Here’s a sobering thought. For a writer, your first million words will be practice. That’s about how many words you’ll need before you start getting it consistently right.
“A million?” you might shriek, outraged. (Or uncontrollably sob in a low, choked voice.) “Are you sure? You didn’t mean a thousand words? I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about mastering a foreign tongue here, or learning Martian. These is the same language I’ve been speaking ever since I first learned to say ‘Me want juice’. Surely writing must come naturally?”
Now, here’s the disappointment. It doesn’t. There are so many people who are great talkers – wonderful orators, whose golden prose flows smoothly, even poetically from their lips, whose command of their spoken language is nothing short of superb. But put a pen (or keyboard) in their hand and it all changes. Their voice is lost. The writing that fills the page doesn’t sound like them at all. It is clunky and labored; a confused mire of words with grammatical errors jutting out like broken boards.
Like any skill, writing takes practice. You need to write and write, and then write some more before your work will develop a voice. This means it’s not only clear, descriptive, well-worded and error-free, but that it showcases your own individual style of writing. How your voice develops is up to you. You might develop a lyrical, poetic style of writing. Your words could crackle with wicked humor. You might prefer a concise, punchy style – but it will end up being a reflection of your personality on paper.
A million words is a thousand 1000-word articles. It’s ten 100,000-word manuscripts. It’s a cupboard stuffed full of random jottings and half-finished ideas and chapters one to three, saved on discarded hard drives or painstakingly written in actual paper notebooks. Some lucky writers might find it takes them fewer words than this, and others may start producing great, publishable work long before the million word target is reached.
It doesn’t matter what you write. You can keep a diary, or write short stories, or email your friends. You can put together descriptive Facebook posts, or start a novel, or even turn your hand to non-fiction. Every single word will help. Each sentence will hone your craft. Every criticism and edit will nudge you along your journey to perfection, even though these nudges may sting at the time.
Keep writing and keep practicing, because a journey of a million words starts with that first “Once upon a time”.