So I’ve been watching a lot of lectures and presentations lately about the art of storytelling and story structure and creativity and, and, and… well, I’ve been watching a lot of lectures and presentations lately. Why? Well, I’m still thinking about rejection letters (see this post) and how, apparently, my stories are consistently well written, but I’m still missing something.
Watching all of this video, I’m frequently running into the Henry Miller quote, “You have to write a million words before you find your voice as a writer.” Because I’m a genre fiction writer, I also keep coming you to the David Gerrold version, “Your first million words are for practice. They don’t count. Remember that.”
A million words. Specifically, your first million, more or less, is what it will take to really learn the craft. Well, obsessed with numbers as I am, I have writing logs that go back to when I first started to get serious about writing, on 15 August 2007. Totalling things up and counting new words only, I broke the million barrier sometime in May of 2011. I say sometime as for a while, I didn’t count blogging as writing, so the number is a bit muddy. Regardless, I’m hovering around a million and a quarter right now, so I’ve apparently put in the work to get good at the craft of writing.
And I’d like to think that’s true. Aside from all of the “well written” rejection notices, I think my prose is pretty solid. I’m ruthless in chopping out unneeded words and careful at choosing the needed ones. I can set the scene and I engage more senses than just eyesight and I’ve gotten rid of ‘that’, dialogue tags, and most instances of the verb ‘to be’. Over the past five years, I think I’ve found my own voice in writing, and that’s a good thing.
But I’ve still got a lot to learn.
Sprinkled through those rejections are the occasional comments like “too linear”, “predictable”, “didn’t quite work for me”. Not all the time, but often enough that they’re worth looking at as a whole. And, looking carefully and critically at the stories they were applied to, and a number of others, sometimes I have to agree.
The conclusion: I’m not where I want to be as a storyteller yet.
Sometimes I am. Sometimes I really nail it and sometimes when I do, I can feel it before I’ve finished the first draft. Sometimes I have to beat the story into shape. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much beating and polishing and editing I do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well written it is. Sometimes the story just isn’t there or isn’t right.
That’s what I need to work on.
Consistency is key. So is hard work. I’m not afraid of the latter so I need to apply that fearlessness to the former.
I had a word count goal in mind for 2013. It was solid, and a good stretch, but not one I haven’t managed before, but I’m going to erase it from the 2013 Goals list and focus on stories rather than words. Each and every story I write, whatever the length, needs to absolutely rock.
That’s the goal.