Tuesday, 15 January 2008


"The first half-million words are just practice."
- Dean Koontz

If I take that quotation to heart, then I'm only halfway through rehearsal, nowhere near curtain call. My tally thus far:

Novel No. 1 - 91,000
Novel No. 2 - 91,000
Memoir - 60,000
Novel No. 3 - 14,000

That adds up to just over a quarter million words. I also read somewhere that it's only after the first million words that a writer finds his 'voice', that elusive 'something' that makes his work recognizably his own.

Where does that leave people like Harper Lee? Mockingbird was her only novel. I suppose it's possible that it was her only published novel, and her first 500,000 to 1,000,000 words are rotting in a basement somewhere...

Does anyone truly believe in Koontz's half-million benchmark, or in the achievement of 'voice' at the million-word truck stop? I think it depends on the writer. What do you think?


kim said...

depends on the writer -- no doubt about it.

Pacha said...

And Margaret Mead's 'Gone with the wind'?

I think Mead had difficulty writing AFTER publishing her only novel (and the festering second/third novel is in the basement instead)...

Writing is far too personal and individual to have rules like these.

Although. Obviously it's not all wrong either. Writing is always pratice. Shaping/editing the writing is a whole other skill!

Matt said...

Wasn't Harper Lee a lawyer? If my wife's current experience is typical, Lee should have written 500,000 after about two weeks of law school.

Anonymous said...

I am a reader and find some authors, like Naipaul and Stephen King have lost their voice over the years. (I hope I am allowed to use these two names in one sentence). Maybe these writers haven't lost their voice but I, as a reader, may now have new ears. I don't think there is a certain amount of words typed which can give a writer a distinctive voice. Writers write with their thoughts first and their keyboard much later.

Hoodie said...

I think if writing speaks to another person, then it doesn't matter how much you've written previously.

I also think that writing is bound to improve with practice.

IMO, if you write, you're a writer.

wordtryst said...

Kim, Pacha, Hoodie, thanks for your thoughts. The consensus: you can't apply an arbitrary rule like that across the board, but the writing should, like any other skill, improve with practice.

Matt, :) I actually thought of pursuing law a long time ago. Good thing I didn't. Writing reams of legalese would surely have bored me to death!

akalol, I think it's inevitable that just as our reading tastes change over time, writers' voices change as well. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I think some people write well (and often very little) as they haven't been plagued with all the doubts that afflict us mere mortals. They have a story to write. They write it. Unselfconscious and straightforward. I suspect it is easier in any society where the written and spoken word have not yet been swamped by the TV, which has a different story telling dynamic (which it rarely uses these days).

I know others have said it has to a million before you start getting it right. I hope so, cos I passed the half million mark a long time ago.

Chumplet said...

If that's the case, then I'm barely a toddler.

wordtryst said...

Graeme, you passed that marker a long time ago? Impressive.

Chumplet, me too!