Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Practice, Practice, Practice

I know, I know. You're probably like, "Ugh, really?" Yeah, really.

You may or may not have heard of this whole it-takes-10,000-hours-of-practice-to-become-a-master thing.

I've heard of it. (There's an article here.)

I haven't spent 10,000 hours writing in the past three years. Therefore, I still have many things to learn. I have, however, spent a lot of time practicing.

In writing, though, I think it's more about how many words/novels you've written, than actual hours in front of the computer. I mean, let's face it, twitter and Facebook can hardly be counted as "practice."

So I decided to open up all my old manuscripts and add up the words I've written. This is in no way a formula to say that if you write this many words, you'll be a master. As I said, I still have much to learn.

But I have written 1,024,766 words. (And with titles like ELITE (I totally forgot about that one), PLACEHOLDERS, and PASSIVE ACCELERATION you know these are real winners, people. *lol*)

(And holy brown cow aside: That's over a million words. And it's no wonder. I opened my "working drafts" folder where I've saved everything I've ever written. There's a lot in there. Short stories (4). Complete novels (13). Incomplete novels (6). Not to mention the query letters, synops, etc. (which I didn't count) Dude. Yeah, that's all. Dude.)

I do think that with each book you write, you become a better storyteller. You learn where to place things. You get a "feel" for how you write, how you storytell, how you can craft a novel from words into meaning.

So you have to keep writing. Even if you don't finish the books (I have six I've started and never finished. They need so much work to even make them finishable, that I just quit. Am I a quitter? Absolutely.), even if they don't get published, they're still beneficial.

I believe this will every fiber of my being. Tiger Woods doesn't look back and go, "Man, I wasted a whole bunch of time practicing my putting."

We shouldn't think of our practice novels as wasted time either. They're practice. And we need 10,000 hours of practice before we're truly masters.

Guess I better get back to it. I have about 64,000 more hours to go...

Have you ever felt like your practice novels were a waste of time? How many hours have you practiced your writing? How many words have you written?

Also, go check out this new blog called "Dear Teen Me." I was lucky enough to be invited to participate, and I can't wait to read all the awesome from authors as they write letters to their teen selves.

64 comments:

Teresa aka JW said...

What great and helpful insight into your writing world.

I hope I never consider all my writing (rejects) are a waste of time. Frankly, if they didn't get out of my brain and on paper (computer screen) i would go insane. I write. I stuff folders.

T

Jemi Fraser said...

I have fond memories of all my writing. I don't know if I want to look at some of them ever again though :)

kellyhashway said...

I don't think writing is ever a waste of time. I'm the type that has to finish what I start though--even if only for me. I couldn't even imagine my word count if I added everything. I haven't written anywhere near 13 books, but between all my short stories, picture books, articles, and novels, I'm sure it would still add up.

Renae said...

I cringe when I look at some of my past writing, but you are so right that they are necessary in order to become better writers.

Love the new look of your blog!

Jess of All Trades said...

Happy December! An editor...or agent blogger.. Grah! I'm lame. I can't remember which one. One of the famous ones...recently had a post that talked about 'your first one million words' and how it's like turning on the garden hose after winter. You have to run it for a minute to clean out all the leaves, spider webs and dust... for a writer, that's like your first million words. You have to run the words for awhile before you get to the good, sparkly clear stuff.

So you're There, babe ;) Great post. I think I will tally up my word count too... :D

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm scared to see how many words I'm written, but I consider them all worth it. I notice a difference in how I'm approaching my current first draft. I think all those books are coming back to haunt me. All their writerly advice are whispering words of wisdom in my head. Okay, that's making for a slow first draft, but that's okay. Now it won't need as many rounds of revisions as my last book. ;)

Christina Lee said...

*runs to count* I've heard of the million words saying, not the 10,000 hours. Regardless, it all makes sense!

lbdiamond said...

Woo-hoo, 1 million words! :D

Practice IS necessary. I've been practicing for over two years, lol! Still need a ton more. ;)

Jamie Grey said...

It feels like I've been practicing forever, but I know I can always use more! I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with millions of words that will never be used.

I don't regret any of them either, even if they do make me cringe when I look back at them :)

Joanna St. James said...

I get that whole practice thing. I just started actively writing in June, but somewhere inbetween i took like a 2 week break the book I started after the break felt like I had regressed in my writing.

