There's this saying, I traced it down once but have forgotten the source again, that before you can write anything good, you have to write a million words of crap.

Well I've done it. I'm guessing that most writers hit this number without much difficulty fairly early on in their lives/careers, but it's hard keep records and do proper accounting of this data. And let's be frank, it's kind of a stupid thing to track. While I'm definitely a better writer these days than I was even 2 years ago, I know that I have a lot more to learn.

In any case, I have a firm account of a million words of crap that I've written in the last 10 years or so:

  • this wiki, mostly rhizome accounts for a bit more than 800,000 words.
  • I wrote a novel in 2002 and 2003 that now exists primarily as a paper volume in a zippered binder that I use as a foot rest. That was 100,000 words.
  • Since September 26, 2011 I've written a bit under 101,500 words for my work. The number is slightly inflated on account of code samples, some repetitive sections, and a few articles that colleagues wrote that I did some significant editing/rewriting.
  • Between June 2009 and May 2011, I wrote somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 words for a previous job (again some measure of redundant content, other people's work, and code samples makes this figure hard to track.)
  • The Knowing Mars novella that I wrote between July 2007 and ~March 2008 is about 35,000 words.
  • The novel that I finished the first draft of few weeks ago is about 85,000 words.
  • I'm 35,000 words into the first draft of a technical book-like object.
  • I have 10,000 words in a couple of other projects.

Which puts me way way way, over (what? 1,300,000.) I wonder when I broke the million word mark?

Some observations on writing.

  • I still make all kinds of writing mistakes that I find embarrassing and difficult. Particularly with fiction (which probably only accounts for 200,000-250,000 words,) I feel incredibly clumsy.

  • At the same time, as long as I have a clear idea of what a piece of text needs to say, I'm reasonably comfortable pulling together a draft without much fuss. Sometimes figuring out what I need to say involves a bunch of reading and long walk, but it's possible.

  • I'm getting better at writing less. Writing concisely is hard work and it's easy to get into the habit of generating "word stew" that don't say anything useful and are impenetrable to read.

  • Writing is hard. I've always been an awful speller and I have some dyslexic moments, but--as longtime readers of the blog have surely noticed--I'm getting way better and writing cleaner copy.

    Editing other peoples writing on a regular basis has also been enlightening because it allows me to put things in perspective, and be able to see value in what I can do with words. Also it's cool to be able to help other people write.

  • This is totally a correlation, but I pretty much never write anything longhand, and I think I'm a better writer for it. The downside is that I'm incredibly dependent on my own computer and its setup to do anything.

Onward and Upward!