is about 20,000 words, and my WIP (work in progress) just crossed the 46,000 word mark.
Here’s my list:
Book(s) .5 – Several that I started and didn’t finish!
Book 1 – A completed novel “Which Shall Not be Named” or Published
Book 2 – Stay Tuned (Lauren Clark)
Book 3 – Dancing Naked in Dixie (Lauren Clark)
Book 3.5 – A Very Dixie Christmas (short story, L. Clark)
Book 4 – Stardust Summer (Lauren Clark)
Book 5 – Pie Girls (Lauren Clark)
Book 6 – Center of Gravity (Laura McNeill)
Book 7 – Sister Dear (Laura McNeill)
Book 8 – WIP set in NOLA (Laura McNeill)
Thanks to help from excellent beta readers, experienced editors, and sharp reviewers, I’ve improved and changed my writing craft over time. I always outline, which works for me, and I always write a book from chapter one to the last chapter (if I stop to edit, I will get stuck for days). In the meantime, I am reading other novels (Joshilyn Jackson, M.O. Wilson), absorbing books about the writing craft (James Scott Bell, Donald Maas), and learning tips and tricks from many great writing blogs (www.betternovelproject.com & many more).
I’ve no doubt that I’ll reach the one million word mark. It’s also not likely to be this year, but when I do, I’m confident that I’ll be a much better author, producing much better novels, for the learning, time, and energy I’ve put into it.