Critical Mind

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Critical Mind
* A Reminder
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” Lewis Carroll

“It occur-ed to me that this CV [critical voice] is really a failure to have compassion on yourself, to cut yourself a little slack and give yourself a little grace.” GK in an email from last night

“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dalí

Critical Mind

A few days ago I mentioned in a post that I had received an email from a writer asking advice on how to beat the critical mind.

In that post, I wrote that “the email was so steeped in critical mind it would be irresponsible of me not to share it [and my response] in the hope that some part of it will help you snap out of it yourself.”

GK reminded me of that in an email last night. So here’s the email and my response. Thanks for the reminder, GK.

GK was not the person who wrote the original email (below).

I admire the writer who wrote the original email, because s/he was brave enough to ask, and to allow me to share the email here, thereby enabling others to benefit. 

What I saw as critical-mind indicators are marked with bold text. Note that all of them are about doubt and fear. If you read between the bold text, you will also see the creative subconscious trying to pull the writer back. Those places are the child wanting to have fun running and playing in a story. I indicated those with italics:

The email

“I’m toying with a new story idea; I know it’s going to be some kind of historical mystery, but I’m not sure if it will be crime-oriented or not, or more cozy, or something else. I’ve written crime stories in the past, but mysteries not so much, and I’m starting to wonder (critical mind, I know!) if maybe I don’t have the skill to write such a story. I want to just ride with the character and see where we go, but I honestly have no idea what I’m doing; nor does the character. Do you think it would be wiser if I read some mysteries first, to get more of a feel for how they work as a genre? Of course, this book could turn out to be something completely different too–but I’d like it to have a mystery element.”

“I really want to stick with this idea; I’ve had trouble committing to anything the past few months. I’d also like to jump back into the challenge with this book–just let me get rolling first.”

The response

Note: Anything I added to my response for this post is enclosed in [brackets]. The quoted points to which I’m responding are in bold.

Just write the story.

Yep, critical mind has a lock on you:

“I’m not sure if it will be crime-oriented or not, or more cozy, or something else.” Don’t worry about it. At the moment, you don’t read mysteries, so you don’t even really know what “crime-oriented” or “cozy” is except what you’ve heard about them. And if you do have an idea (or think you do) forget it. Just write.

Who is your character? Introduce me to her or him. You probably don’t know yet because you haven’t trusted the character long enough to let him or her reveal himself or herself to you. There’s a ton [about the character] you don’t know and will never know until you just write the story.

“I’m starting to wonder (critical mind, I know!) if maybe I don’t have the skill to write such a story.” Don’t worry about it. You had the skill to write this email, which means you have some level of proficiency at putting words on the page, and that’s all you need.

“I honestly have no idea what I’m doing” By which you mean you have no idea where the story’s going, or even IF it will go. And of course you don’t. This is an excellent chance to break away from the critical mind. Take a deep breath and just start writing the story. Don’t worry about anything. Nothing bad will happen. Just trust the character and have fun conveying his or her story. If you do that, it will be fine. If you don’t, it won’t.

“nor does the character.” Of course s/he does. S/he’s actually LIVING the story. Right now you’re afraid to just trust that and let his/her story unfold as it will. Just go with it and stop trying to bend it. (Imagine you’re actually only the character in a novel. Would you like the writer to be forcing every single decision on you as you try to just live your life? Same thing. Exactly.)

“Do you think it would be wiser if I read some mysteries first, to get more of a feel for how they work as a genre?” It’s always a good idea to read what you want to write, but read for pleasure, not consciously seeking to “get a feel.” If you read consciously, you’ll miss completely what you’re trying to get. What your characters need re tropes and all that will soak in without you even knowing it.

“this book could turn out to be something completely different too” EVERY story you write into the dark turns out to be something completely different than you expect. Every one of them. That’s the joy [and exhilaration] of it. Don’t make anything up [by which I mean do not intrude on the story]. Just watch the characters over the back fence and write down what happens and how they react.

“but I’d like it to have a mystery element.” Why? You can’t force what you’d “like” a story to have on the story. Just write whatever comes and enjoy the process. If you want to write a mystery, put yourself into a mystery mindset. Look around the room you’re in right now. Look at something in particular and ask yourself Where did that come from? I don’t mean what store did it come from. I mean what was its origin. What series of events caused it to come into being? A story will begin unfolding. Write that. Chances are, several storie will begin unfolding. Write one of those.

“I really want to stick with this idea” Then do that. Just write from the idea. Don’t think or try to figure out anything. Just write what happens in every moment as you run through the story with the characters.

“I’ve had trouble committing to anything the past few months.” THERE. See? The critical mind won. It stopped you from writing. Think about how many times over the past few months you started something but stopped. That alone should make you want to take a deep breath, shove critical voice aside, trust the character (don’t ‘think’ about what kind of story the character wants to write, or about anything else) and just write whatever comes.

