An Adventure in Writing: The Progression of Words

Let's go on a walk, let's go take that step outside of our front door and see where it takes us, shall we? Will it lead to success? Ruin? Action? Excitement? Tragedy?

This is often how I feel when I start on a new story. A while back, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to find out just how much I've written over the years. I'm going to share this with you.

It'll be an adventure we share together. For me, you'll see a glimpse of my life as a writer.

If you don't want to read my life story about writing, just skip down to the bottom until you start seeing numbers.

I don't feel comfortable if I don't have a pen in hand, or if I'm not editing, or if I'm not thinking about what I want to write.

There was a time where this wasn't true, where I was a writer in name only. A writer who only wrote down words when the mood struck, when the timing was just right, and when the stars aligned.

There was a time I wrote just to escape the world around me, because the things in my head were far more interesting than the reality around me. There's nothing wrong with that, but that isn't the type of mentality that builds a truly successful writer.

A lot of this documentation is flawed or incomplete. For example, I know there is a story journal upstairs with half of a novel in it. I don't have this recorded at the moment. I'm not feeling well, and the effort of going upstairs and digging it out is just too much for me — in a physical sense. I won't be going up the stairs tonight until it is bed time.

I'll begin where all good stories start: At the beginning.

I want to say some ten years ago, but the truth is, that number is closer to twelve now. There was a girl who'd ventured from the warmth of Maryland to the freezing wastelands of Canada. She had a lovely fiance, and she really liked Canada, but she couldn't work. She didn't have the paperwork to do so. She was lonely, because the really lovely fiance had to work during the day.

One day, after having read the household stash of novels for the eleventh or twelfth time each, she decided it was time to write.

And so she did.

Cue shift from third person to first.

I don't have the data for all of these stories. Unfortunately, someone stole all of the computers from our apartment. Not only did they steal my computers — all of them — they stole the cd backups I had of my novels.

As fate would have it, the servers I used to backup all of these files, located in another country, had a critical hardware failure within 24 hours of my computers being stolen.

As it so happens, the servers in question housed the mail data and my personal storage bin.

All that remained was a lucky html document I had emailed to a friend asking for feedback. She kindly emailed me that file back.

It contained the first novel I ever completed. I have 66,000 words of what had been 75,000 written in 3 days to prove I could finish a novel. My lovely fiance doubted I could do it.

I did it just so I could snap my fingers in his face.

My true story as a writer really begins with this 3 day blitz. Before that, I wrote as a way to escape the world I didn't like. I wasn't serious about it, for all I filled up tens upon tens of single subject notebooks. I never thought about doing anything other than writing those stories just for me. I didn't know anything about publishing, and didn't know that I could share these stories with others.

Needless to say, those 66,000 words are terrible, and I use it as a prime example of how someone can improve their writing if they really, really want to.

Unfortunately, once I wrote that novel, I had proven to myself that I could, so I was done. That's it. I picked at novels for years after that. Three years went by before I decided to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month. That worked well. I actually finished that novel, though truth be told, the ending was terrible and I hurried it up so I could be done with it.

I'd forgotten about the fact I'd actually finished that story, even if I half-assed the ending. Hmm. Interesting.

According to my spreadsheet, that novel was 68,000 words long.

That's 134,000 words of completed projects.

It wasn't until 2009 or so that I completed my next project. Enter Trial by Fire. For fans of Storm without End, this is the original, original, very first version of Kalen's story.

Everything else was unfinished, abandoned works. Some of them got close — a few of these projects only needed one or two more chapters to complete, but I never got around to doing it! Why? They weren't good enough.

There is some sort of irony to this.

To give you an idea of how many false starts and failures I endured, here is some math for you: (I rounded these counts.)

The First Novel – 66,000 words

The Second Novel – 68,000 words

Everything, including the first and second novel, up until Trial by Fire: 509,199 words

This is half a million words of listless writing — writing where I wanted to do something with myself, and I didn't know how. This spanned a period of 9 years (2002 through 2010) and while I learned some things, I didn't improve a whole lot.

