When I was Nineteen, I lost my mind. An inevitable occurrence when you decide to throw caution to the wind and make writing your career. Six months into the throes of my insanity, I caught wind of a convention—ConCarolinas—that was happening two hours from my house. Nearly every author that I looked up to was going to be there talking about the business and craft of writing. So I went.
That first convention was a hell of a trip, but that’s a story for another post. During all of the panels that I sat on, there was one particular piece of advice that really stuck with me.
“If you want to be a great writer, then write a million words, and when you’re done you will be.”
A difficult task since a million words is roughly ten average size books. But the writers that led me to choose this life were telling me to do this, so why not? I’ll write a million words and be a great writer.
If only it were that simple.
The first million words are the hardest to write. When you first start to pursue writing professionally, the words you write are terrible. Fact. You have this idea in your head of the way the story should go, and how the characters interact, and all this cool magick and mystery, but when you try to put it to paper the words you write just don’t paint the same picture. There’s talent there, maybe a natural gift with dialogue, or scene description, or characterization. But you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle yet, and the picture on the box just isn’t helping. It’s frustrating, irritating, and most of all perfectly natural.
Those words may suck, but they are also more important than those amazing words that you’ll write in a year. Or five. Or ten. Because those crappy words will be the reason those later works get written. There’s no shortcut, no secret, no magick fix-all. The only way to improve your writing is to write. Practice makes perfect, after all.
Many rising writers fizzle out while putting in their million words, and it’s understandable. The words on the page aren’t living up to what you know you can do, and sometimes the frustration is too much. But if you are serious about your craft, if you truly want your stories and writing to move people the way that work that led you to take this chance moved you, you’ll put in the effort.
I know all too well, because I’m still writing my Million Words myself. I’ve been writing professionally for five years, and the rough estimate of my word count is around 200,000. I only started to like the words I write in the last few months. Which means that over 150,000 of those words were crap. And I’m okay with that.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been rejected more times than I can count, and every single one of them hurt. Every time I discarded content it was like ripping out a piece of my soul. I’ve gone through deep depressions, and I’ve seriously considered hanging up the pen several times. But I can’t, because I know in my soul that this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.
Last October I wrote the very first piece that I’ve ever truly been proud of. I worked myself almost to collapsing to edit, and polish, and make it the very best product that I could. I sent it in to submission for the anthology knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was going to be accepted.
It was rejected.
That one hurt more than any of the others so far, but at the same time it felt good. Because something had changed. I could see that the years of hardships, and rejections, and studying, and bleeding for my chosen craft were paying off. And I know that by the time I write that Millionth word, I’m going to be the writer that I’ve always wanted to be.
So for those of you that are just starting out, or are struggling to get published, keep at it. I know it’s hard, and making yourself sit down and keep doing can be like flaying the flesh from your bones sometimes, but it’s the only way to make it.
Because at the end, when you finally write something that lives up to that potential that you and everyone around you know you have, then every bit of the blood, sweat, and tears that it took to get there will be worth it.