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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » 1 Million words before it's any good.

   
Author Topic: 1 Million words before it's any good.
AstroStewart
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So the saying goes that the first million words you write won't be any good. Or only after the first million will you really be "a writer" or something to that effect.

My question is, do these have to be a million words of unrelated stories. As a novice, the idea of writing a million words of "stuff" that's just going to get thrown away, or tossed in the closet never to be seen by the world is pretty discouraging. So I pose the question, does this count rewrites?

Back when I was in high schoool I started a novel and got, maybe, 50k into it before I got side tracked. I came back to it a few years later, in college, and essentially rewrote everything I had written, and then finished the first draft, roughly 80k words or so. Then, more recently, I went back and noticed how horrible everything I wrote was, so I more or less rewrote it all again, this time about 100k words.

Then I discovered this site and have learned quite a few pearls of wisdom just from reading the numerous discussions here, and read a book or two on writing (ie, became a little more serious about my writing) and once more, noticed the fault in what I'd written, and went through rewriting most of it again, all 100k words of it.

So, theoretically speaking, is it possible to continually rewrite a single novel as you learn more about writing, and reach your "1 million words" that way? After all, if one were to completely run through a 100k word novel 10 times, thats 1 million words right?

Or is there a qualitative difference here between thorough editting (even if it's practically rewriting each scene from scratch) and actually coming up with seperate plotlines, characters, etc, and writing completely unrelated stories/novels for a million words?

Is it more about what you write? Or simply the fact that you're writing at all?


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HSO
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Surely that's a figure [1,000,000] that someone pulled out of their -- er, you know.


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MightyCow
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I think they count from kindergarten. I know CAAT and SIE SPOOT GAU weren't very good for me.
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Christine
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You are wayyyy overnalazying this...the only thing it means is you have to pracctice a whole lot to get any good at all.
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EricJamesStone
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I agree with Christine.

But you will probably learn more by writing ten 100K novels than by rewriting one 100K novel ten times.


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Silver3
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I'm with Eric and Christine here.
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djvdakota
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Or 100 10,000 word short stories.

Or 1000 1000 word essays or flash stories. (I hope Mike's committed for the long haul!)


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Spaceman
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I know David Gerrold uses that figure, you don't really know how to write unless you have written 1,000,000 words. I take that as finished product, not as rewriting the same thing. It doesn't mean you can't write befor that figure, it just means that you are still learning about yourself and how you write. Remember that a lot of this process is self-discovery.
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autumnmuse
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I don't believe that statistic. I just don't. Sorry. Granted, it is a certainty that your writing will be better 1 million words in the future, but some people DO have talent from the get go. Also, depending on your learning style, it is possible for some people to pick up new writing abilities quickly and relatively easily compared to other people. Let's face it; we aren't all created equal as far as native ability is concerned.

I know several authors who've impressed me with their first novel. And I don't just mean first published novel; some people actually do publish the first manuscript they finish. OSC for example. And sure, even they have had some false starts and re-writes, but I doubt it was a million words.

Now, if you want to believe that everything you write will suck until you reach the magic number of 1 million, then your prose will turn to gold dust, go for it. I know I'd give up well before then, personally. I plan on writing well over a million words in my life, by the way. I just have hope for the earlier thousands.


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wyrd1
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"If you raise your sword above your head a thousand weasels will laugh at you." - The Grandmaster

"Practice the movement a thousand times and you will know it, ten thousand and you have mastered it."

"Fear not the man who has practiced a thousand techniques, fear the man who has practiced one technique a thousand times" - martial arts proverb

Basically, perfect practice makes perfect. Instead of coming down to words you could put it in hours. How many hours have you spent writing?


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hoptoad
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I'd walk a million miles for one of of your smiles... maaaami
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Spaceman
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Obviously the one million number is arbitrary. I think it's partly to prevent inflating head syndrome as much as anything else, particularly for somebody with early success.
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MightyCow
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Sounds like a statistic made up by a bad writer who wanted an excuse.

You get better as you go, but you don't have to write any arbitrary amount of bad before the good kicks in.


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Elan
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quote:
some people actually do publish the first manuscript they finish. OSC for example.

Keep in mind OSC was a script writer before he was a fiction author. He logged his practice time prior to being published.


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pooka
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I used to grapple with this idea and then I found out that OSC didn't have any practice novels. He sold his first one and since has not written a novel that wasn't commissioned. So then you are left with the terrible question: What if I'm just not gifted?
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Survivor
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Would that discourage you?
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Jammrock
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The bible is 783,137 words. Hawaii, considered the longest novel in print in a single volume, is ~500,000 words. The longest Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix) is 257,045 words...

1M words is a lot to write when you put it in perspective. Though if you think about it, authors who have published dozens of novels would be in the multi-million words category. Now whether or not you have to write 4 Order of the Phoenixes ... phoenixii ... before you can write anything worth salt, I suppose depends on the writer's talent.

