In addition to being a ‘word’ person, I’m also a ‘numbers’ person. So when I hear someone say, “You have to write a million words before you will have something good enough to publish,” both sides of my brain start to fire up. Can you imagine? A magic number to work toward, and when you reach it all your writing dreams will come true. Sounds wonderful, but I know it doesn’t work like that.
Nonetheless, a lot of people seem to be striving to meet that magical number. Do a search on the internet for the phrase ‘write a million words’ and you’ll see what I mean. So what’s the allure? I think the draw is due to several messages the phrase communicates:
1) Practice Makes Perfect – This centuries old bit of common sense is motivation to keep at it and work to improve at what you do. I would modify it to say, “Practice, with feedback, makes perfect.” You can do a lot of your own editing to improve the quality of your work. However, getting feedback is important in order to avoid the blind spots you get from being too close to your own writing. Don’t take the ‘million word’ phrase too literally and wait till you hit the one million mark to show your work to anyone. The better way is to get feedback as you go and be open to constructive advice.
2) Persevere – Rejection comes with the job so don’t take being turned down by publishers and agents personally. If you self-publish and don’t gain an audience, don’t take that personally either. There are many reasons why your work might not be accepted. You may never find out the reasons, and if you do it may not make any sense or have anything to do with your talent. So when a rejection letter comes in, resolve to keep going and continue on your writing path.
3) It’s Helpful to Have a Goal – No matter how much you love writing, there may be times when you can use some extra incentive to keep you moving along. Getting to the million word mark can be a fun way of challenging yourself, or creating a friendly rivalry between writers. Organized events such as the National Novel Writing Month offer support and resources to help and encourage you toward your goal.
Ultimately, writing is a journey with no fixed end and no roadmaps to sure things or dead ends. If things don’t happen for you in the first one million words, maybe it will happen in the second. Author Ursula K. Le Guin said “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Enjoy your journey, wherever it may take you. That’s where the magic lies and the only person who can stop it is you. Don’t let it end too soon.