Michelle McLean said...

I LOVED Elite LOL but yeah, practice makes publishable (as I like to say LOL) I've noticed myself getting better and better the more I write. I'm doing a rewrite of my very first novel. It was okay, good base story, love my characters, but holy cow did it need work. I've almost entirely rewritten it and it is soooo much better now. When I first wrote it, I had no idea about pacing and crafting a story to keep up the suspense and even simple things like using adverbs sparingly and adding action into dialogue.....I've learned so much since I first started writing. Every word I've ever written, whether it was crap or not, has been worth it :)

Emily White said...

Great point! It's so easy for me to look at those years I spent writing pure drivel a waste, but when you put it the way you have, I actually feel like I accomplished something! :D

Quinn said...

I don't think a practice novel could ever be a waste of time. Having said that, I don't set out to write practice novels.

I first tried to write a novel when I was 14. I did characters sketches and outlined and planned. When it became clear to me that it wasn't going to work (it was too complicated), I shelved it and didn't write it. The second novel I tried to write, I realized had logic problems that couldn't be resolved. I stopped working on it.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not going to spend the time writing a novel if I don't think it could get published. That's not to say that I haven't gotten practice from writing the 2 books that I have written, but I wouldn't continue working on a novel if I knew it was just practice.

Em-Musing said...

Practice novels? Aw...I've loved each and every one. They'e my little babies who I've hidden in the closet. NO! Not "real" babies.

Christine Fonseca said...

Definitely no wasted time...not one word or minute!@

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

Stephen King says it's a million words so go you!

Now i'm curious to check my word counts, but i'm not sure if all of my older work is available digitally. I'll have to look

Matthew Rush said...

Wait. So going on for 477,000 odd words in my first draft of my first novel makes me awesome? That's great! Thanks Elana, you rock!

And yeah, that's a lot of words. Way to go.

Trisha Wolfe said...

Elana, you so nailed it! I tell so many writers to keep going, let that first novel simmer. Query it if you must, but don't stop writing while you query, move on to your next book. Write WHILE you query. After you've written a few novels, you get better, the story, characters, your witting in general. I'm half way done with my rough draft of my third novel. Whoa, my first I finished last year around this time and yeah, it was a hot mess lol. But I learned so much from writing it. My second seems as if another person altogether wrote it ha! And the one I'm working on now, I have a feeling that it just may make it. Great post! It's the truth as I see it =)

Angela Felsted said...

It helps to know I'm not the only one who starts things but doesn't always finish.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I still go through bouts of feeling like my practice novels are a waste of time. Then I think about what my husband said to me when I was deliberating over whether to write something that I don't think of as "high quality" in a literary sense, but that I thought could maybe be commercial (maybe).

He said: "Look, if you're not sure if it will be good, and you know your first novel will be crappy anyway because it's your first novel, just write it now and make it your crappy novel."

Wise words.

Summer said...

I stopped adding around a half-million, because there was still way too much to go, even on the computer. Then again, I've been writing for 15 years, and about 85% of that is all handwritten, and there's no way you could pay me to count up each one of those words.

Then of course there were all the papers I wrote as an English major...

So, practice. Yeah, I still do it. All the time. And I always will.

Karen Akins said...

"What you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write (at least this is my view) at our age, so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on." - C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves

One of my favorite quotes.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

I LOVE this post!

No word, sentence, half story or story is a waste. I learn more each time and still feel I only hit the tip of the iceburg.

I'm curious and going to add up words now lol.

Katy Longshore said...

I think it's one of the things we all love about what we do: we keep learning as we go along. Every day is new. (though I'm sure there are going to be things 3 books from now that I wish I had applied to the one I'm writing now...)

Tina Lynn said...

There was a time when I'd get all down in the dumps and think that I've wasted my time with something, but those days are gone. I always learn something. And admittedly I steal lines from other never-to-be-seen manuscripts when they seem perfect for a situation in my current work. So, if nothing else I have a supply of unused perfectly composed one-liners :)

Steena Holmes said...

Don't think I've said it yet - but love the new look of the blog!

Today is a day for inspiration for me. Every blog I read enhances and encourages my need to write. Thank you!

