Stages of a Fiction Writer: Stage 4

In today’s Journal

* Writers Ask
* Stage 4 Writers
* My Own Experience with the Stages
* And Dean’s Take
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Writers Ask

Just yesterday, a writer emailed me with a cool question:

“Why in the hell were/are the pulp writers (and I suppose, those of us today who seek to emulate them) seen as ‘less than’ or people who write ‘disposable’ fiction? To me it just seems like a bunch of snobbery, but perhaps I’m still too young to truly understand it.”

My Response

“No sir, in my opinion you understand it perfectly well. It’s sheer snobbery, primarily propagated by those who have a permanent forearm-shaped indentation on their forehead and constantly go about telling anyone who will listen what terrible ‘drudgery’ writing is. Some of them actually brag about spending a year (or years) writing a novel. (Seems to me they’re bragging about being lazy.)

“As for the rest of us, when those know-it-all snots deign to talk to us at all, we generally smile and nod a lot. Then we go write more stories. (grin) Because we’re actual Writers having fun, not martyrs ‘suffering for our art’.”

It’s all common sense, folks. Practice means improvement, and the more time you spend following the myths, the less time you get to practice. Which is a great segue to…

Stage 4 Writers

are in complete control of the words and sentences and paragraphs. For them, words are literally only tools to be used or discarded. Stage 4 writers

  • know POV and how and when to switch it skillfully.
  • are patient and know the characters will reveal themselves over time (just as actual humans do).
  • know (and most often can innately sense) Pacing.
  • understand the Story is the characters’ story, not theirs, that they are only the vessel through which the story is delivered.
  • trust their characters and the story completely.
  • are always on guard against critical voice and mostly in control of it.

Despite all of the above, especially early in Stage 4, sometimes some writers still fear, within themselves, the story isn’t quite as good as it could be. BUT they still don’t allow themselves to conduct a critical-mind revision, rewrite, or edit.

Stage 4 writers also

  • understand their initial role as Observer/Recorder is non-intrusive, but only to present what happens in the story in real time, and that
  • their role as Writer is only to to present the story to maximum effect for the greatest number of readers. They
  • don’t think about or fret over whether a story is “perfect” BUT
  • fully understand that what one reader (even the writer him- or herself) likes or loves another might enjoy or dislike, and they couldn’t care less.
  • They do their best at their current skill level to present the story. Then they fuggedaboutit and move on to the next story.

The Stage 4 writer is not only completely aware of the reader, but is in control of the reader’s reading experience through the manipulation of words, sentences, punctuation, paragraphs, character, POV, setting, scene, and pacing.

Of greatest importance to the Stage 4 writer is

  • (as the Observer/Recorder) to faithfully record the authentic story—what actually happened and the characters’ reactions as s/he ran through the story with the characters—and
  • to present the story as well as s/he can at his or her current skill level to the reader.

There you go, my take on the stages of a fiction writer. I hope it helps some of you determine your own level of craft and encoursges you to continue learning.

My Own Experience with the Stages

Today I am a Stage 4 writer, probably at about a medium level. I’ve mastered a lot of the craft—with the caveat that a big part of “mastery” is understanding there’s always more to learn even about techniques you already “know.”

Fortunately, I was blessed with a strong will and discipline early in life. Then, at the ripe old age of 61, I was doubly blessed to stumble across Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark.

Once I decided to give WITD a real try—primarily to prove to myself that it wouldn’t work—I found to my never-ending surprise and delight that it does.

So I further dedicated myself to Heinlein’s Rules, WITD, and to quieting and pushing-down the critical voice.

I also committed myself to a firm daily word count goal (I strongly recomment this) of 3000 new, publishable words of fiction per day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.

Once I started writing fiction in earnest in April 2014, that discipline and hard-headedness enabled me to progress through Stages 1–3 in about six years.

But “dedicated” and “committed” are the key words.

Again, with very few exceptions, I wrote every day (probably at least 350 days per year). And on most of those days I met or exceeded my daily word count goal of 3000 words per day.

But remember, with much of my life behind me, I had the time available to me to do so. Your results may vary. We all have only so many disposable hours in a day.  But I continue to believe it’s important to write every day, even if for only a half-hour. It all builds up.

Far more importantly, I made writing fiction my number one priority. (Some will consider this a mistake. I do not.) My number two priority was learning more about the craft. (Remember, THAT you write is important. WHAT you write, the individual story or novel, doesn’t matter in the slightest.)

(Disclaimer re my priorities: Of course, writing fiction was only my number 1 priority when the house was not on fire just outside my office door and when a close relative was not seriously ill, etc. As always, your priorities might differ. Just remember they are yours, not anyone else’s, to set.)

As a result, I put out a lot of new stories, novellas, and novels. In between stories, I also continued to learn Craft by taking pertinent workshops and lectures (mostly from Dean), and by voraciously reading the works of Stage 4 writers and those of Hemingway and King and Lawrence Block (whom I consider Stage 5 writers).

Dean does not include Stage 5 writers in his assessment of this topic. That’s his assessment, and that’s fine.

To me a Stage 5 writer is one who has mastered every aspect in Stage 4 and is still learning, albeit only the nuances of what he’s already mastered.

(Dean often mentions King and Nora Roberts in the same sentence, but I haven’t read any of Roberts’ work so I can’t include her as a source of study for my own practice.)

Your experience might differ, but in my case, had I not made the absolute commitment to Heinlein’s Rules and WITD, I would not be where I am today as a fiction writer.

I understand that not everyone has the time available to them to follow the formula above. But no matter your age or other commitments, you can set your own priorities and you can commit to Heinlein’s Rules and writing into the dark.

Awareness is everything.

Once you are aware, Practice (putting new words on the page) is everything. Then you strive to become aware of something else. Or not.

It really is all up to you.

Dean’s Take

To see Dean’s take on the Stages of a Fiction Writer click that link, then click the little magnifying glass search icon to the right of the menu on his site.

Then key “stages of a fiction writer” into the box. Dean’s posts on the topic will pop up. Scroll down and read to your heart’s content. But frankly, I think you’ll get more out of reading and rereading this and my previous post.

Back tomorrow with the paid-subscriber only Storytelling at Depth 5: Pacing.

Talk with you again then.

Of Interest

This Fiction Business I strongly encourage you to read this. Great stuff.

By the way, the subject of this review is a rare book. I almost bought a hardback copy for $20, but the bookseller cancelled because someone got there a second before I did. So I searched again and found a new, leather-bound copy for $35. Total win. (grin)

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1340

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for July…………………….….… 5946
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 401478
Fiction since October 1………………… 698589
Nonfiction for July……………………… 8350
Nonfiction for 2024……………………… 219230
2024 consumable words………………… 614762

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 10
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 92
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: Harvey Stanbrough is a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog he teaches Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. Harvey will never teach the myths on this blog.

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