5 Tips for Writing Your First Million Words
How to develop your writing work ethic.
“Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”
— Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s quote above is the most brilliant piece of writing advice.
Simple. Crazy hard. Possible.
Writing requires a special kind of work ethic.
You have to put the hours in to learn the skills that will give you a shot at being successful. And you have to put them in (and I’m talking about lots and lots and lots of hours) long before you have any proof that you actually will get where you want to go.
For a long time, the only thing you have to hold on to is your belief that this thing is going to happen.
It isn’t like going to school to become a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher, where at some point you pass a test and get a license and can start practicing your vocation in exchange for money.
Not everyone is going to be a bestseller, or even a solid mid-list author, but it’s a guarantee that everyone who does reach that particular pinnacle of the dream had a stellar work ethic and put the hours in.
There’s a theory that you have to write a million words before you write something publishable.
A million words to gain mastery of your craft. That’s about a 1000 words a day for 1000 days, or just under three years. A thousand words is about four pages.
Plus, you need to spend the time and effort to learn how to write better. It’s not going to do you any good to write a million words that are of the same quality that you’re capable of producing when you first get started.
So — say four pages a day of writing, reading a couple of novels a month, and spending a few hours a week learning to write better.
Are you willing to put in the time?
I know a lot of writers who are so invested in their first book that when the first draft of it doesn’t become a big success, they give up.
The first draft of even the most bloated first book is no where near a million words. The chances of that first draft being the best you’ll ever be able to offer are very slim.
So before you start thinking about how you can find the time to put into writing, ask yourself if you’re actually willing to put in all of the time that you’ll need to.
Are you willing to keep going if it’s your second or fifth or tenth book that’s publishable?
Becoming a successful writer requires behaving like a professional long before it’s obvious to anyone else that you are one. It means writing, even when you’re not sure there’s any hope you’ll ever be published. It means putting your butt in your chair, even when you could be doing something else.
And there’s always something else.
Are you willing to start book two, or five, or ten, if books ahead of it don’t get you where you want to be?
Are you willing to choose writing, even when it’s hard and self-doubt is trying to kill you?
Your work ethic needs to come from a place of joy and excitement, rather than being driven by a desire for success at the highest level. Especially in a field where very, very few ever reach the highest levels.
Practice because you love it and you’ll be surprised by the success that follows.
Here’s a fundamental truth: the only way to make sure that you don’t succeed on ANY level is to stop trying.
Your work ethic is just about the only aspect of this highly subjective business you have complete control over.
Negotiate with your calendar for more writing hours. Put in the work. Don’t worry about where you’ll end up. Trust that every time you sit down at your computer, you’re getting a little bit closer to being the kind of writer who gets published.
Here are my five best tips for finding hours to put into writing.
Wake Up Early or Stay Up Late
My best creative energy comes early in the morning. If that isn’t the case for you, you could flip this one and find an extra hour to write at night.
Waking up early was tough for me at first. In the winter, it might still be dark. My bed is so warm. The biggest adjustment was making myself go to bed early enough that I was still getting enough sleep. That might mean ten instead of midnight.
Give Up A Little Entertainment
That leads me to tip number two. If you’re a night owl, what are you doing after the kids go to bed? Whatever it is, could you be writing instead?
You’ll never catch me saying to give up TV altogether. I love my stories however I get them, and often that’s on television. But utilize your DVR and record your shows so that you aren’t tied to the tube during your prime creative hours.
Pick an hour or two and claim them for your writing. TV can wait.
Figure out what works for you and be willing to sacrifice a little of your down time.
Use Your Day Job’s Down Time
Whether it’s during your commute or your lunch hour, there are probably moments during your day job when you could get a few words down.
Even just ten or fifteen minutes a day adds up to at least an hour a week. Give your day job what it needs, but when you have a few minutes here and there for yourself, give them to writing.
Break it into Chunks
If you have kids, a day job or two, and a house to run — maybe you legit don’t have an hour or two a day to dedicate to writing. So, break your hour into chunks. Write for fifteen minutes while you’re waiting for dinner to finish cooking, half an hour on your lunch break, another half an hour while your kids are doing their homework. Don’t let not being able to find a big chunk of time to write keep you from your story.
Learn to Write With a Pen
This is a big one. Modern writers are used to writing on a keyboard with a screen. Start carrying a notebook, though. You might find you have a few minutes to write some lines while you’re in line at the grocery store or something.
I’m serious! Get in the habit of always having a notebook and a pen with you. As an added bonus, when you go to transcribe those handwritten lines later, they’ll kick start your next computer writing session.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.