Bowing to (and Actually Defending!) Unreasonable Fear

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Bowing to (and Actually Defending!) Unreasonable Fear
* Writing
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“”If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”Virginia Woolf'”

“Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.” David Ogilvy

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” William Pollard

“Swim upstream.” Sam Walton

“A satellite has no conscience.” Edward R. Murrow

Bowing to (and Actually Defending!) Unreasonable Fear

Some of the more timid folks bow to unreasonable fears, meaning fears that have zero consequences. These are the What If crowd. They spend their entire life Not Doing because what if they Do and something bad happens? What if I write a novel and everybody doesn’t like it? My career will be over! (Um, what career?)

I’m not putting them down. Unfortunately, that unreasonable fear is not only natural but necessary has been hammered into them for so long and so deeply that they are beyond any outside help. They’re mired. Like the baby turtle that doesn’t make it back to the sea before a bird of prey swoops in, that’s just what life is supposed to be for them I guess.

I don’t mind those folks, of course, and why should I? How or even whether they choose to write fiction doesn’t affect my bottom line. And besides, most of them will be gone from writing fiction in short order.

In fact, tens if not hundreds of thousands of them never even hear about writing into the dark or the benefits of trusting themselves because that isn’t the popular path to publication and I’m just one tiny voice among millions.

They will come to writing, decide that following what they’re “supposed to do” (the myths) is just too difficult (and possibly feels too counterintuitive, because it is). And they will leave writing without they and I ever having met, even virtually. Because most writers who attempt to follow all the rules laid down by the myths eventually do give up and find something fun to do.

Yet even as they’re walking away, they stringently defend the myths that froze their writing down solid and eventually drove them from the craft. That is incredibly, head-shakingly insane to me.

I left a very brief comment on a post by yet another writer who preaches the myths: I wrote, “SO much easier to just write the charcters as they are as they and you move through the story that is unfolding all around you. Any necessary ‘backstory’ will come out naturally, and any that does not is not necessary.”

Three writers (well, I assume they were writers but maybe not) sprang immediately to the defense of the author of the article.

So, basically because I’m a moron who doesn’t mind wasting my time, I left two more comments. Long comments. They seemed a pretty good post for the Journal so I thought I’d share them here.

Misspellings, typos, and inconsistencies aside—and my first reader catches those with his own creative subconscious as he reads (to enjoy the story, as a reader, not “looking for” problems) and things pop out at him—I’ll stick with my original statement.

But yes, of course, to each his or her own. Personally, I’ve been there, bought the t-shirt, never going back. I once spent 3 years doing nothing but outlining a novel. It still has never been written. I would no more spend the time writing something when I already know the ending than I would paying for tickets to watch a movie after someone told me the ending.

Since I learned to trust myself and my characters, I’ve written 72 novels, 9 novellas, and around 230 short stories, all in a period of 7 years. And I had a ball doing it. Not a minute of it was the horrible labor I hear beginning writers talk about. (That’s what they were taught, that writing should be hard work. And who taught them and keep the myths of writing alive? Those who sell books saying that writing should be hard work.)

And I’m not alone. Lee Child’s New York editor, over lunch one day, mentioned a certain event in the book might have been better had it happened at a different specific place. Child dabbed at his mouth with his napkin and nodded. “I agree. But that isn’t how it happened.” The passage remained where it was.

Many, many long-term professional writers trust themselves and their characters. Instead of forcing events and character actions and reactions from some authorial ivory tower, they slip into a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, roll off the parapet into the trenches, and run through the story with the characters. There, they record what happens and what the characters say and do as the story unfolds all around them.

It’s great fun, and in the end you get the authenic story instead of something that was plotted and planned to within a screaming inch. As Bradbury said, (I’m paraphrasing), “Plot is only the footprints left in the story as the characters race through to exotic destinations.” And Stephen King calls himself his characters’ stenographer. And of course, I learned to let go and trust myself from Dean Wesley Smith.

