My Second Million Words

I know this post is totally off the wall. I’m procrastinating. I should be writing an outline. 🙂

I know a writer who is very mathematical when it comes to her stories and novels. She uses spreadsheets to map out how many words each chapter contains, and strives to have each one uniform, with almost the same amount of words or pages.

She knows exactly how many words are on each page, and how many she writes in a day. Using a spreadsheet, she can easily add up all the words she has ever written.

I’m not quite that logical. In fact, some of my chapters are considerably smaller than others. Some of my articles are considerably longer, especially if I get on a tear and really start to rant.

They (who?) say your second million words are better than your first million. The first million is mostly crap, as I can attest. I suppose this theory is based in part on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. This book explores the premise that in order to be good at anything, one must practice the activity for at least 10,000 hours. Roughly speaking, at 40 hours a week, that’s about ten years of work.

Translated to writing (I only WISH I had 40 hours a week to write!), a prolific writer might hit a million words in a few years. I decided to add up my words while waiting for a guy to give me a quote on replacing my fence.

While blogging at the ominous Orange Haze at the far end of the Internet, I probably wrote 1,000 words a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. In a little more than two years, I figure my word count for the Orange Bubble was around 500K. When I look back, much of it was not very “literary” but it was awfully damned fun.

Add to the early blogging one very large, epic, and completely unreadable novel of 175K, another around 100K, and a novella of 40K, and three WIP in the 20-40K range (they are all related to each other, so I’m doing them in tandem), my blog here, my work elsewhere, and we are talking about a substantial pile of words. If you toss on that stack everything I’ve ever written, including the folk songs of the 1970s, the 900 love letters of the 1980s (to my husband), and the myriad of letters to teachers excusing my kids for orthodontia and begging their forgiveness for my kids’ rowdiness in the 1990s, I’m fairly confident that my lifetime total word count is well over a million.


Now that it’s been established that I’m on my second million words, I think it’s time to concentrate on quality, not quantity. Although there is something positive to be said about an embarrassment of words. Too many, and you can cut. Too few, and you have to kick the imagination into gear to fill in those missing moments.

It’s also time to get serious. Which is why I’m now going back to my outline.



What’s Worse? Too Much? or Too Little?

Stored in my computer are five works in progress in various stages of dress. (I will call them ‘works in progress’ until one of them is printed.) Some need to be dressed up, while one in particular needs to shed almost all its clothes.

My first novel took me just over two years to write. True, I am a lackadaiscal, lazy writer with a Real World life crammed full of too many Things to Do, and in such an environment, it is difficult if not impossible to find three or more hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet. If a person wants to attach blame to anything, it’s fairly easy to do. Looking back, my biggest problem was an attachment to the work. The first book was a labor of love.

Writers can be personally attached to their work. In the creative world, what flows from minds and fingers is the birthing of your very own baby. I get that. I have witnessed writers, artists, actors and others who take themselves and their craft with seriousness. They are dismayed at bad reviews and critique.

I view writing (and any creativity) with the same outlook that I have on life: I am doing the best I can, and I won’t turn away any advice. If you are so wrapped up in your work that you believe it to be perfection, you may miss a jewel coming from a fresh pair of eyes.

My first novel was excruciatingly long. At 175K words, it might be considered an epic tome. During the first pass-through edit, I managed to eliminate 8K words just by taking out adverbs. Still, it’s not enough. The story is still good, I just need to tell it with far fewer words.

On the other hand, my current piece was completed during NaNoWriMo and topped out at just over 50K. Too short — I would prefer the finished work-in-progress to end up between 75K- 90K, the desired word count for a chick-lit romance. I know I was writing as fast as I could, with storylines and ideas stored in the brain while I pumped out the bones in thirty days. December was spent editing and adding. I am currently through the fourth edit, and still a bit shy of the target, although the story is strengthening with each pass.

Which brings us to the question of the day: Is it better to have too much or too little?

From personal experience (and I’m sure other writers will agree), I’m thinking too little is easier to bear. Performing major surgery such as the type I need to do on WIP #1 is going to be brutal. This is why I’ve been able to look at it only a few times in the last year.

I’m going to force myself to wield the knife. Soon. As soon as I finish adding to my current work. I’ll remember for the next project that less is definitely more.