One Million Words?

I just ran across a blog post on Karen Woodward’s site from a couple of years ago, digging into the origin of the idea that a novice writer needs to write a million words before writing anything good. Go ahead over and read it, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

While no definitive answer emerged, the idea of needing to write that much to be any kind of decent writer is something we need to consider. It sounds like a lot, and probably seems impossible until you break it down to 1000 words a day for 3 years. That’s not so much. I’ve been blogging and writing for years, it wouldn’t surprise me if I hit that number some time back (no I’m not going to dig through all my old writing and try to figure it out!).

I think it’s great advice. You can’t learn to do anything well until you’ve done it again and again. It’s why people take writing classes, and get MFAs. You can’t improve your knitting, or guitar playing, or tennis, or anything else, by thinking about it. You have to do it, not just think about it. Working with the words, making your mind work at sentence construction, vocabulary, plotting, pacing, dialogue, etc., is how you get the benefit. I understand the desire to “get on with it” and not waste time, especially when we’re all so busy, and most of us work full-time jobs in addition to taking care of families. Trying to squeeze in time to practice writing, or throwing away a million words is painful. I’ve been dealing with this frustration for years . But look at it this way: If you didn’t need to practice  your craft to improve, you’d never to have to edit your first drafts, would you? You get better by working at it. I think of it like trying to dig my way out of an avalanche. I have to get all the junk out of the way before I can see the light of day. All those crappy million words have to be dug through.

What say you? Have you done your million words? Do you think you need to? Or did you shoot to the top of the best-seller list on your first time out of the gate?

7 thoughts on “One Million Words?

    1. As we all will. I guess it’s ok if all someone wants is to put stuff out there to make a few bucks. I don’t mean to be laying down some moral imperative here that everything we create must be “great art.” I’m just dismayed when I see people talking about what a waste of time it is to try to do better.

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  1. The practice of any craft has enjoyment in the effort. Yes, the planning, editing, rewriting are a slog but I like to think of it as refinement. Very few “things” pop out fully realized in their own perfection…. if there even is such a thing as perfection. So keep scribbling, designing, re-working and reading. Thanks for another spiffy post, too — nice way to open 2017.


  2. I would also add you need feedback. You can write a billion words, but until you get feedback, errors pointed out, plot holes, flat characters, you’ll keep making the same mistakes time after time. Since I’ve picked up writing again, I haven’t written a million words, but I’ve had wonderful feedback, from people who know what they’re doing, on the words I *have* written. I can clearly see how I’ve improved. So yes, feedback, and the willingness to learn and grow from that feedback. 🙂


  3. I’ve definitely written more than 1 million words now and you are spot on that doing it is the best way to learn. The monthly contests over on’s forum as been integral in that. Just writing story after story forced me to really think about what I’m trying to say with my writing and then ‘how’ to say it. Just got to do it.

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