Though I would see it more as an analogy than anything. Because it doesn't matter how many words you write if you don't have any talent, skill, creativity or assistance in learning how to write publishable works.

Or so me thinks at least...

Jammrock


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AstroStewart
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quote:
Because it doesn't matter how many words you write if you don't have any talent, skill, creativity or assistance in learning how to write publishable works.

Wait, so I can't just sit down and type out "the" a million times to become a good writer? Aww shucks. On to plan B.

[This message has been edited by AstroStewart (edited May 18, 2006).]


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Elan
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quote:
What if I'm just not gifted?

I quit letting that bother me when I realized that half of the published authors out there aren't gifted, either. They're just more persistent.

Brings to mind a joke my cousin and I share. She lives in Alaska, where there are bears. We both complain about being out of shape and that we can't outrun the bears. Then we reassure ourselves with: "...but I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to be able to outrun YOU."

You don't have to be gifted to get published. You only have to be BETTER than the writers who get rejected.


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pooka
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I thought I had posted that I am gifted, but tragically lazy. Apparently I didn't ever hit "submit".
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djvdakota
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The Magic Million!!!

We wish, eh?

I sat down one day and did some counting. I figure I've reached that million, if not far exceeded. Of course I've included in that count every research paper and art history essay I wrote in college. I don't include the stuff I wrote before college.

The point is that for the past however many years you've been developing as a writer. You've been applying and refining the craft of language, you've been paying attention to the structure of a sentence and how it can convey meaning with economy and poetry, you've been studying the technique behind story construction, you've been reading the works of others and learning from their examples.

Some people have a natural gift for it and fly right from the nest. Others need three or four M words. The point of the Magic Million is that for most of us, it takes about that many written words (and I count rewrites, but only as far as the added words, phrases, sentences that refine the rough draft--you can't count the whole story twice) for it to sink in. The point is that it takes time and effort to make a writer, and, MORE IMPORTANTLY, to progress as a writer.

Once we stop porgressing--no matter how gifted we are from the get-go--we've failed.


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Jammrock
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quote:
quote:
What if I'm just not gifted?

I quit letting that bother me when I realized that half of the published authors out there aren't gifted, either.


*couhgDANBROWNcough* ... mumble, mumble. How he sold 40 million copies of The Da Vinci Code I'll never know. Maybe the real secret he unlocked is that if you attack the Catholic church you'll sell millions of books.

I have a flare for stating the obvious, don't I? I'm in training to be the next Obvious Man, once the Non Sequitur guy retires.


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Robert Nowall
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About 1990 or so, I started thinking my stuff was as good as some of the stuff being published. Later on, after I got my first computer and could run up proper spreadsheets, I inputted all my story data---and found I passed the one-million-word mark just about that time.

(Not that my high opinion of my stuff has translated into sales...except I now blame them rather than me, at least some of the time.)


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sholar
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The Harry Potter comment got me thinking- personally, I thought the first few books were better than say the fifth book. Robert Jorda must have written at least a million words in his wot series, yet book 10 is awful. Thinking about writers who seem to get worse the more they write makes me wonder if there is then a second million word rule where you return to writing badly. Of course, my examples are all series, so it could be writing a million words with the same characters is the problem. Though I am sure if I paid more attention to publication dates, I could think of some nonseries examples (William Gibson's older stuff I like better).
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Jammrock
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From my observations, new authors have to keep things short and simple to keep people's attention. Once they gain a fan base they feel they get away with more, so they put more bloat into the story. It seem like they want to infinately expand their characters and universe and lose sight of what made them popular.

Stephen King's Dark Tower series was like that for me. Loved the first four books. Post-accident they went to crap.

I stopped reading WoT at book 5.

[This message has been edited by Jammrock (edited May 18, 2006).]


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Matt Lust
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I don't know about that Jamrock.


I'm pretty impressed with the Song of Ice and Fire Series and its purposeful use of being overly broad and not playing favorites with characters. Same goes with the Saga of Seven Suns by Anderson.


Granted in GRRMs latest book the introduction of a completely new house is mildly annoying but it does seem promising to keep things fresh now that we've been thrashed about inside the rest of the characters minds for three HUGE books already.


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Survivor
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I think that a critical element of improving as a writer is getting clear feedback on whether you're achieving the effect that you desire. Why do big writers seem to go downhill after a while? Because it becomes difficult for them to find anyone who'll give them honest critiques on the writing itself, they're selling hordes of books, and that's all that matters to the industry side. Who cares if the author's vision is transmitted to the raeders?

