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100,000 Words of Awful


March 7, 2013 by kristin

I read somewhere years ago that every writer has to purge at least the first 100,000 words before she can get to the good writing of which she’s capable. That every good novelist has at least one really bad novel tucked away in a drawer or hard drive somewhere.

(Maybe it was Sol Stein in Stein on Writing who said that? If it wasn’t, he said plenty of other smart things, and I highly recommend his book.)

My really-bad-novel was a thinly disguised coming-of-age memoir, and a rambling mess with no proper plot. I tried again and again to retool it into something cohesive because I believed there were nuggets of good stuff in there, but eventually I accepted the truth of its overall really-badness and moved on.

Every now and then, I brace myself and read some of it again. I’m usually not as horrified as I expect to be. There ARE good parts, but it just wasn’t meant to be as a whole. And I don’t feel sad about the countless hours I labored on it, because they helped me get rid of those 100,000 words of awful and propel me toward the 100,000 words of maybe-just-decent I’ve written with my new novel. They also helped me see the importance of plot and outlining, and prove to myself I could actually sit down at a computer and see something through to the end.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to my really-bad-novel and mine some of the good parts for short stories, or create from them the seed of a new, totally different novel. But even if I don’t, that’s okay. I’m glad I wrote those 100,000 words … and the next 100,000.


  1. Jessica Alexander says:

    I’ve definitely got those 100,000 words squirreled away somewhere dark and quiet! (Where no one can find them!!) I recently rediscovered a “love” story I’d written in high school and I laughed until I cried as I read it. (Which REALLY wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for from a reader when I’d originally written it!) I had to share it with Dana and we both agreed that I’d come a long, long way from that 17 page story typed in COPPERPLATE GOTHIC. (Seriously.)

    I love your site! Terrific job on the design and I’m looking forward to more of your posts!

  2. Dana Melton says:

    I bet I have at least 100,000 word invested in screenplays, not so much in manuscripts. But I agree. Just like any skill, writing takes practice.

    If you ever show off any pieces of your 1st novel, I’ll whip out one of the first screenplays I wrote in Junior High to show you. (So basically, what I’m saying is, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”)

  3. Kristin says:

    Oh wow, if you’re going to bust out the junior high stuff, I can show you some charming stories my best friend and I co-wrote in 9th grade about going on a cruise with our (imaginary) boyfriends and making out with them a lot.

  4. kristin says:

    Copperplate Gothic. Wow. I was very into unusual fonts for a while there myself.

  5. […] wrote fiction on and off, of course, and blogged about my Victorian house renovation. I wrote a terrible novelĀ and submitted the occasional short story to literary magazines. Mostly, though, I did nothing to […]

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About Kristin

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Historical fiction writer and reader. Procrastinator. Sewist. Slytherin. Fan of red lipstick, rock 'n' roll, and everything vintage.

Current Work-in-Progress

The Boy in the Red Dress

When her drag queen best friend is accused of murdering a socialite, a Jazz Age Veronica Mars searches for the real killer in the seedy underbelly and glittering upper crust of 1931 New Orleans.


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