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.
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?