E. Arroyo said...

I loved my first novel...all 140,00o words bulging with adverbs, passive verbs and commas all over the place. Waste of time? Never. It's looking back at those flaws that makes me better. I'm still working on it, though I have moved on. Great Post!

Shari said...

At first I felt kind of like a loser because I haven't written anywhere near the amount of hours and words that you mentioned. However, after thinking about it, Everything I have written has taught me something and made me a better writer, so thanks for reminding me.

Sara B. Larson said...

Since my earliest books were handwritten as a child, I'm not about to try and count up all my words. But it's a TON. And yes, I have definitely grown as an author. BIG TIME. The practice never ends. Hopefully we just all keep getting better. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

I don't think my practice novels were a waste of time. I needed to write that badly in order to learn how to write better. I want to always learn how to write better. I never want to become complacent.

And trust me, some of my early attempts were just awful. Like the pages need to be burned offer.

Julie Musil said...

I just left an empty comment. Still getting used to my iPhone!

I've heard "nothing is wasted" and it makes sense to me. I've made a lot of progress from book to book, and I'm grateful for the growth.

Carol Riggs said...

I've also heard a million words, so you've made it, E! I'm pretty close to that myself, having written 16 novels plus assorted other stuff. I know the first 10 novels were just practice, maybe more. I don't mind at all, because I KNOW I'm getting better (cuz I look at my old stuff and gag).

We discussed this recently at an Oregon SCBWI conference, and one published writer pointed out that it isn't necessarily sheer masses of #s or time. She said a writer had to be LEARNING during that time, and changing. I think that's the key. If all you're doing is the same thing for 10 years and a million words, nothing is accomplished!

Nicole L Rivera said...

I shutter at the thought. I've got 4 manuscripts under my belt, at least that many short stories, and hundreds of blog posts. I've recently learned to let go and have shelved my first two manuscripts for the time being. I am working on editing the last two and preparing them for a conference in March. Not to mention I have two more book ideas I need to get cracking on in the New Year.
How many years did it take you to write 19 manuscripts?! I'm going on a year and a half and I'm at four (last two still need edits). I think you said before it was 3 years and in that case man are you amazing!! I need to start practicing more, Lol. (I don't have a job or kids so I really have no excuse. Does an addiction to Teen Mom count?)
You are an inspiration. Time to hit the manuscripts.

Patti said...

I've only written two, so I think I need to get a lot more practice behind me.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

One time I started adding up all the words I'd used just for all the revisions of my current MS and I stopped counting when I hit the million mark (yeah, I'm a quitter at counting--too boring) And that's just ONE book. That doesn't count the horrible screenplays I've written or the two novels I stopped writing or the short stories or yeah...

There's a whole lot of useless word vomit. But it's okay, because I am a better writer thanks to all of that. Well...I hope I am. ;)

Marsha Sigman said...

I'm scared to count. I have a huge file that includes articles, short stories and full manuscripts but I agree that none of it was a waste of time. I can see the improvement, actually feel it when I'm writing now so it was all worth it.

Donea Lee said...

I have more starts than finishes, but I never ever think they are a waste of time. If nothing else, it's like a "History of Me". A collection of thoughts and ideas from different years of my life. There's progression in talent (I hope) to be seen there. And who knows! You could go back to something your wrote 5 or more years ago, remember how you loved it, and be in a better position to make it sing this time! As for how many words I've written...don't think I'm quite to 1 million, but possibly close. :)

melissa said...

Great advice! It's true that even if my first attempt at a novel never makes it to print, I have learned a lot from it.

Magan said...

In this word count excercise, did you include how much you took out or added with editing? You might actually double your numbers! (I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing...er...)

Valerie Geary said...

Tiger Woods might regret a lot of things in his life, but definitely not the amount of time he spent practicing his putting! :) Good post, Elana!

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Mary Kole at kidlit.com recently did a blog post about needing to write at least a million bad words in order to be publishable. So, yay! You've officially made it!!

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting point--when it comes to writing, I agree. I think that words/novels are more important than the time you spend.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I love Malcom Gladwell.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Every failed attempt, every new attempt, every everything helps add a layer of wisdom and skill that wasn't there before. As a writer, no word is wasted. It was just a part of sharpening our skill blade. :-)

BTW, I meant to say this yesterday:

I LOVE THE NEW BLOG LOOK!!!! It's awesome, Elana.

Susan R. Mills said...

