In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Social Media Alternatives Redux
* Of Interest
Quote of the Day
“I tell would-be writers that there are three things to forget about. First, talent. I used to worry that I had no talent, and it compelled me to work harder. Second, inspiration. Habit will serve you a lot better. And third, imagination. Don’t worry, you have it.” Octavia Butler
Social Media Alternatives Redux
Yesterday I asked for input from anyone who has been using any Facebook alternatives. (Nothing yet.)
In today’s “Of Interest” see the article about Substack’s new Twitter alternative, called Notes. Also, you can learn about Notes at https://substack.com/notes.
First, a disclaimer—If you have constructed your fiction block by carefully placed block from an outline and character-sketches and situated it in a pre-planned, pre-constructed world, you might want to skip this article. Cycling, even if you were able to do it, would not help you. To be honest, I doubt your characters (or your creative subconscious) would respond even if you did call on them. Of course, I might be wrong, as I often am.
But there is some good news. Even if you have consciously “figured out” what happens next at every step of the way and effectively written the story as a function of your conscious, critical mind, you won’t take the story much farther from your unique, original voice by revising, rewriting and polishing (whatever that is) with the conscious, critical mind as well.
And cynical as I might sound, I really am all for dancing with the one who brought you. Seriously, I really don’t care how you write. I only write this Journal to pay forward what I’ve learned over the course of writing over 70 novels, 9 novellas, and around 220 short stories.
Now, let’s get to it.
Yesterday, my TalkWalker account alerted me to a response to a comment I had left on another post. The comment regarded Heinlein’s Rule 3: “You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.” A while later, Harlan Ellison added, “And then only if you agree.”
(You may download, free, an annotated copy of Heinlein’s Rules by clicking https://harveystanbrough.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Heinleins-Business-Habits-Annotated-2.pdf.)
In her response to my comment, Kay DiBianca (a regular contributor on Kill Zone blog) wrote, “I’m glad you mentioned Heinlein’s Rule #3, Harvey. I’m planning to take a swing at the subject of revising one’s work in my next post. I hope you’ll read it and comment.”
Of course I will. And in preparation for that, here’s my promised take on “revising one’s work,” albeit with two caveats:
One, I call what I do “cycling” specifically to differentiate it from “revision.” The reason will become apparent to those who practice and compare the two methods, but to put it succinctly, “revision” is a function of the conscious, critical mind. “Cycling,” on the other hand, is strictly a function of the creative subconscious. That is a major difference.
And two, because I’ve written on this topic many times, this will not be the exhaustive article I advertised a couple of days ago. Rather, today I will mention only some necessary background and a new thought I’ve had on the subject. However, I’ve included links to some of my other articles on the topic at the end of this post.
Cycling is two processes, really. One, it renders the writer unstuck in time.
So if Aunt Marge pulls a .32 caliber revolver from the pocket of her housecoat in Chapter 18, completely surprising the writer, the writer can “cycle back” to an earlier time in the story and write a quick sentence or two to let the reader watch as Aunt Marge opens the drawer of her nightstand, picks up that revolver, and slips it into the pocket of her housecoat before going to discover the source of the suspicious noise coming from the living room.
But cycling is also something we who write into the dark do routinely as we’re writing. This is the process that’s more similar to revision. Dean Wesley Smith “cycles back” every 300 to 500 words. I cycle back once every writing session (so around every 1000 to 1200 words).
In my case, I write for about an hour, then take a break for a few minutes. When I come back to the writing, I read over what I wrote in the previous session.
This is important: As I read over what I wrote, I don’t “look for” (conscious, critical mind) ANYthing. If you’re looking for things to fix or correct, you’ve engaged the conscious, critical mind.
I never do that on purpose, and if I find myself “looking for” anything, I physically get up and walk away. When my critical mind has withdrawn to the corner I assigned it, I go back to the story and continue.
When I cycle back, I read strictly as a reader, having suspended my sense of disbelief and simply enjoying the story. In other words, I read with my creative subconscious engaged. My fingertips rest on the keyboard and I allow myself (my creative subconscious or my POV character) to touch the story as I read through it. When I reach the whitespace again, I continue writing. Everything is done via the creative subconscious.
This became easy for me to do once I came to understand that none of the stories I write is MY story. In my story, I’m sitting alone in a room at a keyboard, living vicariously through the characters into whose world I’m privileged to peek. So this thing I’m writing, the story I’m recording for posterity, is my CHARACTERS’ story.
I’m fortunate they invited me along. Stephen King calls himself his characters’ stenographer. Similarly, my role, as I race through the story with my characters, is that of Recorder. I record events as the story unfolds around us, and I record the characters’ reactions.
Now for a new (to me) rationale for cycling instead of revising, or rather for employing the creative subconscious instead of the conscious, critical mind—
Sometimes, after I’ve finished a novel, I will cycle back over the whole thing. I’ll read back over the entire story, not critically but as a reader, strictly to enjoy the story. Of course it takes at least a few sittings, but again, as I read, I let my fingers rest on the keys and I allow my characters to touch the story as they deem necessary.
