Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lotta Words

Those of you who stop by on Saturdays to see the things that amuse me probably remember the video I posted.

In the short version, it's about the idea that talent doesn't exist. Hard work exists. A lot of hard work. According to the author of a book I've never read and consequently don't remember the details of (they're in the video if you want them), talent is really 10,000 hours of hard work.

Well, I don't know how I'd measure how many hours I spent working on my writing. How far back in the process would learning to write kick in? I mean, education requires training in expository (and sometimes narrative) writing, so would that count? Would time spent honing ideas count towards the hours? I find hour-counting to be a hinky measurement with writing.

Units should be easy to figure out. Like in chess, they say you have to lose 500 games to be any good. It's easy to know if you won or lost the game. That's a workable unit.

I heard somewhere on the internet that, to be a decent writer, you need to write 1,000,000 words. Well, I guess there's some comfort there, in that it's a workable measurement. Did you write the word or not? Straightforward.

On the other hand, that's a hecka lot of words. One million. Part of me says, oh heaven's to Betsy, I'll be writing from now until I die to get that far. I'll never make it.

I'm currently at 183k, counting all finished drafts. 817k to go. To me, that looks at a really, really long way to go. Someone said to me yesterday, 'Oh, 183k, that's really close.'

To which I say, no, no it isn't. 82% to go is not close. That's 17 NaNoWriMos. It's 13 first drafts. It's years.

Part of me wants to beat my head into a wall.

But, I also know it's important. Because, just like you have to learn all the ways not to make a light bulb (at least 1000), and all the ways not to win at chess (at least 500), I need to know all the ways not to write a good sentence, paragraph, chapter, novel (thousands upon thousands). And, as such, I will persevere.

817k, here I come.

How many words do you think you've written? Do you subscribe to the idea you should write a million?


  1. 1,000,000 seems like an awful lot to me, but I have noticed the more words I rack up, the better writer I become. I suppose it's a good thing to shoot for.

  2. Oh gosh, I shudder to think! I can only hope that with each word I write - each sentence, each page - I'm improving.

    I think persistence is key. Good luck!

  3. Considering I've been journal writing for many years, some days for hours on a stretch, filling up massive, homemade notebooks since the usual bought journals wouldn't keep me busy for longer than 3 months. Yeah. I think I've done it.

  4. Like Karen, I've been journaling for close to 30 years, writing fiction for 20, so I would say I've racked up my million. And if not, pretty darn close.

  5. If I logged all the hours I spent writing and revising I think I would fall over at the number. It's a lot of time, but it's well spent!

  6. I remember about hearing 10,000 hours from Malcolm Gladwell. I recall that he said it's a rough or average estimate that varies from person to person -- some only need 5,000 hours to become a master while others need 15,000.

    I assume the same thing applies to a million words. If you're one of the people that needs only 500,000 words to be an expert, you're not far off!

  7. Let's see, since I've started my blog 6 months ago I've probably written about 200,000 on my posts alone. Then with my frequent and often loquacious comments on other people's blogs (and even my own sometimes), that would probably amount to another 200,000. Then there were the 50,000 plus words from last years NaNo. Then I've been writing stuff for about 50 years. Hmmm-I think I'm way passed a million.
    I don't know if the million word theory holds water but writing that many words certainly couldn't hurt either.

  8. I don't subscribe to that a universal theory such as that. Sure, some people do need to write that much to become successful, but others nail it on the first try. There is no magic formula!!

  9. It's so funny that you ask this question because Lisa and I were just talking about this over the weekend when we heard a writer say she had to write a million before she could write anything good. I don't really agree with it. I mean a million is a whole lot of words. I do agree with the fact that with every chapter, every book, every blog post, etc., we get better, but I'm not sure you HAVE to get to a million.

  10. Don't forget that those hours required in obtaining your "masters" in writing includes reading time. Truly, there's little better to help you improve. You're not as far off as you think.

  11. I've heard the 10k hours. The 1 million words doe seem a lot but I think that's for average writers. I'm pretty sure you're above average. ;)

  12. Susan -- I guess it's the sort of perfect practice makes perfect thing.

    Talli -- I agree, perseverance is key.

    Karen -- Journaling is a great way to practice writing, I think.

    Piedmont -- I am in awe of your experience.

    Stephanie -- I'm sure the numbers of hours people have spent writing would astound us all. But, I must agree, it's definitely worth it.

    Mathew -- That's a good point that you mention. I'll have to think about this for a while. Makes me think I should read Gladwell's book. Hmm...

    Arlee -- I never thought about counting the words I write on my blog as experience. It seems there's a lot of math I could get distracted by.

    DL -- That's ture, there can be no magic formula. Still, it's fun to be distracted by the math.

    LnL -- You're right, a million isn't some magic number. It's the experience that counts. Perfect practice makes perfect.

    KAH -- Why thank you. You're too kind.