I recently added up all the words I'd written too. I didn't have quite as many as you (750,000 or so), but I'm getting there. I had to laugh at some of the earlier things. I totally agree--none of it was a waste of time.

ali said...

You're a ROCKSTAR, E.

That is all.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My first one was a waste! Glad I rewrote it though.
However, I'm still short of few hours...

Heather said...

Wow Elana, that is a LOT of words! I'm really impressed! What an excellent post and a great reminder that all our work is helping us improve, even if it isn't published. I've never added up all of mine. You've got me curious. I'm off to do that!

Liesl said...

I blogged about this very thing earlier this year:
http://writerropes.blogspot.com/2010/01/10000-hour-rule.html

Outliers is an awesome book, one of my favorite non-fictions reads.

I also think it's important to not only practice, but to practice well, and in writing terms to me that means hardcore revision of literary vomit. I tend to vomit a lot.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Weronika says it takes a million words for writers. You're there!!

Krispy said...

Sometimes it feels like a waste of time, but if it's PRACTICE, well then... I'm glad all that random stuff I wrote in high school counts for something. :)

Melissa said...

I've only finished one novel so I don't really think I can answer you're questions today.

But holy crow! Congratulations on having over a million words. That's insane!

Lisa Potts said...

Oh, I need a lot more practice and I'm so glad I'm not the only "quitter". "Dear Teen Me" looks like a whole lotta wonderful.

Thanks again, Elana, for telling me exactly what I needed to hear. (How do you DO that? Are you psychic?)

Tyrean Martinson said...

I love writing. I have no idea how many words I've written. I know I've finished and re-written one particular novel to its death, and it still isn't publishable. I have three others I've started, and one I just wrote at full speed with NaNoWriMo. I loved writing all of it. Even the crummy bad stuff that few people will ever read.
I don't want to write practice novels, but I love writing and it certainly does take the pressure off to realize that I need to practice, and practice, and practice.
The thing is, even when I quit, I don't really quit. I come back to those plots and characters sometimes and play with them again, or find a new place for them in a totally new story. Maybe some of my ideas need practice too.

Thanks for the great post!

Meredith said...

I always hate it when a novel I've been working on turns into something that will never see the light of day, but I should remember that all practice is worth it. Thanks, Elana!

Lydia Kang said...

I have nothing but gratitude for my practice novels.
:)

Theresa Milstein said...

Over 1 million words?! You rock.

When I have time, I'm going to count up all of mine too. And that won't be counting drafts because I don't save those.

I heard about the 10k hours about a year ago, and I keep it in mind when I feel like I still have so much left to learn. Although I wish every manuscript had found a happy home, I know they've made me a better writer.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Awesome reminder! No, I don't think all those stories I wrote were a waste of time. NOW.
(At the time I finished them and couldn't sell them I thought that though) LOL
Now I see where I really needed to get better. And still need to get better. :)

Liza said...

Any time we put words down on paper we are practicing...whether it is your book(s) or blogs, or letters or essays or emails. It's all good!

Patricia A. Timms said...

Okay, since I've signed up to get your posts in my email, I tend to read the post and never comment. Lame, right? I wish I could comment straight from my email. Anyway, I've been lame for so long now that I didn't realize you changed the design of your blog. I love it! I'm getting very excited for your book as well.

Okay, I'm not sure how many words I've written overall in my life but I do know approximately how many words I've written since January of this year because my husband tallied it up while I was doing NaNo. He was wondering when I was going to take a break. Lol! He added up a little more than 300,000 this year.

This is too long of a comment. I just wanted to let you know that you have at least one fan out there reading your posts everyday from her email and not commenting, but I'm still here, just not commenting. Hope you're having happy holidays.

Michelle said...

It is now ... after just finishing drafting out my 2nd complete novel that I understand the benefits of the first 3 incomplete... shelved attempts.

Karen Lange said...

Congrats on your extensive word count. I think it is a wonderful testimony to your commitment to writing. I believe most everything we write has a purpose in our big picture.

The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

So glad I read this. I feel a lot better about the horrific Nano novel I just wrote.

Dominique said...

I once heard that to be a good writer you need to write 1,000,000 words. I'm filing you under proof of that.
On one hand, it's unfair to use a specific number; on the other hand, though, writing takes a hecca ton of practice.

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