The most common mantra new writers hear is something along these lines, “Your first one million words is crap.”
Now, if you think about it, one million words isn’t all that much. If you write an average of 3,000 words a day, you’ll hit that in 333 days, assuming you have that much material planned out. Even if you only work five days a week, you’ll hit that goal around eighteen months.
There are several things you should be doing while churning out your first million words. I am not going to write “practice, practice, practice” because these points below is the assumption you are doing that.
1. Get feedback. This is critical. You need honest opinions on where you are as an author. If you ignore everything else in this post, do not ignore this one. It is quite possible to write one million words of garbage and your next million will also be garbage. There are two types of critiquers for getting feedback – alpha readers and beta readers. Alpha readers are there to look for things like plot, characterization, bad scenes, etc., but they are also there for grammar and editing. They also read the work as you craft it. They help you polish the draft in progress. A beta reader is given a finished and slightly polished draft. They are exclusively there to critique things like bad plot, characterization, weak scenes, pacing, tension, etc.
2. Emulate the style and techniques of your favorite successful author. Another mantra is “fake it until you make it.” However, as you’re writing your one million words, understand the techniques how your favorite published author approaches his craft.
Here’s an example of Robert Jordan, one of my favorite fantasy authors, on how he approaches crafting through his Wheel of Time series.
Prose – A heavy mix of purple prose on adjectives, but very little if any adverbs. Uses some adverbial phrases.
Plot – An epic arc with many subarcs and sidequests. Reads like a soap opera.
World-building – Heavy on the world-building and dialogue is immersive. Sometimes you’ll need the glossary in order to understand some cultural references.
Characterization – A ton of power players and women have full free agency. Everyone has an agenda and goals.
Style – Jordan will take the time to describe the action of the character while talking. If they get up out of their seat, even if it’s not relevant, he will describe it, but you get a full picture of what people are doing.
Voice – Active, definitely active. Had few passive verbs only where necessary in his prose.
3. Read blogs on writing. I read several authors on how they approach various topics such as describing body language (“show, don’t tell”), plots, tropes, cliches, etc. You want to do this because they may provide you with a retinue of information that changes your approach to writing. You never want to be dismissive of other writers’ approach because as you develop your own writing style, you may come across something that will vastly improve your own.
In conclusion: practice, get feedback, copy the successful strategies until you craft your own, and always research.