The infamous million words

A writer isn’t really a writer until he or she has written, and discarded, a million words.

Well, technically, they may be a writer, but not really a writer, if you know what I mean.
I don’t know who said those words first, or if it even counts as a quote, but it’s considered to be a general truth, along with the other truths paving the road of writing.

Usually, I don’t pay these truths much respect. I guess I should, but in my usual stubborn way, I spend a lot of time kicking and screaming and making a show of not heeding their advice. Although secretly I do. At least to a degree. But really, there is a time and a place for showing rules and truths Respect (capitalisation intended). The process of learning is not that time and place. I do my own learning, thank you very much. Usually not in the same way that most other people do theirs.

The “one million words” truth was one of those things I just sniffed at, and then turned my back at. So what, if it will take one million words to get the experience it takes to make a draft ready for submitting to a publisher? Considering my unrealistically high expectations on my own work, and the huge amount of content in my longer-than-one-novel-so-possibly-a-series WIP (work in progress, for those who are new to writer l33t sp34k), that won’t be a problem. I’ll get there eventually, and until then, I will, without a doubt, recognise the flaws of a project not yet ready, so now please go and taunt somebody else. (Insert clip of French guard from Monty Python.)

This was my honest opinion. Until… *duh duh duuuuuuuuuuuuh* (<– dramatic fanfare)

Until I read this blog post by T. James Moore. He says that he too, used to ignore that truth, but only because he believed it would take him forever to get there. That’s the opposite of my problem, but it doesn’t matter; we shared the opinion that the million words could just go and pat a herd of cola-flavoured gummy bears. What he did worry about, however, was style. Or rather his lack thereof.

I have to admit I haven’t worried much about that bit. Sure, I’ve heard about it. Style. T. James Moore goes so far as to say that “for writers, style is everything”. He says that some writers have very unique voices from an early age, but an original voice will not be enough for you to claim to have a style. Only style is style.

As for the unique voice bit, I do think I have that, and that I’ve had it for as long as I have been writing stories of any kind, which would be from age ten or so. Mostly, I’ve been annoyed by it. I cringe whenever I read my own work, thinking it sounds both childish and arrogantly flourished, simultaneously. I’ve tried to erase that personal fingerprint from it, by making it either all childishly informal, or properly… er… proper.

But maybe I shouldn’t fight it. Maybe I should, instead, free it from all the shackles I’ve put on it, and let it lead me. Because what T. James Moore finds out is that the infamous, frustrating one million words will help us develop our style. And although I’m still not a hundred percent certain as to what, exactly, style is, I must say I’m terribly excited to find out what mine looks like. Sounds like. Is like. Does it have a colour?

So I’ve now come up with this cunning plan. I will start out writing drafts. Lots of them. First drafts, for getting the story written down. Second drafts, for mending plot holes, moving scenes around, tending to flaws in logic and fixing other inevitable storyline issues. But after that, I’ll leave the drafts to rest, and start up new projects.

Eventually, after having written enough drafts, I will have found my holy grail — my style. And when I have, that’s when I will start up the third drafts: the editing. The actual word-smithing; the stage when my language becomes live art inside somebody else’s head.

I just hope I haven’t overlooked anything too important. I hate it when my masterly laid plans come to naught.

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2 Responses to The infamous million words

  1. Antonia, thank you for sharing this post. Writing is an impossible challenge because the moment we think we know what we’re doing we fall flat, and just about the time we give up something swells within us and we come running back to the table. Through all of this drudgery we write with more and less diligence, casting away word after word, but all the while hopefully striving to find the sincere things within us, be they quaint or vulgar, until at last we come to the elusive style. I think style is an amalgamation of voice, honesty, attitude, opinion, technique and technicality. Style takes practice, so writing thoughtlessly for a million or more words will not help. Mindful, intentional writing, however, and self-awareness will see us through. You’ve inspired me today. Thank you again for sharing.


    • Antonia says:

      Thanks for commenting, TJ!
      And thanks for clarifying the elusive style bit. I tried googling it, but nothing helpful came up. Now that you explain it, it seems obvious.
      Well, I certainly have my work cut out for me here, then. I’ve only come about a tenth of the way!

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