Tree rings and an abacus

Gentle reader, I am here today to discuss the theory that in order to be a “good” writer, you must first write one million words. James Gleick suggests in his newest book Time Travel, that art and creativity are the only real time travel we know. If you want the best idea of where a culture, society, or person existed in time, look at the creative output for insight. (If you haven’t read it, do it now if there is the slightest bit of science nerd in your DNA.)

For me, the idea of writing a million words is more than an arbitrary goal line stating “you have arrived”,  more than an abacus exercise to reach some imaginary level with better perks and a VIP lounge. My art, my output, is a time capsule outline of a journey from scribbling dialogue on napkins in the high school cafeteria all the way to published author.

Most of us here on The Million Words want to publish our works. I self-pubbed after a stint with an agent, which is a post for another time. Some are actively querying. Some have short fiction already hatched into the world. Some of us are burdened by life and not writing at all because it is just too much. Some write for personal reasons, others for intensely private needs. Your journey is your own.

I look at the distribution of my wordy output- the prolific times, the drought years- as a tree ring representation of my creative life which cumulatively represents the whole writer.

For my wordcount, I will not include for the sake of discussion any works required of me for academics or work-related writing, or personal journalling as that is a different style of prose. I will only concentrate on creative writing.

And my word count is…..I don’t know exactly.

I can tell you that I have written two manuscripts that are roughly 100,00 words each, with untold numbers of revisions. They will NEVER see the light of day.

I can tell you that I have too-many-to count half-baked short stories and poems printed out on yellowing paper in a box stored in the attic of my parents’ house- a product of angsty youth.

I can do a rough count of the numbers of words stored on my  CURRENT hard drive, either sequels or prequels or spin-offs or origin stories for the worlds I create. That total is roughly 300,000.

I have untold numbers of revisions for these works, which I will not count because I don’t have Ken Schrader’s formula:)

I have Prodigal Spell, my published work, clocking in at polished 90,000.

I have the sequel to Prodigal Spell, still very rough, at 60,000 and counting.

And there is no scientific way to count the numbers of scenes and character conversations scribbled on scrap paper and shoved in a folder somewhere. Unlike Janet Walden-West, I do not have a neat grouping of ring binders. It’s more a “free-form” collection of boxes and notebooks in storage.

So, of the words that I can reasonably count- my number is 650,000.

Do not think of your own word count as criteria for qualifying in the “exclusive writer’s club.” Take a step back, drop the abacus, and just revel in the ability to write. Appreciate the things you do well. Work on the concepts you want to improve. Check back here for the tidbits of wisdom we want to share with others along this time travel journey of writing.

Just write. Hard to do anything with a blank page.

Until next time-


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