One million words

I’ve heard it said that a writer must write 1,000,000 words to reach competency as a writer (there are a few candidates for who first said it). A couple of years ago I worked out I’d written about half that. Since then I’ve not written much, certainly not enough to get to 600,000.

It is debateable whether that million word mark means anything. Certainly for some it could be more and for some it could be less. I dare say, too, that it assumes writing in long form – novels, serials, novellas at the very least – rather than short form such as flash fiction and short stories, even novelettes.

Still, a million words. It’s got a nice ring to it. A challenge. A long-term goal, perhaps.

I struggle with motivation. I created a system a few months back where I award myself Motivation Points for achieving certain objectives – completing crochet projects, writing, reading, completing proofreading jobs, going to the gym, ironing shirts, etc. I could then spend those points on rewards, such as a bubble bath, putting marshmallows in my mocha or hot chocolate, spending more money on yarn for crochet (I have enough yarn to meet immediate project needs and then some, so additional spending must be justified), buying sweets. Little luxuries.

In some respects, it has helped. The pride of awarding myself a certain number of points for completing a difficult or time-consuming task gave me a real boost.

Running parallel to this, though, has been something else. I’ve been learning French, slowly, on Duolingo. I’ve done it every day for the last 53 days. I know that because it tells me. I’ve got a 53-day streak. And at the end of every day, no matter how tired I am, how much I don’t want to have to bother, there’s that streak sitting there, and I want to hold onto it. Add one more day to it. Sometimes it’s a new lesson, sometimes refreshing something I did the day before, or a week ago, or longer. But every day, a little bit of French.

duo streak
Note: I’ve not done any French yet today, or that’d be a 54 and there’d be a green tick.

That’s what I need for my writing. To build up a streak. To have something I’m coming back for every single day. The same things stopping me from writing are the same things that make me want to stop French – laziness, the feeling I’m not very good at it, the worry I’ll never be good enough at it. So maybe the way to combat that is to use what’s got me doing my French every day. I need to build a writing streak.

It’s not just the streak, though. There’s an end goal. On Duolingo, that end goal is to complete the language tree – learn each of the individual skills containing a set of linked vocabulary or grammar. To complete the course. Completing the course does not guaruntee fluency, but it does mean you’ve got sufficient of the language to understand the majority of what’s written and spoken about, and respond.

One million words. Writing one million words does not guaruntee being a good writer, but it does mean you’ve got sufficient grasp of writing to produce something to be proud of.

So as of today I am starting a one million word challenge, which I will update the progress of weekly, on a Sunday, here on my blog. From today, every word of fiction I write is counted and recorded on a spreadsheet. Not one word from before today counts; I’m starting with a clean slate. One million words of fiction is my goal.

This is a long-term challenge. Assuming 5,000 words a week, it’d take me til 12 May 2019 to achieve. Nearly four years. I’m game. Who knows what I’ll produce in that time?

I’ve got at least half an hour before I need to start getting ready for work. Let’s see what I can write.


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