There’s an old adage that says “Quality over quantity.” I suppose this applies to writing as well, or does it?
There’s a related adage that says, “Practice makes perfect.”
Well, no, not really, because if you’re practicing incorrectly you’ll never become perfect. But, if you’re practicing with a mind focus toward improvement, using a work ethic that pushes you to create a better end result, then yes, you’re on the way toward possible perfection.
Sometimes we read about overnight successes and wonder why that hasn’t happened to us. An author submits their first novel and it’s accepted right away, or rockets to the top of the sales lists.
What we fail to recognize is how many years it took them to get the book done in the first place. How many books did they write and never submit? How many story ideas ended up in the trash? How many times did they rewrite every single scene in that “overnight success” book?
Write, Write, Write
I submit to you that authors need to simply buckle down and write.
Finished a novel? Write another one. Submitted a novel? Good for you, now get back to writing.
There seems to be a critical mass a writer needs to develop. It’s not true in every single case, but so often you find out that a writer has been slogging away in obscurity for years before they make their first sale. It’s akin to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from his book Outliers. The idea that you need to put in your time to become an expert at something, and then you need to put in even more time to become phenomenal.
Here are some anecdotes that spring to mind.
- Ray Bradbury once wrote an essay about how he got rejected 500 times before he got his first acceptance.
- J.R.R. Tolkien created entire languages, cultures, and a world before writing the Lord of the Rings. He produced ream after ream after ream of notes, history, and character development.
- Isaac Asimov once said that a writer needs about a million words of prose under his belt before he’s ready to be published.
- I met a young man at a recent writing workshop who’d never written anything before five years ago. Since then, he’s written over 1.4 million words.
- Robert Silverberg once said that he once wrote about a million words per year.
Now, you can say that most of the examples above are the cream of the crop type author. I would agree. However, the point is these authors produced and kept on producing.
Was everything they wrote worth publishing? Nope. I’m pretty sure each of these authors produced more unpublished works than published. They understood that a writer’s job is to write. Sure, times have changed, and we’re told we need to worry about marketing, and creating a buzz through social networks (an idea that J.A. Konrath might take exception to), but our real job is to write.
The more you write, the better you’ll get. Those millions of words will have a cumulative affect as we work on honing our craft. Every story will be a little better than the ones before. Each chapter more coherent. Each paragraph more pointed. Each sentence tighter.
Have you crafted a million words? What are you waiting for?