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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » One million words

   
Author Topic: One million words
axeminister
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Ok, well, I originally posted this with the question of where you thought you were in the million word march.

I know it's more of a guideline than an actual rule, but I figured it would be a chance to get to know folks a little better by knowing where they're at.

I know it's arbitrary, but it's a quick measure.

Suggestions for what counts:
Any first draft stuff
Fictional or creative blogs. (Went to city. Saw statue of Liberty) doesn't count.
Movie scripts
Editing is on a 25% basis. (10000 word story edited to final draft is worth 12500) (Too low?)
School essays - these certainly teach you how to research and self-edit.

What shouldn't count:
E-mail - tweets - forums. (You can't count walking to work as practice for running a marathon.)

What was also interesting in the thread below was reading how many stories folks had finished etc.

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/006129.html

So if you don't mind sharing your stats, let's hear em.

Axe's stats:
Years taking writing seriously: 2
Complete novels: 1
Complete shorts: 5
Complete scripts: 2
Novels as WIP 2
Total words: ~ 300,000

[This message has been edited by axeminister (edited March 26, 2010).]


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billawaboy
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LOL. happens to all of us. perhaps you can twist whatever you had in mind into a new topic - perhaps an analysis on how long it would take to write a million words:

At 200-250 words per manuscript page (DS, 1' margins, courier new font 12) that's about 4,000-5,000 manuscript pages to make a million words. Five thousand pages!

Assuming a the average short story is 5,000 words, you need to write atleast 200 short stories of that length to reach 1M words.

Assuming the average novel length is 80,000 words, you need to write about 13 novels of that length to reach a million. Ofcourse if you write about a 100k word novel, you only need to write 10 such novels.

So writing roughly 200 short stories or 10 novels will get you 1M words. Of course you could also write a 100 shorts and 5 novels to get there.


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Teraen
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Lets see... my first manuscript was 100K words, and it took me one year to write on what I call "part time" commitment status... So I should be at the million mark in another nine years...
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Teraen
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Wait. Does only fiction count? Because if we can count all those worthless essays I've had to write in "higher" edukashun, then maybe I'm at the million mark already...
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sholar
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Do rewrites count? Like if you write, set it aside and then rewrite the same scene, do you get to count that scene both times or do you only get to count it once or maybe worth half a word?
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Does posting here count?
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tchernabyelo
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I reckon it took may about five or six years to hit my first million words. I actually got a bit slower afterwards, but I like to thinkn they were better words
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axeminister
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Well gees, my fail topic seems to have garnered more interest than my real topics.
I'm so confused.

Anyway - please see original post for info and share if you'd like.

Axe


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Tricia V
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I'm old enough to count whatever I feel like counting.

Years taking writing seriously: 1, apparently. Years wishing I would take writing seriously? Maybe more like 5. Years I knew writing was what I am supposed to do with my life? 20.
Complete novels: 2
Complete non fiction: 1
Complete shorts: I haven't really done short stories as a form since high school.
Complete scripts: 2 but both were rather short.
No novels as WIP
Non Fiction WIP: 2
Forum posts of essay length: 12 or so (not counting the other 25,000) I say if you sit down to write rather than fraternize/vent, it's writing and is not excluded simply because it happens to be in electronic media. You might as well say you have to write 1,000,000 by hand or on a manual typewriter.
Journals: 26 years worth
Total words: I don't know. I realized one day that if I was a writer, I should be about whipping that 1,000,000 word mark in my sleep and not bemoaning its necessity.

[This message has been edited by Tricia V (edited March 26, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Tricia V (edited March 26, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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I put up my count on the basis of what was on my "opus number" list, most of which was finished product, but some of which wasn't. If I counted drafts, the numbers would be higher---though there was a period of, oh, several hundred thousand words, when I tried one-draft-only writing.

And how would you count taking a story, pasting it in a new file, and rewriting that? (An option available to me only after I switched to word processing.)

(I think what I wrote for school, aggregate, probably doesn't add up to twenty thousand words, and probably much less. Also in high school I once handed in a story I'd already sent off to market to complete a writing assignment---how do I count that?)


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satate
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Years taking writing seriously - 2
novels finished (but not edited)- 1
novels WIP - 3
Short stories - 5
Total words - 175,000

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billawaboy
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For me, I only count finished polished works ready for submission:
so 0 words for me.