Here’s the thing—I absolutely could not do that with my conscious critical mind engaged.
For one thing, my conscious mind might decide something is missing, and it might choose to insert that missing informatioin in the story. But if I allow myself to do that, eventually I’ll come to the place where my creative subconscious had already inserted the information.
There was nothing missing after all. The information just wasn’t where my second-guessing, conscious, critical mind thought it should be. Then, naturally, I’ll try to correct my error, and the next thing I know the story is unrecognizable and I have that sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my gut. Of course, had I simply trusted my creative subconscious in the first place, there would be no errors to correct.
Maybe interesting to note that the whole time I’m writing into the dark (or into the unknown), I never get that sick feeling in my stomach. I’m scared half to death sometimes and absolutely exhilarated most of the time, but I never get that little ill feeling from having forced a wrong turn in the story.
For another thing, if as I read I started consciously “looking for” things to “correct” I would find dozens of them, maybe hundreds over the course of a novel. Guaranteed, no problem. But they wouldn’t really need to be “corrected.”
I would maybe reverse a word order here and there, or replace “which” with “that” (or vice versa) or swap out “under” for “beneath” or turn a compound, complex sentence into three or four simple sentences or revise a few paragraph breaks (probably to slow or speed up the pacing) or any number of other things.
But—and this is the whole key to why I don’t do this—those changes would “improve” the story for whom? In reality, I would only be making the manuscript different, not better.
Every reader (and editors and publishers and even writers are readers too) is different, with different tastes, different moods, etc. What seems “better” to one will seem “worse” to another. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to change that.
So I personally find it important to write as-is the story that unfolds as I and the characters race through it. That is the surest chance that I’ll write it in my own unique, original voice. And I do not allow anyone, either my own conscious, critical mind or the critical minds of others, to alter or influence that. I defend my work
To believe that even my own conscious, logical, critical mind could possibly know better than my creative subconscious is to believe that my version of my neighbors’ account of the trip they took to Ecuador is better than theirs. It just ain’t so.
My own unique voice resides only in my creative subconscious. Certainly it is influenced by works I’ve read, sitcoms and dramas and movies I’ve watched and listened to, and all the other millions of bits of input my creative subconscious has absorbed over the years, even way back before I was aware an alphabet even existed.
Of course that includes the various kinds of story structure, modes of delivery, and the nuances of language whether on the live stage or in film or radio, audio or print, and whether in ebooks or on paper.
Like most writers, I used to be scared half to death of not knowing where a story was going next. Then I realized that was an unreasoning fear. It has zero basis in real consequences. As I wrote in a comment on Kay DiBianca’s post a few days ago,
“[W]ith any luck at all, there might be plenty of turbulence. It’s called the unknown. You get that a lot when you trust your characters, record the story as it unfolds around you and them, and just write off into the dark.”
However, even with all that turbulence, there’s nothing to fear, because in reality, “you’re sitting in your chair at your desk in your office, so you know you can dive into the unknown and come out the other side thoroughly exhilirated but with nary a scratch.”
When you write into the dark and you finish a short story or novel, you’re like the kid standing next to the roller coaster, having just climbed down from the car, barely able to stand still and yelling, “Again! Again!”
I never want to write anything that is less-than it might have been because I second-guessed the characters who actually lived the story. That would just be wrong.
As promised, you can find more on Cycling at the following posts:
There are several other posts on the subject too. I’ve addressed it several times over the years. To see those posts, key “cycling” into the Search box in the sidebar at https://hestanbrough.com and then click the Enter key.
While you’re at it, you can also visit https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-archives-gifts-dvds/, then click on and download the free and fully searchable PDF Journal Archives.
Bradbury Challenge Report—This post is already long so I’ll hold off on reporting Bradbury Challenge numbers until next time.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Substack launches its Twitter-like Notes just days after Twitter throttled Substack links” at https://www.theverge.com/2023/4/11/23677946/substack-notes-twitter-throttled-blocked-links. Will the children ever stop playing their stupid games? That said, I’m not aware of a single time that Twitter blocked any of my Substack Journal posts.
The Journal…………………………………… 1970
Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)
Day 11… 0323 words. Total words to date…… 19819
Day 12… 2445 words. Total words to date…… 22264
Day 13… 3184 words. Total words to date…… 25448
Total fiction words for April……… 12641
Total fiction words since April 1… 12641
Total fiction words for 2023………… 78829
Total nonfiction words for April… 10730
Total nonfiction words since April 1… 10730
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 72990
Total words (fiction and this blog) since April 1…… 23370 (to shadow Dean’s challenge)
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 151819
Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 221
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark, adherence to Heinlein’s Rules, and that following the myths of fiction writing will slow your progresss as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.