Sunday, November 20, 2011


Recently I calculated that since the age of sixteen I have written approximately 800,000 words of fiction. And this is just what, given access to both the internet and my personal desktop computer, I could come up with in under five minutes. It's a conservative estimate, too--pieces that were 21k and change I rounded down to 20k, etc. Also, this does not include whatever poetry, scriptwriting, blogging, or assigned school writing (except assignments for creative writing classes, which make up a miniscule percentage of that 800k) I have done in that time, all of which I have done a decent amount, nor does it include redraftings; that's 800,000 words of first draft alone.

Ray Bradbury, an author I tend to trust on the subject, says that an author has to write 1,000,000 words of fiction in order to know what he or she is doing. Various other writers I tend to trust have said similar things, or directly backed up Bradbury's statement. It's one of several reasons I try to write more or less constantly.

But, the closer I get to a million words, the less I feel I know what I'm doing. The closer I approach to that threshold, the more aware I am of my own shortcomings, the more I realize how pathetic my knowledge of techniques and of other authors is, the more I feel like I should stop writing before I get to a million words and know nothing.


GrytaJME said...

Maybe it's a joke, because 1,000,000 words is where you know you know nothing.

GrytaJME said...

Also, wonderful though Ray Bradbury is, even he can't make statements like that that are true for everybody. People are (gasp!) unique.

Ethan said...

Well, true, but the real point I think he was making is that in order to be good you have to write a LOT. People are unique, but you're not going to become a good woodworker without doing a LOT of woodworking, and in the same way you're not going to become a good writer without doing a LOT of writing. The million threshold is probably negotiable; I just use it as a sort of benchmark.

Robin said...

Yeah, the advice I hear all the time for becoming a visual artist is to draw every time, until you develop crippling carpal tunnel, and your fingers seize up, and you turn into Renoir.

And regarding that, I am finding out the same thing as you, that the more I draw the less I know, and the worse the drawings seem to be.

But then I think, hey, if Keri Smith can make a living, with her super-cartoony, childish style, I'm probably doing okay.

Nat said...

And yet, Harper Lee, I suspect... well, I shouldn't speculate. But it is curious.

GrytaJME said...

I went to a talk on Harper Lee last year, by Charles Shields, who wrote her biography ( (Which I still have on my shelf, signed and unread. Hmmmm...) If I remember correctly, she wrote a ton for her college's newspaper.