I think counting articles and high school papers are useless. Even counting WIPs are useless, because none of them are stories ready to be read. We have to be more honest or we'll end up deluding ourselves with false productivity - only completed works of fiction count - CompFicCount: 0

Now we could create a separate word count of WIPs - WIPcount: I might have a 100k or so there, strung all together.


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sholar
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Billawaboy- if you have to get a million words before you have anything worth submitting, but only count things worthy of submission, you'll never get to a million words. It creates a catch 22.

I also think that working on other projects helps build an awareness of words. So, yes, the roughly 100k words I wrote over the years to get my master's thesis probably does not directly relate to fiction, but it did make me learn to pay attention to what I write and why I chose the words I did. Writing my first draft of my novel I did not see the connection, but as I have been editing, I do feel like those non-fiction words taught me something about communicating effectively (and persevering with editing).

Years taking writing seriously-0 (I have been a hatrack member since 2006, took creative writing courses when I had open electives, etc, but I was never willing to admit that maybe I could be a published writer until my husband had a good paying job that let me stay home with my daughter)

Complete novels: 1 (which was awful- written when 14)
Complete shorts: 5 (kind of random guess- the stories I could think of the titles on)
Complete scripts: 0
Novels as WIP: 1 (written and first edit almost complete)
School stuff- grad school only- 100k (master's thesis plus essays)
Total words: no clue Complete Guess- 350k


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aspirit
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Years taking writing seriously: 2
Complete novels: None (ignoring my rough NaNoWriMo 2008 POS)
Complete shorts: Between 5 and 10; the higher number includes stories that I'm revising to make Just Right
Complete scripts: None
Novels as WIP: 2+
Total words of fiction: Between 170K and 300K.

Here's my explanation of the 2+ for my novels-in-progress. The first novel is DeCo at 34K words, not counting a 2" binder full of mostly hand-written notes, summaries, and failed scenes plus electronic documents of the same. The second novel is RITN; according to my writing log, I've drafted about 40K words of new story material, revised several chapters, and written few summaries and notes. The plus sign is for the five potential novels to which I occasionally add random scenes, outlines, summaries, and notes.

[This message has been edited by aspirit (edited March 26, 2010).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I can't help wishing that people who post comments online would think about them in terms of whether or not they're ready for publication, especially if those people consider themselves "writers."

All too often, as has been noted on this forum and elsewhere, the message that is received when a post is read may not be the message that was intended by the poster. Since we don't have facial expressions or tone of voice to rely on, the words we post are all we have.

So I submit that if you are really trying to improve as a writer, you should consider what you post online in terms of its suitability for publication, and whether or not it conveys the message you are really trying to send.


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aspirit
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Axe, I had to guess what you meant in your list of what counts. Here was my interpretation.

Suggestions for what counts:

  • Drafts of fiction
  • Blog posts of fictional or creative works (and not personal journaling)
  • Movie scripts
  • Edited fiction - counts as 25% (that is, revisions to a 10,000 word story would count as 12,500) unless you think that percentage is too low
  • School essays, which teach how to research and self-edit

Also, I don't understand why one would count school essays but not educational blog posts and forum posts. Though I counted neither for my stats, I think all forms of serious writing help us improve our craft.

Now, if anyone doesn't understand something I submit, then I expect to hear about it.

*Edited to change two words. kdw, I did read through my post before submitting. <sigh>

[This message has been edited by aspirit (edited March 26, 2010).]


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Tricia V
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quote:
I can't help wishing that people who post comments online would think about them in terms of whether or not they're ready for publication, especially if those people consider themselves "writers."

Now I'm having trouble understanding what you are saying. Are you saying that when we post comments on a forum or blog, we shouldn't post unless we are in writerly form?

To that I'd say that I have to eat everyday, and sometimes I just eat so I don't get hungry. Other times I eat in order to experience life more fully. Granted, other times I eat just because I'm bored.

I wonder what my life would be like if I had to write so I didn't get hungry. I don't really want to know the answer to that.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Are you saying that when we post comments on a forum or blog, we shouldn't post unless we are in writerly form?

No, I was referring to billawaboy's post about only counting "finished polish works ready for submission" and I was saying that it would be nice if everything we posted online were "ready for submission" instead of dashed off in the heat of the moment, as many posts seem to be at times. (This applies to myself as well as everyone else.)

Your analogy with eating, Tricia V, is interesting, but to me eating is about what goes in, and writing is about what goes out. I could see eating as analogous to reading, but it doesn't work for me as an analog for writing.


