the million word mark


2012. Best damn firework photo I ever took. =’)

THE COVETED MILLION WORD MARK! It turns out, I have passed it!

For decades a concept has floated around the writing world (upon further investigation, primarily the SF/F world) that you’ve got to write about a million words to reach competency. There is no real consensus on whether this concept originated with one speaker, or independently surfaced amongst several speakers across the field. This was a nice little investigation by another blogger.

Take it as you will. I’ve seen some heated debate on the topic, but ultimately it is an arbitrary number used to emphasize one point: you have to write to learn to write. And not just slop words around, but write projects to completion and then take the lessons learned and apply them to your next project. Some folks will write and rewrite the same first novel and it’ll finally be brilliant and everyone will consider them the geniuses who published their first novels. Other folks will write dozens of books to formula and never really improve (though they may also be publishable). Whatever. There are never any real rules.


It is a big, lovely, round number, and in a field where tracking word count is a professional obsession, it is a pretty gratifying benchmark to reach.

Around 4 a.m. this morning (while I was dicking around on the computer wondering why I can’t sleep on the weekends), I decided to start a spreadsheet to track my writing history. Because spreadsheets, duh! At first I was just going to start tracking my weekly word count, in an effort to analyze the effectiveness of different writing habits. Then I decided, eff it, how much have I written overall? I trawled through all of my old files and worked up a tidy list.

The main criteria: finished projects. The dozens of half-started ideas don’t count, nor do blogs, academic papers, or other non-fiction. I’m sure all of that helps, but it wasn’t what I was interested in here. I only made exception for two unfinished projects– because they were 90% done and I deserve the credit for those 200,000 words, dangit!! Why didn’t I finish them? Who knows. I wandered off and never returned.

I applied AutoSum and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had already exceeded a million words. In fact, it is just over a million in novels, and about 120K in short stories. Nice! Technically this counts from 1998-2014, but the vast majority was 2005-2014. I just could not disinherit the original three 40-60K novel(la?)s of my youth. The regrettable short stories of junior high, sure, but the novels, never! So, a million words in ten years, several years of which were total droughts– I can live with that!

Most of it is absolutely cringe-worthy stuff (including some bloated 160K monsters from high school because I did not understand word count and thought 400 pages single-spaced was the same as 400 pages in a printed book). But that’s the point, isn’t it? I learned something from each one of those trunk monsters, and I’m finally at a point where I feel competent. More than competent: genuinely excited to share projects with other people, even if they are going to come back rife with constructive criticism.

Now I’m going to stop looking at my list of words and actually write some new ones. I’ve got about ten hours till the hubby gets home from work, let’s see what I can do!