It’s wonderful to understand that a fiction is only a few minutes’ (short story) or hours’ (novel) entertainment, nothing more. I also understand that what one reader will like another will loathe, so what readers think of my work, good or bad, is none of my business. I’ve written stories that I personally didn’t like but over which readers happily effused. Go figure. That taught me an important lesson (as I wrote in another comment in this venue {The Passive Voice] a day or two ago): Writing is my job. Selecting what to read and judging (liking or disliking) it is the reader’s job. I like my job better.

I’ve found a way to produce better, more unique and more original stories and have a ton of fun doing so. Why would I ever turn around of my own free will and trudge back into the mines? Anyone who’s curious can learn more free of charge by downloading free PDF articles on my instructive Journal website at

PS: I do understand that a lot of writers, because we’re inundated with the nonsense every single day that you can’t write a novel on your own, are too frightened to ever break away from the myths (you must character-sketch, world-build, outline, revise, seek critical input, rewrite and “polish”).

But if you will allow me a brief digression, think about this: If following those myths really does work, then why isn’t everyone who follows them successful? Why in fact do so few who follow them actually finish and publish work? Why do so many simply give up and go find something else (probably something fun) to do?

If a writer tries this zen-like way of writing and it doesn’t work, s/he will have lost nothing but a few days and s/he can always go back to outlining, etc. But if it does work (and if you give it an honest try, it will), a whole new world will open to you. Yet the unreasonable fears are so strong that few will even try. They break out in a sweat when they even consider it.

Every writer I know who lets go of the myths and Just Writes the story as it unfolds around him or her and the characters as they run through it is still writing and having a ton of fun doing so. Just sayin’.

Anyway, makes no difference to me how others write. Doesn’t increase or decrease my bottom line. Just trying to spread the word that it’s all right to trust yourself and your characters. And unlike those who propagate the myths, I’m getting nothing out of it but a good feeling).


I’m going to stop saying in this space that I’m going to do such and such today. Never works out. Yesterday we had a trip to Sierra Vista planned that I had forgotten about. Between that trip and watching the girl cats playing outside (it was a snuggly warm day) I let the day slip away.

I feel a bit like I’m jinxing things when I predict in this space what I will accomplish during the day, so no more of that. I hope to work on the novel today, but whatever happens will happen.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Getting Back In The Chair” at This is great news.

See “What Is Upmarket Fiction?” at See PG’s take. (grin)

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1460

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)

Day 1…… 3231 words. Total words to date…… 3231
Day 2…… 2990 words. Total words to date…… 6221
Day 3…… 1805 words. Total words to date…… 8026
Day 4…… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 10051
Day 5…… 1451 words. Total words to date…… 11502
Day 6…… 1886 words. Total words to date…… 13388

Total fiction words for March……… 10302
Total fiction words for 2023………… 63126
Total nonfiction words for March… 19490
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 60820
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 123946

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 2
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 219
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. See for free stuff on writing.

4 thoughts on “Bowing to (and Actually Defending!) Unreasonable Fear”

  1. “I hope to work on the novel today, but whatever happens will happen.”

    Harvey, I’m not sure why this, of all the wonderful, wise things you wrote in this post, is standing out so strongly to me, but I just wanted to say thank you for writing that. It’s something I need to tell myself more often. I always feel guilty when I let time slip away that should be used for writing. Even when I still write everyday, my critical voice loves to tell me that if I only spent an hour or two writing when there were 24 hours in the day, then I’m a failure. I try to tell it that writers, occasionally, have to eat, sleep, read books, and spend time with their families but the voice isn’t particularly good at listening (grin)

    So thanks for that reminder, that life happens, and it’s okay to not spend every waking minute at the keyboard. The attitude I’d much rather have is one that is excited to get back to the story and eager for new writing sessions, instead of guilty over missed ones.

    • Thanks, Chynna. You took it exactly as I intended. “life happens, and it’s okay to not spend every waking minute at the keyboard. The attitude I’d much rather have is one that is excited to get back to the story and eager for new writing sessions.”

  2. If it’s any consolation whatever Harvey, one of the fellas you replied to about backstory seems to have a PhD in Knowing Everything. He once tried to lecture me with a Wikipedia link on a subject I actually do have a PhD in. Self-awareness isn’t always a strong suit in the human animal, I’m afraid.

    Sending good vibes on today’s writing.

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