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MAP
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Years taking writing seriously: 2
novels: 1 trunked
shorts stories: 1
scripts: 0
WIP novels: 2
Total words: ~ 201,000

If I add in my writing from grad school (I did a ton of writing, but I will only include published works).

I have five published papers in scientific journals, but I actually only wrote 2.5 of them. ~10,000

Thesis ~50,000

That gets me up to 261,000 words. Still pretty far from 1,000,000.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Teraen
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"Your analogy with eating, Tricia V, is interesting, but to me eating is about what goes in, and writing is about what goes out."

I'm not even going to type what I am currently thinking...


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thank you.
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jayazman
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Oh Teraen, you made me laugh out loud.
If you're thinking what I'm thinking, then it's a good thing you didn't post it.


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billawaboy
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I didn't know the idea was you had to get to ~1M words to be worthy of writing something publishable. I just thought it was an arbitrary number someone picked as a goal for a writer to accomplish. I would put the upper limit on number of completed stories than words. I'd guess if you've completed, say, 10 stories (polished, edited, etc) you probably have enough to be write a story that really works. Now whether the stories are shorts or novel don't matter - as long as it's a completed piece of work. word wise that's 50k-1M words, so quite a range.

50k might be all you need. I can't say one needs to get to a 1M words to write something worth publishing. But it probably doesn't help that I also think most of the stories that do get published shouldn't have been published in the first place. So there might be something to that 1M words things, after all.


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axeminister
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quote:
I didn't know the idea was you had to get to ~1M words to be worthy of writing something publishable

Billawaboy,
I've heard the million words thing a few times. It's totally an arbitrary number, but it gives us hope.
Sure it's huge and far away and people like me come along and say what counts and what doesn't count but if you love writing you will get there and hopefully get published.
One million isn't for the faint of heart.
One million is a marathon.
One million separates the men from... you get the picture.

Brad R Torgersen is over a million words.
He's now at 2 pro pubs and counting.
This may or may not be a coincidence, but it gets my but in the chair and that is the most important factor of all.

Axe


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Robert Nowall
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What about the lost art of letter writing? When I was still typewriting on paper, I used to keep a running tab of the letters I wrote...I'd put a number at the bottom. But my correspondence dropped off, and when I went online, it vanished almost altogether. I tried to carry on for awhile with online printouts, but eventually just gave it up.

You can consider it literature---I've read lots of "selected letters" collections. It might be posthumous publication---usually it is---but it's certainly literary effort.


*****

quote:

Brad R Torgersen is over a million words.
He's now at 2 pro pubs and counting.

I went over a million words in 1983...it didn't lead to pro publication at all.


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skadder
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I agree, I think the million words thing is a red herring, to some degree. Everyone starts in different places and has different things to learn. We all have a different propensity for learning and differing levels of insight into our own writing.

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Meredith
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I agree that most everyone just has to get some practice to get good--as with almost anything. I don't think everyone has to put in the same amount of practice, though.

For myself:

Years writing seriously: Approximately 2
"Completed" novels: 4 @ about 100,000 words each (more if you count material that got cut along the way ). (And we're not counting the thing under the bed from my college days, okay.)
Novels in WIP: 1 @ about 80,000 words
At least 10,000 words in world-building materials, character sketches, etc.
Short stories: New or that migrated to this computer, 8 (including one novelette). Not all are good, mind you. Put that at about 50,000. With maybe another 20,000 I didn't even bother to retrieve.

Puts me somewhere around 550,000 words.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Violent Harvest
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While the term "The Million Word March" is very grandiose, and the ideal of getting a million written words very profund and powerful as a landmark achievement for anyone who writes, I still don't think setting a rigid goal like this on yourself could be productive.

If you cram yourself in to a box and say "I'm not attempting to get published until I have a million words," you could be shortchanging yourself big time. Someone else in the thread mentioned "completed stories" over the actual word count, and I tend to fall in line with that school of thought.

There's no doubt that getting this amount of material (edited or unedited) under your belt as a writer would be a long, learning experience, but in reality, I don't think it works.

For example, if Michael Jordan said "I'm not trying out for the basketball team until I make 100 free throws in a row without missing," he never would have been the best basketball player in the world. He was cut from his first high school tryout, and he had to be rejected multiple times before he began to shine. Eventually he ended up at North Carolina and started showing everyone that he was an incredible athlete --- but he had to fall on his face and suffer for awhile.

