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.



A Quick Post by Your Local Spelling Cop

Since my plane is delayed an hour due to Air Traffic Control mayhem somewhere in the country (where, I am not sure, since the weather here in Dallas is splendiforous), I thought I would quickly pound out a post on spelling.

Yes, my friends, S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G.

In my other incarnation on another site, the supposed fun-loving participants would be at war with the contingent that was known as the Grammar Police. I thought it funny at the time, but when I first started out, I made the common lazy mistakes of posting in all lower case and using cutesy abbreviations for words. This is what the cell phone and text messaging has done to civilization. It’s all sound bites and globs of letters that need to buy a vowel. I wised up rather quickly. You have to if you want people to believe you are a real writer.

It is my opinion that as a modern people, we have become woefully negligent to this very important feature of language. Proper spelling is not only essential to the continuation of the civilization, it is a necessary component for writers everywhere.

Before pooh-poohing my theory, just think: Without words, there would be no sentences. Without sentences, there would be no paragraphs. Paragraphs are necessary for the building of stories both small and large. I  know, I know. There are other considerations, like grammar, story arcs, sympathetic protagonists, developmental tension and the like. However, every good (and bad) book starts with a single word, and if the word is misspelled, oy vay.

Next to the protection of homophones (there-they’re-their), my interest in spelling is long-lived. Blame it on the fact that my parents did not have much money for books, but they did manage to buy a set of encyclopedias (for those who are 1960’s challenged, that’s like Wikipedia bound in twenty-six ten-pound tomes in leather), a thesaurus and a dictionary. My kids will dispute this simply because they cannot fathom it (modern whippersnappers!) but I actually read the entire encyclopedia and the dictionary JUST FOR FUN. My devotion to the written word was complete when I gained a place at the Colorado State Spelling Bee in 7th grade. (I didn’t win, but I didn’t place last either. I was comfortably just south of the 50% mark.)

I cringe when I see misspelled words. I also gleefully inform the miscreant who maligned the word. I’m sorry, but that’s what a spelling cop does. I used to write letters to the editors of major newspapers regarding poor spelling in their articles or would call the local TV station when banners contained misspelled words.

I thought I would die of a fit when my oldest son was in elementary school back in the mid-1990’s. Back then, the fad in spelling was “inventive” spelling. This meant the kids were supposed to attempt spelling a word by sounds only. Not phonics, the kids were encouraged to scramble any and all combination of letters into a soupy and wrong, wrong, wrong word. The only way to learn how to spell a word is to write and re-write it a few dozen times. This is how I learned – my mother was Japanese and her English wasn’t perfect – and this is how my son learned. He didn’t like it, but hey, that’s what parents are for.

Even with my advancing age and pre-Alzheimery mind, I can still outspell just about everyone. The brain as a tool isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and I admit it. I’ve even re-read things I have posted online to find that I’ve misspelled a word. (Horrors!) A quick email to the online editor usually fixes the problem.

Here is another secret: One cannot rely on spell check to pull his/her sorry ass out of the fire. Been there, done that.

My advice? Take a word, any word you aren’t familiar with. Take one a day. Learn how to spell it correctly and learn how to use it in a sentence. Try to incorporate it into your writing. Get rid of one of the tired old stand-bys you’ve been using since the dawning of age. Bathe in the glory of your new-found acquisition, and breathe easy that the spelling cop will be passing you by the next time she feels an urge to write you a citation.