Not everything you write will be or should be published, but you have to rack up a lot of words to learn the craft well enough to attract editors and eventually readers. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell uses the Beatles and Bill Gates to validate the “10,000-Hour Rule,” which says highly successful people in any field have to put in 10,000 hours practicing their craft before they hit their stride or rise above the competition. An average full-time work year is 2,040 hours, so we’re talking about five solid years of writing and only writing. At 500 words per hour, that’s five million words committed to paper.
But let’s be realistic and admit that telling a story requires more than slamming out words. You have to think through a story, maybe outline it; research it; write it; and then edit, revise and polish. If we give equal time to planning, researching, writing, and editing, 10,000 hours still means 1,250,000 words on the page.
These words can take any form of written communication—personal letters, practice stories, blog posts, proposals, articles and short fiction published in magazines. (Sure, you can score some cash during this time; the Beatles, after all, were paid to play in Liverpool and Hamburg nightclubs almost nonstop for three years while they honed their craft). All of it moves you closer to the brass ring: a publishing contract or best seller. Thing is, it’s easy to fool ourselves into believing that a pseudo-writing endeavor like attending a conference and talking about writing is writing. It’s not.
One million, two hundred and fifty thousand words: How far along are you? If you knew, really knew that upon reaching that figure (give or take some), you’d be among the best of the best and no publisher would dream of rejecting you, wouldn’t you choose to write over doing those has-something-to-do-with-writing-but-isn’t-writing things? So, what are you waiting for?