You know that bit about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. Well, in the fiction writing world, the equivalent number is widely (and unscientifically) said to be one million words. Yes, any writer needs to pound out his or her "million words of crap," and by then the results should be salable. That's when a writing career might commence in earnest.
Personally, I don't believe that fiction and non-fiction fluency overlap well. The voices, strategies, objectives, and other elements of composition are usually very different. I've been a full-time non-fiction writer since 1998, but that hasn't seemed to carry any relevance for my fiction pursuits. So when I sit down to wonder where I'm at on that million-word mission, I have to throw out that whole side of my life, including all of those school essays.
What's that leave? Well, let's consider high school. I mean, that's where you're supposed to take your first steps in understanding the craft of fiction writing, yes? We could figure perhaps one thousand words of composed fiction per month. Eight months per grade. Four years. That's maybe 30,000 words in high school. Wow...it sure seemed like more at the time.
College? I took as many fiction writing classes as I could stomach, including the Playwriting sequence from the Drama department. (For the record, I learned more about crafting fiction from Playwriting than every other writing class I've ever taken combined.) Two years of classes, say. One per term. Ten thousand words per class. That's probably being generous. Let's call it 40,000 words for college.
Then my twenties.I started a handful of books and wrote a bunch of stories, some of which were completed, one of which got accepted somewhere. Let's say 20 projects that averaged...ohhhhh...4000 words each. Another 80,000 words.
By then, my life veered into a career in computing and journalism, and my fiction efforts went on hold. I can ballpark 150,000 words for what I might call Phase 1, which spanned ten to twelve years.
By the start of 2012, I was beginning to have an inkling of the direction I wanted to go with fiction and how I was going to do it. In that year, I produced two non-fiction books (not counted here) along with two short stories and a novelette. Total fiction: 35,000 words.
When 2013 rolled around, I got serious about tracking numbers. I wrote 212,000 words of fiction on PCs and another 41,000 on my phone. Of course, not all (or even most) of this was published. This is only first draft material, some of which got round filed before being completed. But that's the way it goes. Rough total for 2013: 250,000 words.
For various reasons, I'm off to a slow start in 2014 and just passed the 100,000-word mark. That puts me at about 535,000 words out of my first million. But I should cross the million mark sometime in the second half of 2015. Will the stuff I publish before that point be salable? Will it be "any good"? I can't tell you. I hope so. I'm trying as best I know how to create enjoyable stories that are at least worth the price of a latte. But along the way, I keep thinking and studying and endeavoring to become better. By 2016, I hope my works will speak for themselves.
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.