In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* My Three Big Takeaways from 2022
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” Stephen King
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” Ray Bradbury
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” Stephen King
My Three Big Takeaways from 2022
This year, I experienced three epiphanies or realizations. All three are extensions of what I first learned from Dean Wesley Smith as writing into the dark, but they take the concept much deeper. They are the result of making WITD my own.
1. You must trust your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living.
If you trust your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living, you will write their unique, authentic, original story, untainted by your (or others’) critical external input.
This is different than simply writing without an outline. This is WHY you should write without an outline. This is why you should never consider creating an outline.
Your characters are living their story, so let them live it. Your only task is to write it down. The bonus is that doing so will entertain you, and then you get publish it so it will entertain others too.
2. The fiction writer is an action correspondent.
Your job, like that of any correspondent, is to report the story as it unfolds from wherever it’s happening. On my various assignments that’s been a small fishing village in Mexico around 1900 to different war zones to a private eye in from Chicago to California to Arizona to a generation ship soaring deep into the galaxy a thousand years from now and finally an exoplanet.
The keyword is ‘report.’ Good correspondents don’t make up anything. We simply look-in on one set of characters or another and write down what’s going on in their world as it happens, and what they’re saying and doing in response.
3. It is literally impossible to outline or plan an authentic story, because the authentic story unfolds as the characters live it.
How can you (or the characters, for that matter) foresee what’s going to happen in the next few minutes or hours or days? You can’t, and they can’t.
The story is developing, unfolding, as they live it. Your only job is to write what happens and what the characters say and do as the story unfolds.
Certainly it is within your power to fabricate something, make something up, and that’s fine. But that won’t be your characters’ authentic story. Not only will you never know how good that story might have been, you’ll never even know WHAT that story might have been because you didn’t trust your characters enough to let it unfold.
Those are my three big takeaways from 2022. But actually, one more is partially formed too.
4. You must trust yourself at your current skill level.
If you wait to write until you improve as a writer, you will never write.
Improvement in writing, as improvement in any art form, comes from practice (putting new words on the page). Reading about, talking about, or thinking about writing—all functions of the critical mind—is not writing.
For a long time, I equated trusting my characters with trusting myself and my creative subconscious. But that is not accurate. Trusting your characters and trusting yourself are two separate acts that will achieve two separate ends.
Part of writing an authentic story is trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living.
But your characters have no way of getting the story out. For that, they rely on you. And the thing is, your characters trust you more than you trust yourself.
Read that again. Your characters trust you more than you trust yourself.
Why else would they invite you to roll off the parapet into the trenches of the story with them, to run through it with them, and to record it To The Best Of Your Current Ability and then publish it so others can see it?
Unfortunately, most of us don’t trust ourselves as much as our characters trust us. Even the few of us who trust our characters to tell the story that they, not we, are living don’t always trust ourselves to convey the story the “right” way: with the “right” structure or the “right” ratio of dialogue to narrative or the “right” syntax or grammar or punctuation or whatever.
Which of course is an excellent opening for the critical mind to seep into.
Don’t let it. You really do know a great deal more about storytelling than you realize. You really have been absorbing Story, including various types of structure, your entire life. You’ve probably been telling stories to others since before you even knew there was an alphabet.
Trust that you know how to tell a story, just as you trust that you know to capitalize the first letter of the first word of a sentence and when to use a question mark instead of a period at the end of a sentence. It’s Exactly the Same Thing.
So go back to number 1 above. Trust the characters and write the story they convey to you as they’re living it. And trust yourself that you will do so to the best of your ability at your current skill level.
Between stories, go learn something else about writing that you’re interested in. Then write another story, and another, and another. Alternate learning with writing.
Engage in learning periods. Read and enjoy a master’s work. Mark any passages that blow you away. (I attach a thin sticky note to the page, then go back to reading.) After the story ends, I go back to re-read, dissect and study the passages that blew me away to see how s/he did that.
You can also take a class, read a how-to on writing fiction, etc. All of these are conscious, critical mind exercises. What you learn will seep into your creative subconscious.
Engage in practice. Practice, as a writer, means putting new words on the page.
If you alternate periods of writing (or writing projects) with periods of learning, you will progress rapidly as a writer. Later, as your knowledge accumulates, you probably will practice more (write more stories or novels) between learning sessions.
Remember, you cannot improve as a writer by hovering over one work trying to perfect it. And even if you get it “perfect” to your taste, it will be far from perfect for many readers.
As the fourth realization—Trust Yourself—becomes more clear in my mind, I’ll probably address it again in a future post.
The first three takeaways above are what helped me claw my way back to recording authentic stories for my characters after my hiatus. I hope they will help you in some way with your own writing too.
Don’t wonder where you’ll be with your writing a year from now if only you start writing today. Wonder where you’ll be tomorrow, and a week from now, and a month from now. And where will you be if you don’t start?
Talk with you again soon.
See “Why scientists want to microwave the Moon” at https://interestingengineering.com/science/microwaving-the-moon. Humans: we’re number one at our inability to Just Leave Stuff Alone. And we always get it wrong. Always.
See “California’s carbon offsetting may actually be increasing emissions” at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2352926-californias-carbon-offsetting-may-actually-be-increasing-emissions/. Again. (See above.)
See “Forensic scientists are gaining an edge on crime” at https://www.snexplores.org/article/forensic-scientists-new-tools-fingerprints-dna-solving-crime.
The Journal…………………………………… 1300 words
Writing of WCG 7 Santa Fe 2 (novel tentative title)
Day 10… 2524 words. Total words to date…… 27438
Day 11… 3156 words. Total words to date…… 30594
Day 12… 1065 words. Total words to date…… 31659
Day 13… 2380 words. Total words to date…… 34039
Day 14… 3159 words. Total words to date…… 37198
Total fiction words for December……… 53612
Total fiction words for the year………… 268586
Total nonfiction words for December… 21290
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 219370
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 487956
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 70
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. Because It Makes Sense, I trust my characters to tell the story that they, not I, are living. This greatly increases my productivity and provides the fastest possible ascension along the learning curve of Craft because I get a great deal more practice at actually writing. It will do the same for you if only you trust it.