Stages of a Fiction Writer: Stages 1–3

In today’s Journal

* Stages of a Fiction Writer: Intro
* Stage 1 Writers
* Stage 2 Writers
* Stage 3 Writers
* The Novel Wrapped
* The Numbers

Stages of a Fiction Writer: Introduction

I was going to present this in one post, but it was far too long so I split it into two parts. This post and the next are for private self-evaluation only. This is not intended to sound harsh, only honest.

Note: I will never make a judgment regarding which “stage” you’re in as a fiction writer, so please don’t ask. That’s up to you to determine.

In a recent comment, a reader noted that I sometimes mention the “stages” of a fiction writer in TNDJ posts. She also noted I have mentioned that I consider myself a “Stage 4” fiction writer and asked whether I have a list of traits that typify those stages.

To give credit where credit is due, I first heard of The Stages of a Fiction Writer through a series of posts years ago on Dean Wesley Smith’s website.

I agree with some of his assertions, but not all. I’m also not big on labels, but I found his Stages a good guide for self-assessing my own skill level at the moment and determining what I still needed to learn.

At the end of tomorrow’s edition of TNDJ I’ll tell you how to find Dean’s posts on the topic.

What follows is my own take on the stages based on my personal experience as a prolific fiction writer and as a copyeditor over the years. You will probably note that some of these traits are fluid, moving from one stage to another. You will also note that some of the traits repeat. This is only a general guideline.

Am I qualified? Only you can be the judge of that. But over a period of 8 years I have written roughly half as much as my unintentional mentor wrote over his 40+ year career.

Stage 1 Writers

despite their protestations, aren’t really aware of potential readers at all. To be fair, they don’t know they aren’t aware, and most believe they are.

  • Their sole focus is on the typing and on following the “rules” of writing (the myths).
  • They believe there is a complex formula for success, and that if they stack this story component on that one and then place another one next to those in a particular sequence, they will succeed.
  • They are dependent-on and seek approval and validation from agents, editors, and publishers (i.e., people who don’t write fiction).
  • Some melodramatically complain about writing being a “solitary endeavor” while simultaneously believing it takes a team to write a story or novel (agent, editor, beta readers, critique groups, etc.). (Hint: The fundamental component necessary for success is believing in yourself.)
  • They fret over individual words and individual sentences, and over making the sentences grammatically correct.
  • Many might spend hours (or days!) in an attempt to make a single sentence or paragraph “perfect.”
  • They also still believe each paragraph should cover a “topic,” as they were taught it should in school.
  • Many have no clue how to wield punctuation like a maestro’s baton to direct the reading their work.
  • They have no concept of Story except as something to be constructed from component parts. (I call this Construction from Deconstruction, or writing from a critic’s point of view..)
  • They have no concept of the nuances of language or the nuances of fiction writing, i.e., how the “components” of a story flow and mix and intermix.
  • They see the components of fiction as blocks to be connected and stacked, but they are unable to sense the interconnection, the flow of one component into and through the other.

I should add that none of this is their fault. We’ve all been there. Like all of us, they were mostly taught by people who do not write fiction.

Most school teachers who DO write fiction, even seriously, are stuck in Stage 2. Few if any get beyond Stage 3.

(Yes, Stephen King was a teacher for awhile. He was also a very notable exception. Now, name another one.)

Stage 2 Writers

are starting to consider or worry about Story and Characters and POV, but

  • Their focus is still largely on typing, grammar, individual words, and individual sentences.
  • And perfection.
  • They still aren’t aware of potential readers, so they aren’t even close to realizing that what is “perfect” to one reader is terrible to another.
  • Most are still bound solidly to the myths and believe revisions and rewrites and editing and content critiques by other writers and polishing (all functions of the critical mind) will help or improve a story. (Hint: It won’t. It will make the story worse.)
  • Many still melodramatically complain about writing being a “solitary endeavor” while simultaneously believing it takes a team to write a story or novel (agent, editor, beta readers, critique groups, etc.).
  • Some will actually say they have learned enough and stop seeking new knowledge re the craft of fiction writing.

