Friday, April 08, 2011

From the Many to the Few

Read 10 times more words than you write.
Write 10 times more words than you keep.
Keep 10 times more words than you publish.

No, I have no scientific study to verify the numbers. I just know what I'd had to go through. If I counted what I read online each day, and review in critique groups and contests, the comparison is way low. Heck, it might be closer to 100 times.

In other words, you search through a lot of weeds before you find a piece of fruit. (Forgive me. I love gardening analogies.)

Ten times is not low. For instance,. you write 2,500 words for every 25,000 you read. It's not an exaggerated number. I hope it's realistic enough to stop you in your tracks and make you count in your head how close you are to it. It's not too much to ask of . . . a writer.

In National Novel Writing Month, people gather around the NaNoWriMo website in November and write their hearts out, with a goal of 50,000 words. Many don't make it (after all, it's Thanksgiving month). Those that do, however, feel so accomplished. Rightfully so. Darned if I could write 50K in 30 days in a month wrought with social obligations. But those that succeed, then find themselves with the need to finish the novel since 50K words probably is half or two-thirds of the project. Then comes time to edit. We never hear about how much of those 50K - 100K words get reduced. We only hear about fine tuning those quick words and publishing, when actually that 50K was just scratching the surface.

Quantity is quality - up the mountain with a draft of many words, then down as we edit it to a tight finish. Don't be afraid to spray gobs of words. Don't be afraid to throw them away.

The more words you handle, the more you know how to pick the right ones. And there's no software, how-to book, or course to teach you otherwise.

In this world of fast publishing and instant-click-gratification, don't let the pace make you hit send a few hundred words too soon.


Stella Jones Myers said...

No wonder I don't feel like a writer! I am probably close to two per cent writing of words I read. That is a cool thing to have. Never thought of output in relation of input with my writing. Thanks again, Hope, for the focus.

Bagby said...

I'm pinning your first paragraph to my bulletin board. Inspiring words. Thank you.

For whatever it's worth, my first published novel had a NaNoWriMo rough draft. The published version, a novella, cut 20% of the words (just over 10K) from the rough draft. I've finished NaNoWriMo five times, and so far, this is the only result I've published.

My sister, a biologist, had a lab professor who put it wonderfully: "If more than 5% of your experiments turn out as expected, you're not being creative enough."

Unknown said...

I love this theory - it's one I've stuck to for a long while though I never realised I was until I read this post. So I'm going to keep reading and writing and reading and writing and hopefully one day produce enough fruit to publish.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Hope---I think it was Donald Graves that said that writing is as much deconstruction as construction...Great post!

I passed on an award to you. Check it out.

(And I'm sure you had fun with your "shepard" at the conference this weekend. Linda is hilarious as well as sharp and gifted.)

Sally said...

Hope, I came over from Barb Hodges blog. I noted your Cheerios post and have an idea. Appreciate the heads up. Have a great week.

Unknown said...

I loved this!!! Read 10 times more words than you write.
Write 10 times more words than you keep.
Keep 10 times more words than you publish.

I am visiting after Barb mentioned your blog...and boy am I glad she did. :)