A Conversation About Writing Fiction

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* A New Short Story
* A Conversation About Writing Fiction
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” Flannery O’Connor

“You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t.” Ray Bradbury

“To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will.” Sugar Ray Robinson

“It is terrible to not believe in yourself. I find it very odd that writers seem to consistently not.” ED (see below)

A New Short Story

“Soft as a Breeze” went live yesterday on my Stanbrough Writes Substack.

I’ll talk about this story in tomorrow’s post. I wrote it to teach a particular point back when I was still teaching live seminars. Don’t miss tomorrow’s post. I suggest you read the story before you read that post.

A Conversation About Writing Fiction

This started as a comment from ED, a young fiction writer. Here, to keep it in context, I’m presenting it and my response as a conversation.

ED: “WITD is so unusual to most writers that I find I have a hard time even bringing it up.

“My other writer friends are always revising—and revising, and revising—and talking about agents and how they’ll never get their work published. I find myself increasingly not relating to their way of working.

“Whenever I try to bring up not revising, and cycling, they seem to think I’m insane. It makes me sad, but I also know I’m learning to trust myself, which is huge (in my writing life and personal life). Of course it’s not easy. Hence I keep coming back to your Journal.”

HS: Believe me, I understand. I’ve experienced everything you mentioned in your comment about other writers.

How very terrible it is that what they consider “unusual” or “insane” is the concept of believing in themselves. Sigh.

That’s exactly why Dean Wesley Smith once advised me not to tell anyone how I write. But writers like you make me glad I did.

Also, I’ve know many people who, although accomplished experts in their field, feel completely incompetent when they look at a blank sheet of paper and want to write a story. It amazes me every time.

ED: “[WITD and self-publishing] is intensely satisfying. I’m taking my writing into my own hands—doing the work to get my art out to the public. It feels more real, in a way. Less passive.”

HS: Good on you. It’s always satisfying to believe in yourself and take personal responsibility for your own work and life. Nothing is better than living an authentic life.

ED: “I have wondered at times if it’s somewhat harder for more literary writers like myself to write into the dark, only because the people I’ve most been influenced by and whose books I tend to read are very literary writers, and often come from the world of write, revise, revise, revise, revise.

“So when you mention Lee Child, for instance, I instantly think, ‘Well, he can write his books like that, because he writes genre books/series. I don’t, so….’ But that’s just my critical voice.”

HS: When I first stumbled upon WITD, my first thought was *Well, sure, YOU can do that because you’ve published dozens of novels.” And others have said that same thing to me.

But I have written every story and novel into the dark since I started writing fiction seriously in April, 2014. So being true to yourself and the characters’ authentic story works for “beginners” too.

We all told stories as children and never thought for a second about seeking or allowing any critical input. WITD is a way to reclaim your natural ability to tell authentic stories, unmuddied by the waters of criticism.

ED: “In my MFA program, we had weekly discussions where we were required to write 250+ words critiquing 1-2 people’s writing. No one enjoyed it (unless the comments were complimentary of course), and it became a real pain in the butt to think of things to say.

“I found myself noting tiny little things that didn’t really matter just to show that I was doing any critiquing. Anyway, when you’ve been raised for 12+ years to think this way, it is hard to think a different way.”

HS: Yes, few programs are more adept at stifling a writer’s nature than MFA programs. And EVERYONE of us was raised to think that way. We’re inundated by society with the “march in lockstep or else” mentality. See the Quotes of the Day.

My own take is “Many a good story or novel was prevented by ‘education’. And for ‘education,’ you can substitute ‘bad writing instructors’.”

While we’re on the topic, an English teacher teaching you how to write fiction is like a fish teaching you how to ride a bicycle. You may quote me. (grin)

ED: “Just recently I completed another novel, WITD, and it turned out better than I would have expected.

“Right when I was starting to wonder if I was going to get bored of my own story, my main character did something wild. It was a wonderful shock that really propelled the story forward (and made a potential sequel much more likely).”

HS: I experience that in literally every story and novel I write (including literary magic-realism stories and novels). Parts of the story surprise us (and will surprise the reader) because we don’t know they’re coming. Because we didn’t consciously think them into being. Isn’t it wonderful?

I’ve also come to realize when a character does something that makes “a potential sequel much more likely,” it’s because s/he wants to stay in the spotlight for awhile.

That is exactly how I wrote 22 novels in the Wes Crowley saga, 10 in the Journey Home (Ark) saga, and 24 novels in the Blackwell Ops series, many of which feature the same characters through two or more novels.

Consider Soleada Garcia, who took over and ran through 7 or 8 straight novels in her own subseries of the Blackwell Ops series. (grin)

ED: “I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve found the less I think (that is, overthink) about things—both writing and non-writing related—the smoother everything tends to go. Much of the world seems to think otherwise.”

HS: Yes. Much of the world is made up of lemmings, hungry for success and eager to move in lockstep following formulae to achieve what they want. It’s much easier than doing the work of believing in their own abilities.

Thinking (and overthinking) is for making important decisions, like whether to cross a busy highway on foot or touch glowing red steel to see whether it’s actually hot or whether to defend yourself with pepper spray or a baseball bat.

But conscious thought is counterproductive to creating. For just one example, you cannot “create” an outline, you can only construct it, step by plodding (plotting) step. Nor can you “create” a revision or an edit or a rewrite. To do any of those things, you have to “look for” things to “correct.”

How very arrogant all those others must be to feel they have a right to “correct” the story the character, not they, are living. Do they also feel obliged to correct the life their neighbors are living?

So we come full circle to the beginning. Believe in yourself, and let others remain lost until they choose to break away from the masses on their own.

Thanks, ED, for allowing me to use your comment for a post in the Journal. You’ve just enriched the lives of countless other writers.

Also, to maintain your anonymity, I’ve deleted your original comments and my responses from the Comments section of the Journal.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

If you want to design your own covers, do yourself a favor and read Resource: Book Covers.

If you want to hire a pro to design excellent covers for low cost, check out Get Covers.

The Numbers

The Journal………………………………1370

Writing of Julia Stilson (tentative title)

Day 1…… 3523 words. To date…… 3523
Day 2…… 3201 words. To date…… 6724

Fiction for May…………………….….… 6724
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 310509
Fiction since October 1………………… 613565
Nonfiction for May……………………… 4350
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 158960
2024 consumable words……………… 469199

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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2 thoughts on “A Conversation About Writing Fiction”

  1. Re: “Do they also feel obliged to correct the life their neighbors are living?” above:
    Unfortunately, all too often they do, and one can observe this happening in all sorts of everyday conversations. How many times have you heard someone say “She needs to …” or “They shouldn’t let their kids get away with …” or something else along the same lines? Whether or not they express them openly, most people have very definite opinions about how everybody else ought to live their lives (which often runs counter to how the holder of said opinions lives his/her own life). As a friend opined one time, “People are stupid. We should throw rocks at them.”

    • Truth. And frankly, I don’t know where they find the energy. It’s all I can do to manage my own life. (grin) The old adage “live and let live” should have an addendum: “‘Cause seriously, your opinion doesn’t matter.”

      I’ve long followed three rules in my own life:

      1. If it doesn’t directly affect my paycheck or my well-being, it’s none of my business.
      2. People do what they do and make the choices they make for a reason, and… see Rule 1.
      3. Upright is not a matter of degree.

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