I know that I'm still far from my goal. I can easily write things that people want to read, but I'm not quite to the level of writing things that transmit the ideas I'm trying to express. Honestly, when I say "not quite" I'm making the very bold assumption that such a level exists and is not radically beyond the potential of human language. And when I say "bold", I probably mean "foolish"

I think that most of us are writing for the purpose of being understood. But we're all still learning how to negotiate the meaning of what we write to the audience. In personal communication, you can create a temporary alignment of symbolic exchange by modifying the semantic framework of all the involved parties. But with mass communication...if anyone understood the last sentance, you probably get the point already

It takes a while for a person with an original idea to find the proper means to express that idea to the audience. And if you're not doing something new, why are you doing anything at all? Is there a magic number of words? I don't believe it. But learning to express the thing that you envision to an audience which can't be expected to already share your ideas...it probably takes a good bit of effort.


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wyrd1
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quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Because it doesn't matter how many words you write if you don't have any talent, skill, creativity or assistance in learning how to write publishable works.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I doesn't matter how much talent, skill, or creativity you have if you don't write something your just a dreamer.

As to bloat from an author, I had been thinking you have to have lots of detail and desciption to tell a good story. Now I've been reading "Monkey: A Journey to the West" (an english version of a classical chinese tale) and their is almost never any description. Where Salvatore could put awesome descriptions of battles filling pages it goes something like "monkey and er-langh fought a hundred rounds with neither gaining advantage".

Light bulb


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Elan
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The Seven Stages of Falling In Love With An Author.
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trousercuit
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They forgot the part where you begin to feel background angst, and then, one day, you realize that your favorite author has become nothing but a soulless capitalist.
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Robert Nowall
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Another rule of thumb: if a professional and / or commercial writer writes a series running more than a million words, the best of it is at the beginning.

(I'd thought of picking of King's "Dark Tower" series now that it's (technically) complete...I should look for a boxed set of the trade paperback editions...)


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tchernabyelo
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The total word-count on all my current WIPs, half-written stories, etc is a little shy of the 1 million mark, so if you count various non-filed oddments, rewriting, and the like, I'm pretty sure I've passed it.

By odd coincidence, I've also finally reached the point where I'm just about happy enough with some of my writing that I'm sending it out to pro markets.

Whether, of course, they think my million-word apprenticeship has been worthwhile or not is another matter; time will tell.


Generally speaking, no word is wasted, but I've certainly learned a great deal from sites like this, and from critiques and the like. But no matter all the books you read, the crits you get, the good advice you hear... there's no substitute for practice.

How many words of practice any individual needs is open to debate. Some people are certainly more "naturally gifted" than others, but I suspect that many first-time novelists have in fact benefited hugely from experienced editors.


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Jammrock
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Matt Lust,

First off, GRRM is an awesome author. He's my current favorite fantasy author. His books are fantastic and entertaining, and keep you guessing. But his books are HUGE and BLOATED. Come on, the fourth book in the series was so HUGE that he had to break it up into two books.

The difference between GRRM and say Jordan or Rowlings, is that GRRM knows how to keep the plot fresh and the story moving. SO even though his books are gargantuan volumes that could fit half of an encylopedia in them, they are still good.

Bloated, but excellent. And that's a rare talent in writing. That's also why GRRM hit #1 on most of the bestseller lists with A Feast for Crows.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, I was happy enough with my first stories when I wrote them, that I sent the second one out to market. (The first fell short of a stated preferred word length at the various pro markets of the era.) The last time I reread them---and that itself was some time ago---I found myself less than happy with them...
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Leaf II
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"*couhgDANBROWNcough* ... mumble, mumble. How he sold 40 million copies of The Da Vinci Code I'll never know. Maybe the real secret he unlocked is that if you attack the Catholic church you'll sell millions of books."

YES!!!! I agree with that statment. Let me also add that I am extra jealous.

(edited because I was apparently retarded this morning...)

[This message has been edited by Leaf II (edited May 20, 2006).]


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pooka
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So now that Dan Brown is established, you think his next book might somehow be worse? (I'm such a snob, I didn't read DVC but art historians, writers, and theologians alike tell me it is dumb dumb dumb.)
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Robert Nowall
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Of course, Dan Brown sold forty million copies of the *same* er, what was it, one hundred thousand words long?
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Survivor
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I listened to one of the scenes on audiobook. It was hilariously stupid.
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Leigh
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With all the fuss about Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code", I doubt I'll ever read it, period. Doesn't suck me in for reasons. Maybe because I'm against being told what to believe in or something. I don't care.

Now on the topic, in stories, I've probably fallen just short of 400,000 words. I can honestly say that because I've completed an entire novel, 90k words, in little over a month, and now I'm rewriting it and currently finding I've only done 21K so far.

Other stories I've written have gone on to about 50k, while others have only reached 2000 words. I'm a mixed bag with my stories and novels and WIP's. I'm not able to stick to one idea and when I think of something I feel is stronger, more believable and easier to write in my novels I delete the entire lot.

I've got one major, major plot in my head and I've changed it that many time's it's not funny.


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Tanglier
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Writing doesn't seem to make me a better writer; it makes me prolific, or possibly prodigal. Careful reading, imitating, playing with the ideas and attendant words of good writers seems to do the trick for me.

[This message has been edited by Tanglier (edited May 22, 2006).]


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