“I’d also like to jump back into the challenge with this book–just let me get rolling first.” See? Fear. That’s pure critical mind. And why? What are you afraid of?

If you write (period) a story or novella or novel some will like it, some won’t, and absolutely nothing bad will happen. Be brave. You have nothing to fear.

Don’t worry about the story. Don’t care about it. It isn’t important (and your critical mind just said “Well if it isn’t important why write it in the first place?”) That’s the whole point. Just have fun. Just write for the fun of writing, and when critical mind pops up trying to make you question things, laugh at it (out loud). Shove it away and write the next sentence, and the next, and the next.

That really is all you need to do.

This was an excellent email, by the way, though I’m really sorry for the trap you’re allowing yourself to be caught in. It really is your choice. Stop caring about all that crap and just write for the sheer fun of writing.

Anyway, I’ll use this email as an upcoming post in the Journal. Of course, I won’t use your name or even your gender.

I hope this helps, but whether it will really is all up to you. I know it isn’t easy to set aside all the crap you’ve been inundated with all your life, but doing so (or not) IS a choice. It’s completely up to you.

A Reminder

Bradbury Challenge participants, get your story info to me before the Journal goes live in the morning. Just sayin’.

Tomorrow and the next day I’ll post a two-part series on Writing Into the Dark.

The Writing

Yesterday I topped over 100,000 words of fiction for this month AND raised my average to over 100,000 words of fiction per month since October 1. All things are possible when you Just Write the Story.

I’ll talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Editing and Reading Observations… Part 5

“The Shroud Key” Flash Sale Extended If you enjoy thrillers, grab your copy of The Shroud Key by Vin Zandri now. You won’t regret it.

Why a bestselling author’s email to book influencers is sparking controversy See PG’s take.

Episode 884: Tom Avitabile: Presidential Assassinations, and a New Film Venture

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1530

Writing of Blackwell Ops 19: Soleada Garcia: Trying Times

Day 1…… 4398 words. To date…… 4398
Day 2…… 4889 words. To date…… 9287
Day 3…… 3412 words. To date…… 12699
Day 4…… 3384 words. To date…… 16083
Day 5…… 4105 words. To date…… 20188

Fiction for January……………………. 100399
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 100399
Fiction since October 1…………… 403454
Nonfiction for January……………… 27800
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 27800
2024 consumable words…………… 128199

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 2
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 84
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections…………………… 31

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 will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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4 thoughts on “Critical Mind”

  1. Harvey, what do you think of the term “Kill your darlings’?
    I used to go along with it when I followed the myths, but once I started Writing Into The Dark I ‘kicked it to the curb’ so to speak.
    I ask since I saw another writer on YouTube in the comment section of a video lamenting how he needed to ‘slash’ a scene he spent three days writing because it “Didn’t fit with the rest of the novel.”
    I couldn’t help but feel bad, however I refrained from offering advice since we both know how that usually goes.
    I just want to know if ‘kill your darlings’ is indeed critical mind like I believe it is or if I’m mistaken.

    • I think it’s BS, pure and unadulterated. If the characters give it to you, put/keep it in. If they don’t, if it comes from the writer, cut it. Or better yet, don’t put it in. And every time I’ve heard anyone utter “always kill your darlings,” they say it as if they just came up with the idea. I think it stems from the notion that the writer (and the writing) is “precious” or some crap like that. To paraphrase S. King, “While the precious ones are talking about the burden of their ‘calling’ and what terrible drudgery writing is, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

      At the worst, I’ve heard writing instructors say if you love a line or paragraph or scene, it can’t possibly be any good. It’s a “darling” and should be cut. Of course it’s all BS.

      As for the guy who cut a scene he worked on for three days, I suggest of course it didn’t fit with the rest of the novel because he worked on it for three days. It certainly didn’t work with the authentic story. I saw a note from a gal on Twitter earlier who said she was writing her fifth novel and editing her fourth, and all in only 8 years. I swear, I’d shoot myself.

      • ‘Can’t possibly be any good.’
        Yup, the same goes with if you love your stories or novels, they can’t possibly be worth a read.
        In a way its amusing to see how writers make writing their own personal hell. But on the other hand its sad people want to make it so difficult when its truly is one of the best ways to spend your time in my opinion. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
        Below that comment I mentioned was someone who said they finally completed their novel after five years of writing and revising.
        Personally I get bored with a project after about two months ( I usually finish one within a few weeks so don’t have that problem often). I couldn’t imagine writing and rewriting the same book over and over again for five long years.

        • It’s that old thing again. Every one of the “kill you darlings” crowd constantly spout, “Remember, a writer is the worst judge of his own work.” But only if you think it’s good. If you think it sucks, suddenly they forget that wisdom.

          On getting bored, yep. If I get bored, I know critical mind is lurking somewhere. If a story slows to a drag, it’s usually because I’ve written past the scene or chapter or book. That’s happened maybe five times in my career so far.

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