1 Million Words of Crap: Why Every Writer’s Full of It

I recently read an interesting theory about writers. Essentially it went like this: every writer has 1 million words of crap in them. That means that you really don’t hit your stride as a writer until you get those million words out.

On some levels it makes sense. Writing is like exercise. It builds up your metaphorical muscles. By writing constantly you’re able to get ideas on paper while generating new ones along the way. Sometimes when we get stuck, the best way to get over the hump is to just sit down and write.

You don’t have to have a specific topic in mind. Just sit down and start writing about anything. With enough practice your well trained muscles will kick in and help guide you.

I teach an adult literacy class and my students don’t just need to learn to read, but they need to learn how to write. One of the hardest concepts for them to grasp is the idea of writing first and editing later.

My students get frustrated when they have trouble with spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. They’re stuck on the idea that you can’t write unless you write perfectly. I have to stress to them that all writers have trouble with those things. That’s why there are editors.

I’m a terrible speller and most of my grammar knowledge is based on what sounds right, it doesn’t always come from an English text book. Over the years I’ve taught myself to just sit down and write. I don’t worry about making mistakes along the way. I just let everything spill out onto the page. Then I go back in and edit.

By learning to separate my inner writer and my inner editor, I’ve been able to double my word count. That means I can get those million words of crap out of my head faster and I can make myself a better writer that much sooner.

I have no idea how many of those million words I’ve put on paper since I started writing. I hope I’ve gotten them all out by now. All I know is that writing seems to be getting a little bit easier every day.

What do you think? Are there any naturally great writers out there? How to do you practice writing?

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8 Responses to 1 Million Words of Crap: Why Every Writer’s Full of It

  1. Jennifer Riley Simone says:

    I concur! I come back to writing over the past year, and it has been a hard process. Achieving good content takes way too many drafts, though the number is steadily decreasing. And then, there are just those days when you just have to step away and try again later. Great advice to your learning adults. The hardest part is getting salient ideas out of your head – the rest is just good editing.

    • Jennifer – It will get easier. When I work with corporate clients I offer two rounds of revisions on the project in case I’m off the mark the first time around. But I probably do 3-4 edits myself before I ever send them the “first draft.”

      Stepping away is a good tip. I try to wait at least an hour after writing before I start to edit. Like a good soup, It’s always helpful to let your words simmer on the burner for a while before coming in to taste it.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Jennifer Riley Simone says:

        Great idea about offering 2nd round in your quote. My first round with a technically-based client went out this week – I am a bit nervous about whether I hit the mark! Love the soup analogy, BTW.

  2. Jim Mitchell says:

    I think that’s some good, logical thinking there, Chris! Even as a civil engineer, I’m always having to write technical reports and give clear, concise explanations of how and why my firm is designing a certain thing in a certain way. And just like your class, I get stuck on making it ‘perfect’ the first time through. I will try your technique next time. I shall call it “Babble & Edit”. Feel free to trademark!

    • Just remember Jim, no matter what you write: there are no great writers, only great re-writer’s. Anytime you can make a technical report easier to read that’s certainly a good thing. Thanks for reading.

    • Jennifer Riley Simone says:

      I am totally stealing “Babble and Edit”.

  3. Bianca says:

    I don’t know about writing, but as an artist I struggle with some of the same issues. How to translate feelings and thoughts into ideas while respecting form but not limiting personal expression. It took me a long time to be able to just go into the studio and work without expectation. Sometimes it’s hard to trust that the ideas, that the muse is there. I often think it’s like being a trapeze artist: you have to leap and trust that the net will hold you.

    • Wow Bianca, so great to hear that some of these concepts translate to your process and how you create your art. One of my goals with this blog is to appeal to a wide range of creative types, like web builders, graphic designers and artists like yourself. My fear is it will just get pegged as a “writing blog.” It’s so encouraging to hear that you can relate to some of these ideas. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment.