“I’ve always dreamed of being a writer.”
“It’s my dream to write a book.”
“You’re so talented. I could never do what you do.”
We are all writers already. I know that because I work in an elementary school, and I have helped students at every level, from kindergarten to 5th grade, complete their assignments. From the first “My name is…” to the last “9/11 devastated our country by shaking our confidence to the core,” it has been my job to get the best possible product out of every student. I will tell you for some it is easy, and for some it is hard, but they are all writers. So are you.
Step 1: If you want to be a writer, write. Voila. Dream accomplished. It’s not that easy, you say. You are absolutely right. Because writing is not a dream–you can already write–writing is a goal. And like most goals, it is achieved with hard work. No shortcuts here. If you want to run in a 10K, there’s nothing stopping you. Plenty of people walk it. But if your goal is to run a 10K from beginning to end, you have to work for it. How much work you put in determines how well you do.
Step 2: The magnitude of your product depends on the story you have to tell, and the endurance you have to see it to the end. I will tell you that there is a form and word count for writers of every ambition and motivation level. The word length distinctions seem to be fairly poorly defined, so I am providing a ballpark guide to get you started.
You can write a poem–any length from one word to several pages.
Flash fiction is about 500 words. Telling a good story in so few words is a talent in its own right, so if this is the form you like, be proud.
Short stories are 1000-15,000 words, give or take a thousand. If this is your form, you are in very good company. Think of the best known authors who wrote short stories: Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, D.H. Lawrence.
A novella–you may have never heard of a novella, but it’s become much more popular with the emergence of e-readers–is a story of about 20,000-40,000 words. This is a perfectly legitimate form. If I may point out: The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), 27,000 words; Heart of Darkness (Conrad), 38,000 words; A Christmas Carol (Dickens), 27,400. The key here is pacing. Make sure the word count is enough–but not too much–to tell your story well.
Novels? Now there’s a can of worms. The traditional counts are a little off because publishing is not nearly so prescribed as it was 25-30 years ago, thanks to the incredible variety of platforms for delivery. However, conventional wisdom says that a novel can range from 50,000-100,000 words, primarily based on which genre of fiction you are writing.
Literary Fiction (the more serious stuff) falls in the 80,000-100,000 range. If your goal is to write the Great American Novel, this is your spot.
- How many words in a memoir – 45,000 to 80,000
- How many words in a self-help book – 30,000 – 70,000
- How many words in a fantasy novel – 50,000 – 150,000
- How many words in a sci-fi novel – 50,000 – 150,000
- How many words in a romance novel – 50,000 – 90,000
- How many words in a mystery novel – 40,000 – 80,000
- How many words in a horror novel – 40,000 – 80,000
- How many words in a dystopian novel – 60,000 -120,000
- How many words in a contemporary novel – 60,000 – 90,000
- How many words in a young adult book – 60,000 – 90,000
- How many words in a middle-grade book – 20,000 – 55,000
So you see, you already are a writer, it’s just a matter of whether or not you want to do it. Given the wide variety of forms, you can find one that you can accomplish in an hour, a day, a year, or many years. So we’ve knocked down the first two barriers most would-be writers raise in front of their goals–ability and time.
I have been very flippant because it is my goal to get you to write. Just get something on the page. Every journey starts with the first step–trite, but true.
Addendum: You have to decide if you just want to write, which is fine, or you want to write well. If your goal is to be read, then I recommend taking the “write well” path. And if you choose to do that, you need one more tool: Craft.
This is where I lose you, right? You don’t want to work hard, you say. Then writing is not your goal or your dream, and that’s okay. Not everyone wants to be a “writer.” Writing is work. It just is. And to do it well, you need to get down the basics. That doesn’t require any special talent, just a little knowledge, easily gained from a writing guide, the internet, YouTube, or your memories of elementary school.
My husband wants me to make millions like JK Rowling so he can retire. I don’t really see that happening, but I have written four books, seen three to publication, and penned a few short stories. You don’t have to be miraculously talented to be a good writer and produce stories that will provide hours of joy to hundreds or even thousands of people. All you need is a story to tell, and the willingness to tell it.
All your excuses are gone, and your dream is in your hands. Go forth and write!