Critical Voice vs. Creative Voice: How Can You Tell?

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* The Streak Continues
* Critical Voice vs. Creative Voice: How Can You Tell?
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“It’s a rare and wonderful thing to watch a successful writer build something right in front of you. Lean into this opportunity, it’s a good one!” J. Kevin Tumlinson, on Johnny B. Truant’s post asking whether anyone wants to watch him write a novel “live” on Substack. (I guess Kevin didn’t hear about mine yet [sigh])

And the grin of the day….

“New From PerkyDan Products: A I

“My new Appropriated Intelligence machine allows anyone to become almost a writer as fast as you can tap your fingers on the ‘copy’ button. Novels, short stories, screenplays, poems, blogs, letters to the editor, and notes to that cute blonde down the street are yours instantly and in the style of your favorite writer.

“Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, Twain, King… hell, even King James… are all yours for the plucking. And no one will ever know!

“You’ve always wanted to be a writer. Here’s your opportunity to almost get there. Remember, even if you can’t get it right, you can still get it write – with Appropriated Intelligence from PerkyDan Products.”

Dan Baldwin, PerkyDan Products

The Streak Continues

I thought I had missed my 3000-word goal yesterday, but when I did the math I surpassed it by… ready? Nine words.

I did send only two chapters to the readers of the Writing in Public substack though: 31 and 32. Today I’ll finish 33. Then at 4 p.m. today I’ll send whatever I write during the day.

Critical Voice vs. Creative Voice: How Can You Tell?

I received a great question from a fellow writer. Here’s an excerpt from his email:

“I have a problem finishing longer works. I’ve only ever finished short stories (55 stories in the last couple years). I’m 7k words into the ‘novel’ I wrote you about yesterday, and my lead is telling me it’s time to wrap up this mystery and move onto his next case.

“Is this my creative voice telling me I’m simply a short story writer or is it my critical voice killing me being a novellist? How do I discern?”

Great question, and one I also used to struggle with.

Short answer: I suspect it’s your critical voice.

The critical voice is always negative. Always. If something’s “telling” you to wrap up the story, that almost has to be critical voice. It’s telling you to stop writing, and creative voice would never do that.

In fact, I can’t imagine a character telling the writer the end of the story is even near. The characters are LIVING the story. They don’t know how or when it will end either.

The characters will lead you through to the end, but they won’t say “Hey, the end is coming” or “Hey, it’s time to think about wrapping this story.” They just won’t.

If it IS your critical voice, it isn’t trying to kill you being a novelist. It’s trying to kill you being a writer.

Short stories are easier to write in only one respect: You can have the whole story (or most of it) in mind the whole time you’re writing. When you’re writing a longer work, you really have to trust your creative voice and your characters, and Just Write.

And there’s no real-world risk involved. Nobody’s gonna come to your house and thump on you if they don’t like your story. The story isn’t important. What matters is that you enjoy writing it (and experiencing it) as you run through it with your characters.

For the writer, it’s a win-win situation. Even if you never publish your story or novel, YOU are the first person in the world to have witnessed and enjoyed that story. That’s pretty cool.

The only other difference between a short story and a longer work is that the short story is about One Event and the characters’ reaction to it.

A novella or novel or novel series is exactly the same thing except it’s about more than one event and it keeps going. And no, you won’t know what the other events even are until you get there and the characters reveal them.

I know all of this from personal experience.

If I hadn’t taken a deep breath and forced myself to trust my creative voice and my characters back in 2014, I still would never have written a novel.

My best advice is to let the story be however long or short it wants to be.

Would your character maybe go back to his office, do whatever he does there to pass the time, set a new record for the time he catches a tennis ball he banks off the floor and then the wall and catches? Flirts with his secretary or whatever? And then another call comes in within a day or two or a week? That’s how my Stern Talbot mysteries are.

That’s also kind’a what the POV characters do in my Blackwell Ops series. The POV character goes from one high-tension assignment to the next with some relaxing “down time” for the reader (climbing a hill in a roller coaster) in the times in between as readers see the guy living his non-tension life.

Then a new assignment comes in, and blam! the roller coaster plunges down a steep hill toward another set of twists and turns. If that’s your POV character, maybe continue in the same book. (Many of my novels in all genres really are collections of short stories).

You can also run through several stories, each in its own novella or novel, with the same POV character. In that format, your main guy would get a new assignment with each book. Then you’re back to letting the story be whatever length it needs to be.

As for how to tell the difference between critical voice and creative voice: If it’s a tiny, quiet, internal voice, and if it isn’t negative, it’s probably the character.

Are you really bored with the story? (If so, maybe you aren’t simply running through it with the characters and writing down what happens and what they say and do in response.)

Or are you just anxious to move on to the next part of the story? (If so, either close out the book and start the next one or just start the next chapter.)

I’ve found that if you trust the characters and just follow them through the story, they will lead you to a well-duh ending where there’s no doubt in your mind.

Finally, here’s some of the best advice I ever got from Dean Wesley Smith. This might be just what you need: If you get to a place where you feel “stuck,” but you also feel there’s more story to tell, take a deep breath and Just Write the Next Sentence, whatever comes, then the next and the next. Very soon the story will be racing along again.

I hope this helps. Any questions, email me at

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Nothing today

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1180

Writing of Blackwell Ops 12: Nick Soldata (novel)

Day 11…. 3033 words. To date…… 36870
Day 12…. 4327 words. To date…… 41197
Day 13…. 3009 words. To date…… 44206

Fiction for October…………………… 76246
Fiction for 2023………………………… 293788
Fiction since August 1………………… 179241
Nonfiction for October……………… 23540
Nonfiction for the year……………… 221880
Annual consumable words………… 515608

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 5
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 76
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 234
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.