I wasn't dedicated. I didn't realize how much I needed to improve. I was telling stories I wanted to tell. I considered trying to submit, but the feedback from critique groups discouraged me. It wasn't good feedback. Worse, I didn't know what to do with that feedback.

I stagnated.

Then I sat down, with a fire lit under my ass because I wanted to be a writer, and I wrote the story I wrote before Trial by Fire. This story served one purpose: to practice.

I wanted to write better. I wanted to write better now, so I wrote a story to challenge myself. I wrote to write evocative description. I wanted to write characters that did things. I wanted to create a world.

I didn't finish that book, but it came out to approximately 61,000 words at the halfway point.

Through this book, written in 2010, I wanted to go to the next step. I wanted to be published.

I wanted to learn how to really, really improve. I looked at my writing in a new light. i took a whole new interest in grammar books. I wanted to be something better than I was.

I got some of the best advice I've ever received from Tad Williams and Deborah Beale at a writing convention in Montreal. As it turns out, I was on several panels with Deborah and we hit it off. We went out for drinks together at a bar nearby, and we talked books.

I learned a lot from the failure of Trial by Fire.

I didn't give up this time. I decided to rewrite Trial by Fire and take it to the next step. Thus entered Betrayer's Truth, the second rendition of Kalen's story.

For the sake of simplicity, we're just going to say that was a flop too.

Ascension, the second form of Ascension, and the third form of Ascension? Also flops.

Frustrated, annoyed, still determined, but after five rewrites and as many failures, I needed to try something new.

Enter The Eye of God.

About halfway through The Eye of God, things started clicking. I started to understand the difference between passive and active voice. I started to understand the real role of exposition in a story. I started to understand characters. I had a good grasp on world building, because that was the one thing I kept getting right in my other stories.

After working on The Eye of God for a year, I started Storm without End as a NaNoWriMo novel. My goal?

To write the best book I could, applying professional discipline to the concept of writing in a competition format.

Storm without End signaled a major shift in my writing ability. I can do better. I must do better, but I'd finally gotten somewhere.

Trial by Fire, Ascension, Betrayer's Truth, the second version of Ascension, the third version of Ascension, and Storm without End represent 490,368 words of my writing career. These books were written between 2011 and 2013. That's right, approximately 2.5 years.

On my computer, I have record of 1,113,107 words written.

The story doesn't end there. I do a lot of writing and conceptualizing on notebook paper. Particularly on my beloved moleskines. This doesn't account for all of the words I've written on paper, but I've calculated that I have approximately another 114,819 words in journals there.

I calculated the number by taking the average transcribed word count per page and multiplying the number of pages written. I cut off 25 words per page in the one journal type to make certain it was mostly accurate. If I went by the ‘closer to accurate' benchmark, my word count would be closer to 125,000 words.

I view there as having been two different time periods of my life:

Before Seriousness and After Seriousness.

Before Seriousness spanned between 2002 and 2010, with 509,199 words. This is 56,577 words per year, or the equivalent to one novella.

After Seriousness, or 2011 until now, spans 2-1/2 years with 681,187 words written, at an average of 272,474 words per year. That's just under 800 words written each and every day of the year.

This is excluding the things I wrote by hand, also during the 2011-current time period.  So, adding that in, that is 318,414 words per year, or the equivalent of three novels.

Seriousness isn't just wanting something bad enough. It is about sitting down and doing it. The only way you will improve your writing is by wanting to write, doing the work, and striving to improve as you write.

You can want to write, and you can sit down to write, but you won't improve unless you make specific and notable effort trying to improve.

Before and After Seriousness, for me, is the proof of that. I wrote almost the same number of words without any significant improvement in the Before Seriousness phase.

In the After Seriousness phase, I changed my tune. I changed my writing.

I changed me.

And I improved.

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