In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Process for (Genre) World Building
* Stop Hitting Yourself
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will.” Sugar Ray Robinson
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” [emphasis added] Ray Bradbury
Process for (Genre) World Building
Yesterday I linked to the post “Process for Fantasy World Building” over at The Passive Voice. The article advocated ridiculous levels of control. Naturally, I left a comment:
“Or you (and your readers) could just, I dunno, learn about the world like you do in real life as you experience it alongside your characters?”
Simple, right? Well, it should be. Among the easiest tasks any human can commit is to open the clenched fist and let go. Unfortunately, among the more difficult tasks is to imbue one’s self with the self-confidence to make letting go an option.
Another commenter, Felix Torres, chose to correct me and therefore save the world for those who break out in a cold sweat at the very thought of letting go control:
“That would work. If you have internalized the logic of the cultures and magic systems. And if you have the discipline to stay consistent throughout. I expect Piers Anthony could do that in his sleep after his 20th XANTH volume.”
And in response, I wrote something I thought would be appropriate, maybe even necessary, to share here. But listen—I can only say this so many times and in only so many different ways, folks. In the end, I suppose you either get it or you don’t. And if you don’t, well, I can only say you have no idea what you’re missing and I really wish I could have gotten through. Here’s my response to Felix’ comment:
“As for ‘internalizing’ the writing craft, we (all of us) have been absorbing story since before we were aware there was an alphabet. Where most writers fall short is failing to trust that.
“Of course, hucksters selling nonfiction how-to books on writing (many of whom haven’t written much fiction, if any at all) don’t want us to believe in ourselves or trust what we’ve internalized. They want us to believe we are incapable so they can sell us more how-to books on writing.
“Several years ago I chose to let go of all that nonsense, trust myself and my creative subconscious, and Just Write. I would no more correct with my conscious, critical mind what happens as I and my characters race through a story that is unfolding all around us than I would correct you as you’re telling me about something that happened to you during one of your adventures. It isn’t my place.
“‘Logic’ has no more place in fiction than it has in how real life unfolds. My expertise comes from having written and published over 80 novels and novellas and over 200 short stories across several genres.
“As for plotting, I wrote my first novel in 29 writing days. The longest (at around 106,000 words) took 32 days. That’s what can happen when you trust the process and when you trust the characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living.
“But sure, if you’re insecure enough in your own abilities that you have to wrench the story away from your characters and construct it block by block and step by step instead of just letting the creative process flow, by all means do so. When others succumb to unreasoning fears that has absolutely no impact on my bottom line.”
This rather conveniently ties-in with an email I received yesterday and with today’s advice:
Stop Hitting Yourself
Just yesterday, not long after I offered an absolutely free limited-time writing intensive to anyone who wanted it, I heard from one writer. And the critical voice and the unreasoning fear established immediately by that writer’s critical voice was strong.
In the first line of the email, s/he wrote that s/he “might be interested in the limited-time intensive.”
“Might be interested.” Seriously? That told me up front s/he probably wouldn’t partake, and if s/he did, s/he probably wouldn’t be able to overcome the unreasoning fear. The fear was so strong in this writer that s/he couldn’t even commit to being INTERESTED in the intensive, much less commit to actually taking part.
But why? Just for yourself, in your own mind, answer this: What’s to fear? What bad thing will befall you if you take part in this intensive? Or if you try writing into the dark on your own?
The only halfway reasonable response I’ve ever heard to that question was “I might ruin my career as a writer.” To which I responded, “What career?”
But seriously, what bad things might happen if you choose to try writing into the dark? Think about it. I’ll wait.
In the second sentence of the email, my respondent doubled down:
“I have to say upfront though that I’m not sure I’m a good fit for this.”
Yes, I got that from the first sentence. The rest of the email continued in a negative vein:
“I’ve fought with my own head for 20 years and my head keeps on winning. You always say to ‘trust yourself’ against the critical voice, but I’ve not ever succeeded.”
Actually, that is inaccurate. I DO say to trust yourself and your creative subconscious and the characters who are actually living the story.
But with regard to the critical voice, I say be rudely, crassly, even violently proactive. Shut it down. Send it to a dark corner of your brain and tell it, point-blank, it has no place in your fiction, that what you’re writing is none of its business.
The critical voice’s job is to protect you. In fiction writing, it’s trying to protect you from the embarrassment of creating something that isn’t “perfect.” But that’s all bat excrement because what’s perfect for one reader (even you) is far from perfect for another. Your job is to write. The reader’s job is to like or dislike what you’ve written.
In short, whether what you’ve written is any good is none of your business.
If the critical voice persists, get up and physically walk away from the writing until it falls quiet. Then go back and write the story as it unfolds around you and your characters. And if the critical voice comes surging back, shut it down again. Do that enough times and it will get the point.
If you’re suffering with this problem and if you haven’t read my book Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction), I strongly recommend it. If you can’t afford to buy it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy free. Yes, seriously. It’s only 9 bucks. I won’t go to the poorhouse.
My respondent continues:
“This is the reason I didn’t take you up on mentorship when you offered it last year. I didn’t have any writing-in-progress to work with, and even right now I’m not sure I’ll be able to produce any.
“I don’t mean to sound that negative and pessimistic, but that’s the headspace I’m working with. I don’t want to set any unrealistic expectations.”
Okay, first, Thank You to this writer for being up front and honest. Frankly, I’m surprised his or her critical voice allowed him or her to even go that far. But let’s continue:
Hmm. “Set any unrealistic expectations….” For whom?
Whether any of you who are reading this ever realize the freedom of writing into the dark has no practical personal effect on me at all, so my expectations certainly don’t enter into the mix.
And it can’t be readers’ expectations. Readers only expect to be entertained, and the more authentic the story the better. Of course, they can figure out anything you can figure out, so again WITD is the better approach. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.
That only leaves the writer’s own expectations. Is it unrealistic to expect yourself to be able to relate a story without thinking it all through first with your conscious, critical mind? If so, when you drive to the grocery and some jerk narrowly avoids clipping the fender of your car as he cuts you off in traffic, do you go over and over and over that story on paper before you convey what happened to your loved ones or other interested parties? Or do you just walk in, flustered and still half-angry, and tell them?
My friend, only you can whip this problem. You don’t even have to report to me or anyone else. You can run your own intensive.
Every day, pick a character with a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story), drop him or her into a setting, and just write whatever comes. The result doesn’t have to be “good,” and you don’t have to publish it. Just write it for yourself, just for the hell of it. Just to write. Do that every day for a week. Two weeks. Three. Whatever.
Because if you’re a writer, THAT you write is vitally important, but WHAT you write, the individual story or novel, doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s just another story in a world drowning in them.
Talk with you again soon.
See “The Other Side of Newsletters” at https://killzoneblog.com/2023/05/the-other-side-of-newsletters.html.
See “Deep learning pioneer warns against rapid AI development as he quits Google” at https://interestingengineering.com/innovation/deep-learning-pioneer-geoffrey-hinton-warns-against-rapid-ai-development-as-he-quits-google.
See “Hollywood writers go on strike after contract negotiations fail” at https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/writers-strike-2023-wga-pay-negotiations-rcna82236. Frankly, from what I’ve seen from Hollywood writers in series, shutting down might be better. I’ve switched almost exclusively to watching British comedies and dramas.
See “Fun Pictures” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/fun-pictures/.
See “Amazon Publishing Statistics” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/amazon-publishing-statistics/.
The Journal…………………………………… 1630
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 May……… xxxx
Total fiction words for 2023………… 83464
Total nonfiction words for May… 3030
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 84720
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 168184
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 progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.