One million words–halfway there

I’ve heard tell a writer needs to write a million words to get good at the craft. When I started out I didn’t believe, but I do now.  I suspect it’s also quite analogous to the ten thousand hour target that is widely cited as the time it takes to get good at anything, be it programming or throwing a football.  Ratio the two and it works out to 100 words an hour, which seems low until we consider that it takes a lot of rewrite cycles to get to a publishable word.


As for me, I figure I’m very roughly halfway there.  My assumption is that to create and polish a 1000 word piece I probably write twice that, factoring in all the work that gets cut or redone for reasons other than just not good.  So for me the tally looks something like this:

  • Novels
    • Gho — 90K
    • Ragnarök Willie — 90 K
  • Novellas
    • Gho — 20K words
      • This is actually a huge rewrite of the novel version, and it’s really 25K words, but I only kept about 1/5th of that
  • Short stories
    • 25 stories times about 2400 words each = 60K

Adds up to 260K, times two and I’m at 520,000 words.  As a sanity check against the 10K hour theorem, I’ve been writing for almost 5 years.  Year 1 I wrote nearly full time, so call it 1500 hours of writing (plus 500 hours of marketing).  Since then I figure I write 10 hours a week x 50 weeks a year x 4 years, plus a couple of bursts of 100 hours each. So 3700 hours. I think I can add in another ~300 hours of reading up on the craft / training  / classes (counts for quarterbacks so why not us), so I’m at about 4000 hours, give or take.  Not quite halfway by that metric but hey close enough.

And, more importantly, I absolutely know that my writing is a lot better now than it was at the 250K mark, and infinitely better than that first year.  I’ve been published 11 times over in the short story market, including a contest win and a second place. I read my older work and cringe (don’t we all?). I talk to other writers, participate in critique circles, and read a lot.  I know I’m getting better, but I also know, deep in my bones, that I’m still a work in progress.

And I think this holds for most successful writers too.  Stephen King wrote for many years, including three unsold novels, before he sold Carrie. Ray Bradbury wrote 3000 short stories, of which he only sold like 300.

Anyway, since blogging doesn’t really count as words, I’m headed back to writing.  Gho needs another edit cycle, and I’m polishing up “Preschool War Games” for an invited resubmission.

CR Hodges

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One Response to One million words–halfway there

  1. Pingback: The value of writing shorts | CR Hodges, Author

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