Have You Written Your Million Words of Dreck Yet?

“[W]rite out your million words of dreck before you’re at the place where you’ve learned enough to be really ready to start to publish your works on a regular basis.”

I found this quote from Johne Cook, sci-fi writer and editor of the space opera e-zine Ray Gun Revival, in a post on the value of stories that fail at Wordplay.

I love a million words of dreck as a measure of the learning needed on the journey towards regular publication because it gives a sense of the scope of development required. A million words is a lot, approximately 10 novels.

I had the mixed blessing of winning the first short story competition I entered. I was thrilled to see my story in print and to cash the associated cheque, but I still had a lot to learn about writing fiction. When I fret over the less successful pieces I have written since that first story, I remind myself that I am still a beginning fiction writer.

I spent decades writing copious non-fiction, well over a million words, but only sporadic poetry and short scripts. The jump into novel-length fiction is a huge leap, one I believe I am capable of making, but one that is requiring time, diligence, practice, and a lot of words.

But, it can’t be enough just to write a million words.  Analysis, critique, feed-back, and striving to improve are part of my growing process.

I am constantly developing my craft. My first attempts at novel-writing showed me I needed to get a grip on plotting, so I spent almost two years studying plot and working on my ability to craft a plot. Recently, I have focused on developing characters and worlds. And through it all, I continue to work on wordcraft – structuring sentences, choosing vocabulary, and making the details count.

Study plus writing. I’m well on my way to a million words of fiction, and the dreck is getting better.


About Kate Arms-Roberts


Posted on September 9, 2011, in This Writing Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You know, Kate, maybe this is why I decided a few years ago to shift from fiction to creative non-fiction. I’ve been writing non-fiction professionally since the late 1980s, I probably passed a million words of dreck in that genre years ago.

    I would think that moment of initial success followed by the challenges that we all face is worthy of an entirely different avenue of exploration here.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      There is wisdom in working in a form that is close to a skill set you have already developed.

      Your comment has made me realize that I have two posts to follow-up from this one. I’m looking forward to writing them. Thanks for the ongoing conversation and inspiration.

  2. Kate,

    I’m glad you write, attend with detail, write, listen deep, and write more.



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