Okay, it’s rant time again. I regularly pop around the blogoverse to see what’s what and I’ll often read a writing-related post. I did that yesterday (sorry, can’t find the post in question) and read the whole damn thing even though I started rolling my eyes pretty early in the piece.
I just wish people would STOP INSISTING ON RULES CHIPPED INTO F***ING GRANITE.
Apparently you have to write a million words before you can call yourself a writer. It’s one of those bits of advice that does the rounds from time to time. This article went even further and said you should write ten one hundred thousand word novels and only try to sell the last one. Oh, I have to be fair. After you’d done that you could go back and re-hash the first nine because then you’d know how to do it. And the analogies were trotted out. It takes one million name-your-poison to achieve whatever. One million hours of practice to be a great violinist/pianist/guitar player. One million dabs with a paint brush to make a great painter etc etc.
So what makes a ‘good writer’?
Everybody knows Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling can’t write for toffee. But James Joyce, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway can. Uh-huh. I’m a Philistine. Classifying something as ‘literature’ is enough to have me headed for the hills. I have not and will not read any more of Ulysses than the couple of pages I tried years ago. I never liked Dickens, despite having the books inflicted on me at high school and the one year of English Lit I should never have taken at university. No, I don’t think much of Dan Brown’s books, or Stephenie Meyers’. I wonder if they care? On the other hand, I loved Harry Potter and still do. My taste is for ‘genre’ fiction – science fiction, crime and fantasy. I love Tolkien, Asimov, Agatha Christie, Peter Robinson.
I’m quite willing to believe many of those writers I just listed wrote more than one million words. But not before they published their first work. And if you think you can’t sell your first novel, have a look at this list of ‘first novels’. I can add a few more, writers I know who have done exceedingly well out of their first novels. Toby Neal, whose Lei crime series has become a best seller and Elspeth Cooper, whose first two books were both nominated for the David Gemmell award. And yes, I know that Tolkien virtually rewrote The Lord of the Rings many times. I believe we refer to that process as ‘editing’.
Have I written one million words? Probably. A bunch of essays and a dissertation for my honours degree in history, a few short stories that disappeared somewhere, some fan fiction, numerous shopping lists, analysis reports for clients. Do they count? I had to learn to spell and use grammar correctly for some of those. Though I can’t vouch for the shopping lists. Few people are likely to realise that ‘ums’ on a shopping list at our house actually stands for ‘what are we going to have for dinner tonight?’
By now you’ve probably realised that I don’t think you need to have written a million words before you try to be published. Which does not mean that I don’t think it’s a good idea to hone your skills. Of course it is. However, you can be technically the best writer in the world but if you write a lousy story – you’ve lost the plot. Pardon the pun. In fact let me give you some examples. Asimov’s Foundation series is a classic of science fiction. However, I believe he took the series one or two books too far. I loved The Lord of the Rings but gave up on The Silmarillion. I’m sure we can all name examples where that’s happened.
Which simply illustrates the ONLY Rule of Writing that has any real credibility.
WRITE A GOOD STORY.
Ends rant. Got anything you’d like to add?