Apr 24

What’s Magic in a Million Words?

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.

8 comments

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    • Maureen P. on May 12, 2014 at 7:30 am
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    Well said. It is good to have a goal – but to focus on amassing a high word count alone can be deadly for a writer. What good is quantity if you sacrifice quality? Many “legitimate” writers scoff at and despise fan fiction, yet it can be a wonderful training ground for new writers, or writers who seek to hone their craft in a friendly environment. I’ve made more than one great friend by sharing fan fiction, and the best of them are my sharpest critics! Many of the fan fiction groups throw out word count challenges – from 500 word “drabbles” and up. Novice writers sometimes find their “voice” when they only have to concentrate on 500 words – and many times that voice is beautiful. The 55-word fiction contest is a great test for being succinct as a writer. It is a good thing to be reminded that word counts can work for and against you. Thanks Sue!

      • Sue Remisiewicz on May 14, 2014 at 8:55 pm
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      I agree that fan fiction can be a great proving ground for developing your craft. When Aimee Carter (author of The Goddess Test) spoke to our writers group, she was very open and positive about her fan fiction roots! Thanks!

  1. Sue, I find it very helpful to get good feedback. The first time I shared with my writers’ group, two different people pointed out the same weakness in my piece, but it was my favorite part! I knew then that I should make some adjustments, but it was, and is, so hard to delete the work I’m overly attached to. An objective opinion makes a difference in persuading me that either I have to rewrite and make the part fit or it has to go. You’re right for saying, “Practice, with feedback, makes perfect.” (Or at least it helps us get closer to it!)

      • Sue Remisiewicz on May 10, 2014 at 11:55 am
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      Hi Kelly! I too have experienced the pain of learning I have to change or delete something to which I am really attached. My solace comes from knowing that the whole will benefit from the sacrifice I make in part. Thanks!

  2. Good comments–especially #2 and mentioning self-publishing as that is becoming more and more common. Goals give structure; the rest is up to each of us to make that adventure enjoyable. Like my NaNoWriMo projects in the past, I often don’t have a goal beyond the 50K words. I don’t know where my story will end up, and that’s my adventure.

      • Sue Remisiewicz on May 10, 2014 at 11:50 am
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      You’ve reminded me that each piece that I write is a mini adventure in the larger journey of my writing life. Thanks!

  3. Nicely said, Sue. It’s OK for our stories to have an end, just not our writing.

      • Sue Remisiewicz on April 26, 2014 at 5:14 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks, Phil! It’s a great adventure to be on!

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