Note: The openings critiques I offer have nothing to do with content. They concern only the inclusion and arrangment of that content. Imagine that: I might actually respect your characters more than you do. (grin)

Stage 2 writers are in transition from the first stage to the third stage. But unfortunately many will remain in Stage 2, trapped in the comfort and “safety” of the myths. (Seriously, safety from what?)

A few of those writers, primarily due to their own or their contacts’ skill in marketing or sheer good luck, are bestselling authors. Go figure.

  • If you want to make a steady income, get or keep your day job.
  • If you want to make a lot of money, make good investments.
  • If you want to write great fiction, read on. (And maybe grab a copy of Writing Better Fiction. It literally contains everything you need to know about writing fiction.)

Stage 3 Writers

are becoming increasingly aware of Story and Characters and readers.

  • They have a tenuous grasp of POV and they have begun to notice and wonder about Pacing and more.
  • A few still melodramatically complain about writing being a “solitary endeavor” while simultaneously believing it takes a team to write a story or novel (agent, editor, beta readers, critique groups, etc.).
  • They have also begun to understand that words and sentences are only tools. By the time they reach the end of Stage 3, they are so focused on story they often no longer notice the individual words or sentences.
  • As they advance through this stage and learn more about critical mind vs. creative subconscious, they leave critique groups behind.
  • As they advance through this stage and learn more about reader-opinion (one is as good as another) they leave beta readers behind. (Note: A good first reader is not a “beta reader” and offers no opinion on content.)
  • They seldom revise except in the creative subconscious (cycling) and they almost never rewrite.
  • As they advance through this stage and gain personal confidence, they leave rewriting behind.
  • Some will still actually say they have learned enough and stop seeking new knowledge re the craft of fiction writing. (Yes, this is a repeated trait.) As a result, they become stuck in Stage 3 and never advance.
  • Again, a few of these writers, primarily due to their own or their contacts’ skill in marketing or sheer good luck, are bestselling authors. Go figure.

Depending on how much the Stage 3 writer practices (puts new words on the page), learns and publishes, s/he might stay in Stage 3 for a year to several years.

Many writers never advance beyond Stage Three, but they still know a great deal more craft than those who are stuck in Stage 2.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another post on the Stages of a Fiction Writer: Stage 4.

Talk with you again then.

Admin Note: On Sunday, I’ll go back to the paid subscriber only Storytelling at Depth 5 with a post on Pacing.

Monday will be the usual public Challenge post and catching up on other things, and on Tuesday, I’ll post the final Storytelling at Depth 6 on Endings.

The Novel Wrapped

As a side note for anyone who’s interested, the novel wrapped yesterday with a little under 42,000 words. Completion of that novel brings me to 92 novel, and to 101 novels and novellas. I intend to celebrate by starting a new story.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1140

Writing of Blackwell Ops 25: Rafe Andersen

Day 1…… 3243 words. To date…… 3243
Day 2…… 1354 words. To date…… 4597
Day 3…… 2899 words. To date…… 7496
Day 4…… 1545 words. To date…… 9041
Day 5…… 2085 words. To date…… 11126
Day 6…… 1302 words. To date…… 12428
Day 7…… 4069 words. To date…… 16497
Day 8…… 1539 words. To date…… 18036
Day 9…… 5366 words. To date…… 23402
Day 10…. 1270 words. To date…… 24672
Day 11…. 1628 words. To date…… 26300
Day 12…. 2938 words. To date…… 29238
Day 13…. 4008 words. To date…… 33246
Day 14…. 2579 words. To date…… 35825
Day 15…. 1769 words. To date…… 37594
Day 16…. 1467 words. To date…… 39061
Day 17…. 2094 words. To date…… 41155
Day 18…. 0616 words. To date…… 41771 (done)

Fiction for July…………………….….… 5946
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 401478
Fiction since October 1………………… 698589
Nonfiction for July……………………… 7000
Nonfiction for 2024……………………… 217880
2024 consumable words………………… 613412

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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