It's a very strong analogy for writing, in my opinion. If you've got 200k words, one novel, and five short stories, and then you send it all in to multiple publishers and all of them say "This crap sucks, make it better," then your next 800k words will be quality, or you'll give up.

We never hear or read about the ones who give up, but those who fell flat and rose up to get better.... well, they're living legends.

Oh, and my count is very skewed in comparison to most of yours. I think it's because I wanted to master my short story telling skills before ever moving on to anything longer than 10k words.

Years writing seriously: about nine months.

Novels: Currently on my first, at 25,500 words.

Short Stories: 34 completed, about 25 are of good, edited, polished caliber.

Total Word Count: ~280k

A very interesting thread!

[This message has been edited by Violent Harvest (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Foste
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Do multiple languages count?

I have stories in English, Serbian and German.


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MAP
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I don't think any of us are taking the "it takes 1 million words to be published" literally. Some people publish their first novel, and honestly some people will never get published no matter how much they write. The one million word thing is just practise makes perfect, or the more you write the better you get which is totally true.

I completely disagree about only counting polished, ready for submission works. The whole idea is learning, and of course you learn from your WIP. And don't we learn more from our failures than from our successes? I know I do.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Brad R Torgersen
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I certainly didn't want to imply that 1,000,000 words of fiction is a magic number, and that once you reach it, you'll suddenly become a selling author. There are so many variables that go into those first millions words -- what you learn, the mistakes you make, how and where you choose to experiment and try new things -- I can't say that the word mark all by itself is a worthy goal.

I only mention "a million words" because I heard that adage when I was much younger, and it intimidated the hell out of me. A million words? It was going to take me FOREVER to get to a million words! No way! I was going to break the 'rule' and get to print far faster than a million words! A million words was ridiculous.

Alas...

A million words was more or less accurate, for me. Some people, it will take longer. Some people, not quite so long. Very rarely a writer might be so extraordinarily talented and produce something so completely right for a given market, they publish immediately. But I suspect these outliers are so far beyond the norm, it's not worth figuring them into any estimation of how long it takes an "average" aspirant to break through into pro-pay print -- electronic or paper.

In a case like Robert's, where decades and million(s) of words have flowed under the bridge -- with no discernible spikes of success -- I can't really say what's going on.

Dean Smith likes to tell a story about one of his students -- a novelist -- who cranked out four books a year, like clockwork, and showed up at one of his workshops in no small state of despair. She had gotten no results, and wasn't selling, and simply could not figure out what she was doing wrong. Book after unsold book. What was her issue?

Turns out she had been focused strictly on selling to the traditional SF and F markets when, in fact, almost all of her many books were Paranormal Romance. Once she abandoned the SF and F houses and aimed for romance houses, she began selling very quickly, and now has numerous titles in print, and is quite happy as a result.

Not sure if that's what needs to happen in Robert's case, but it is a cautionary tale about beating our heads against the wrong walls.

Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't be happier or more productive writing a different sort of fiction -- which is why I am exploring romance and mystery/thriller. Certainly these two genres have a greater financial incentive to them, than SF or F, even if SF and F feel like my "home" genres.

Again, I think the million words thing is mostly an adage to clue very-new writers into the idea that it's going to take WORK. There will probably be no shortcut around the WORK involved. And most of that work is not going to sell. Which doesn't mean it's not VALUABLE. It just means it's the kind of stuff that has to come out of you -- the passing of the prose through your fingers -- before you're experienced enough to begin making pro sales.

Also, that the work doesn't end, either. Rejections still happen, after the break-in. I get them all the time. Granted, they tend to be personalized now in a way I could only have dreamed of prior to the break-in, but they're rejections just the same.


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dee_boncci
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I think the "First million words are wasted" idea was from Larry Niven (again, I think) and I doubt he meant it in a literal, absolute sense. The point he was making was that in his opinion most of us have to write a lot, a whole lot, to develop the skills and facility to write stories (and I think the context was novel writing) at a publishable level. I remember writing my first "novel" many years ago and my naive expectations at the time. I think the point is that for the vast majority of us, this endeavor will take a heck of a lot more work/practice than we might have thought the day we sat down and started composing for the first time. I also believe it was as much an idea to encourage people in the case their earliest works weren't wracking up Pulitzers, as much or more so that to set some sort of competency standard.

