In addition to Thanksgiving and my birthday, for me November means National Novel Writing Month. And since no one can procrastinate like a writer on a deadline, November also often means finding new and creative ways to put off having to commit words to paper (or the screen). This year, the way I came up with to procrastinate was counting my lifetime output of words.
writers have a strange obsession with word count. In the days of using
typewriters, you gauged how much you accomplished by how many pages you
had written. Now that most writers use computers, pages are irrelevant
and productivity is measured by the number of words you wrote. National
Novel Writing Month requires 50,000 words to complete the challenge.
Agents and publishers specify the number of words manuscripts need to
have to be considered for publication. Writers set goals of 1000 or 2000
or 5000 words per day.
And there's a bit of common
writerly wisdom that it takes a million words to get good at writing
(or, alternatively, "the first million words are crap"). Like most
common wisdom, there's some truth to this, but it isn't entirely true.
It is true that writing is something you get better at the more you do
it. But the measure of a million words seems kind of arbitrary. Someone
who is an avid reader and/or got good grades in English (or whatever
language they're writing in) is probably going to start out ahead,
quality-wise, of someone who's never read a book or who doesn't know how
to put understandable sentences together. Granted, some people have a
natural instinct for storytelling that transcends proper writing
mechanics, so they're ahead as far as that goes, but writing is
communication and it doesn't matter how good your story is if you can't
communicate it in a way that your readers will understand.
the other hand, other people might have a gift for writing beautiful
prose but no sense of how to put together an exciting, entertaining
story. So they have a lot of work to do, too. (I, for one, would rather
read an entertaining, engaging story that is written in inexpert prose
than something that's beautifully written but boring.)
not every writer starts out at the same level of crappiness. Then
there's the factor of how hard they work at improving their craft. If
you write a lot, you're almost bound to get better at it without even
trying. But if you read good books to learn how prose and storytelling
work, and seek out good writing advice and really work on applying it,
you're going to get better even faster.
But even with
all these qualifiers, some writers (or me, at least) are curious about
how far along they are on that fabled million words or how long ago they
passed it by. So, in the spirit of NaNo-ly procrastination, I totaled
up my lifetime word count (as an adult; I didn't count the stories and
plays I wrote in elementary school :-D).
non-writers, numbers of words might not really mean anything. How much
is 50,000 words? How much is 1000 words, a million words? Here are some
examples to give some idea of scale, of word counts of famous novels
(from this site):
Harry Potter and the Philospher's/Sorcerer's Stone: 77,325
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198,227
The Hobbit: 95,022
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 30,644
Nineteen Eighty-Four: 88,942
To Kill a Mockingbird: 99,121
Fahrenheit 451: 46,118
Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 455,125
A Game of Thrones: 284,000 (from here)
Brave New World: 63,766
first I looked up how to add columns in a spreadsheet. (More
procrastination; plus I'm pretty clueless about spreadsheets.) I only
counted the latest version of each work, instead of earlier drafts, so
there are a lot of cut scenes that didn't get counted. In cases where I
re-wrote something from scratch, I did count both the earlier, abandoned
version and the new version. I counted novels, novellas, short stories,
and story fragments, but not my handful of poems because writing poetry
is a completely different discipline from writing prose fiction. Also,
it isn't that many words. And I am most definitely not a poet. :-P
counting that way, my lifetime word count between 1990 and 2013 is
1,614,156 (counting the novel I wrote in November; I added it in when it
was done). Well past the million-word mark, you'll notice.
Broken down further:
1990-2000: 444,095 words
2000-2008 (when I began writing fanfiction through the last year before I seriously did NaNoWriMo for the first time): 405,878
2009-2013 (when I got a big creative kick from completing NaNo for the first time through the present): 632,176.
you're adding along with me, you'll notice I passed 1,000,000 words
sometime in 2010. As for when my writing graduated from "crap" to "not
crap," I like to think it happened (if I say so myself, if it doesn't
seem like I'm being arrogant to assume that my writing has made that
shift) sometime in the early 2000s, when I was turning out large
quantities of fanfiction on a regular basis. Lots of writing in a short
period of time with close attention to quality will elevate the level of
your writing, no matter where it starts out.
This year, 2013, has been my best writing year ever, with 271,303 words. 195,927 of those words are books 2-6 of the Daughter of the Wildings series.
I expect to add quite a few words when I revise (I generally tend to
"write short" and then fill out details in revision), so my lifetime
word count will go up by the time that series is ready for publication.
got me back into writing at a time when I had lost heart for writing
for a few years, and from 2000-2003 I wrote a great deal of fanfic.
405,878 words of it. I also wrote the original version of Chosen of Azara
during this time, about 70,000 words, but I counted that in my
2009-2013 output because I re-wrote it pretty extensively this year and
last year and extended it to 81,000 words. My lifetime fanfiction total
is 632,176 words and original fiction total is 981,980. All those words
of fanfiction were a significant factor in reaching the first million
words, and I think I improved a lot as a writer while writing them. My
experience with fanfiction is another post for another time, but I will
say that, even though I keep my fanfic writer identity separate from my
identity here, writing all that fic helped make me the writer I am
today. (For whatever that's worth!)
Among the pre-2000 output are
my first two complete novels; the second one is actually a sequel to
the first and I had totally forgotten that I had finished it. So that
was an interesting surprise to come across! I plan on evaluating them to
see if they're worth revising and publishing; I think they probably
are. There are also some fragments of novels set in the same world as Chosen of Azara, that I'm looking forward to developing and completing. Once Daughter of the Wildings is into the final revision stages and being released, sometime next year, I'll start on those.
On to two million!
(Image credit: Zsuzsanna Kilian, stock.xchng)