I can’t say I am a big fan of books on writing. I tend to not get much out of them. I imagine this is because I have an intrinsic need to do things my own way, and dislike being offered advice in general. Because I’m just a contrary sort of person.
But I feel differently about On Writing by Stephen King. That book made a big impact on me on a number of levels. It illuminated the process of a successful writer, and gave me a grounded perspective on what it takes to get good at this. King details all the writing he did before he sold his first novel, and how long it took him to just learn to write.
One sentence in particular impacted me at the time. King said, “The first million words are practice.”
I read that about five years ago, and did a quick mental tally of my easily countable words. I have written, quite literally, my whole life. My first stories were written in crayon, and I’ve never stopped.
When I read On Writing, I was 26 and had recently switched from writing short stories to novels. I thought I was kind of close to an agent and a book deal. But my tally didn’t even add up to 500,000.
It was a really good piece of insight for me at the time. It made it easier to deal with the rejection letters, and when a couple of agents wrote me back and asked me some questions or offered advice on my query instead of sending a form rejection, I viewed that as progress.
Five years later, I’m well over my million. Here’s my tally. (This doesn’t include most of my short stories):
The Broken Arrow: 100,000
Teardrop Game – first draft: 115,000
Cooper Files: 135,000
East of Turnpost: 99,000
Another Year or Two: 70,000
The Diary of Roger Jones: 102,000
Teardrop Game – final draft: 135,000
Questionable Company of Sprites: 98,000
short stories and misc
misc unfinished novel: 50,000
misc Teardrop rewriting: 40,000
misc pseudo novella: 11,000
BFA short stories: 42,000
The Storm Pegasi: 50,000
And I can really tell I’ve written twice as much as I had five years ago. Of course quality is the ultimate goal, but quantity is a hugely important aspect of getting there.
I’m not done learning, and I’m certainly not done writing. I know I have a long way to go, but I have begun.