Yes, there are probably numerous people with precocious aptitude. An honest self-appraisal told me I was not one of them early on. I believe Carrie was Stephen King's fifth or sixth novel, so he was already at something well over a half million "final draft" words in plus whatever he had wracked up in short stories up to that point before getting a novel published. And that was in the alleged "good old days".

So I'll humbly suggest a simple takeaway. We should expect to write a lot and should keep writing even if/when it takes some time to find success. If it comes sooner, great. If not, I like to go by the adage: genious is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.


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Robert Nowall
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In my case, it's also a certain case of discontinuation---when I entered the workforce, my writing slowed for years and years, stopping at times for up to a year. I can't be singlemindedly devoted to it, as I was before that.

(I took this job with the USPS with the idea that (a) I'd make a decent living, and (b) have time to write on the side. (a) happened, but (b) has been more problematical.)

I would say my foray into Internet Fan Fiction was both successful and satisfying---it didn't involve money, but I got a good deal of praise for what I wrote.

*****

I thought the "million word milestone" came from Ray Bradbury, who, once he started selling, took his first million words and made a big bonfire. Tempting.


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Lynda
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I passed a million words a long time ago, while I was still writing fanfiction. One of my readers totaled up all my Harry Potter stories and they were way over a million and far more than JKR had written. I haven't kept track of words in a long time except for individual projects. So let's see.

Completed novels: 5 (3 HP, two original, each around 120,000 words)
Completed shorts: stopped counting years ago, and this would have to include magazine articles as well as short stories.
Nonfiction books: 1, now in second edition, 25,000 (sculpting how-to book)
WIP: three shorts at present, two at 1500 each, one at 1000; one novel @ 8500 with a LONG way to go . . .

Years writing? Um, I started in 1986 (magazine and newspaper articles on entertainment, including interviews; also investigative report on school levy issues), all published; "Starman" fanfiction, started in 1987, quit in the 90's sometime, started up again after the first two Harry Potter films came out (that's when I started reading the books). Numerous articles on art in various print and online magazines, as well as the stuff mentioned above.

[This message has been edited by Lynda (edited March 28, 2010).]


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Smaug
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I'm seriously thinking of making this post a million words--just to say that I've done it.

Okay, according to the criteria, I haven't written a million words yet, but who knows? I may be approaching that with all the fizzles and stops that I've done. I've written one complete novel of about 63,000 words, a handful of short stories, another handful of flash stories, a bunch of non-fiction articles, assorted essays, poetry, college papers, high school papers, elementary school story contest entries, and song lyrics.

All of that, and I still bet I'm only about half way there. The sad thing is, I'm already out of ideas. I think the rest of my 500,000 second half is going to cause me some work--and that's something of which I'm deathly afraid.


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posulliv
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I don't even know a million words; how am I supposed to ever meet that goal?

I'll bet we've all written a lot more fiction than we're willing to admit. In school half of everything I wrote was made up, and as a long-time writer of sales and marketing material it never occurred to me that I was pounding out fiction by the hour.

Write something, finish it, ship it. Maybe you're amongst the fortunate few that defies the conventional wisdom.


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Smaug
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Sanderson wrote ten novels before writing one good enough to sell? Gosh, I'd be thinking that my best ideas were used up with the bad books. That's probably what makes him a success, and me a wannabe.
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Brad R Torgersen
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Joe Konrath wrote an instructive post, for his 40th birthday, which I think illustrates well how much "work" you need to have under your hood in order to be successful.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/03/writer-looks-at-40.html

It took Konrath about ten years -- and as many unsold novels -- before he cracked the markets. During that time he racked up many hundreds of rejections.

The real "filter" in this business isn't the agents, nor even the editors. It's simple attrition. Most writers -- even very talented writers -- don't have the patience or raw stubborness to go the distance.

Ponder, on this Easter Sunday.


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
The real "filter" in this business isn't the agents, nor even the editors. It's simple attrition. Most writers -- even very talented writers -- don't have the patience or raw stubborness to go the distance.

There's my problem in a nutshell. For ten years or so, I wrote and wrote and wrote...but after that I had to get into this "making a living" thing 'cause it wasn't happening and I like to eat. So I ratcheted it down several levels...and I can't keep up the quantity to keep up the quality and I think my skills are eroding from their highs.

I'm hopeful that, when retirement comes, I can get back into the groove and get a greater output out there---whatever I'm outputting by then, which might or might not be SF or fantasy---but by then I might be so exhausted and worn out that I couldn't do it.


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