The Daily Journal, Friday, May 31

In today’s Journal

* Lazy day today
* Topic: Quieting the Critical Mind (Chapter 11)
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Lazy day today for some reason. Well, I know the reason, really.

I’m writing, but I’m piddling, taking my time, allowing distractions. This has never happened to me before, and I’m certain the WIP is behind it. Well, I’m certain my feelings for the WIP are behind it.

I’m both anxious to write this story and wary of writing it too fast. I want to write it but I don’t want to approach the end. So I’m more likely to be happy with a 1000-word day. (Today, in a half-hearted effort to overcome this, when I realized I’d reached 1100 words I told myself to take a break and then come back and keep writing.)

Always before, I routinely made 3000 words per day and pushed for 4000 or 5000 words in a day. And often reached it with no problem.

With all of my other other books, including the ones in the series that leads to this novel, I just wanted to get through the story. And as I neared the end, I wanted to rush through it, type it as fast as I could and put it behind me so I could begin the next book.

But with this one, it just isn’t that way.

It isn’t that this book or this story is “special” or “important” either, not in any broader sense (as in “the novel as event”). But it’s incredibly important to me personally. It’s important that I enjoy this time with these characters.

And not just enjoy it but revel in it, cherish it. I feel an even stronger sense of nostalgia for the characters than I do for the defunct time period in which they lived. I’m just hoping one (or more) of them will want to take off in their own series in the time and place where they live.

But unfortunately, the time and place is passing even as they live it. Even they are aware of it passing away. It’s as if the sun, in its daily trek across the sky, drags a little more of the time period with it as it drops over the horizon. And now, it’s dragging the last bits of the era along, and what’s worse, it’s going without a struggle.

That’s me as a wistful, nostalgic reader. For me as a professional fiction writer, even with this story, I want to race along with the characters as always, striving to keep up and record what they say and do. But the eventual result of that is that I will near and then reach the end of the story.

And I don’t want to reach the end of this one. I just don’t. So just in case anyone wondered, there you go.

Now I’ll go back and see whether maybe I can lift my feet and run with them again instead of trudging along sluggishly as I have been.

Topic: Quieting the Critical Mind

Chapter 11: Turning the Fear Around

I was thinking maybe this chapter should have come at the front of the book. But until you learned to recognize the critical mind delays for what they are, this wouldn’t have done you a lot of good.

I hope you noticed as you went through each stage — prep delays, post-prep delays, writing delays, and pre-publication delays — that all of those are negative and based on fear.

More often than not, it’s a fear of failure. A fear that someone out there won’t like what you’ve written.

It’s the fear that an acquisition editor at a magazine or at a publishing house will reject your story or novel. Or that a reader will write a bad review.

But the thing is, So What?

What if you do get a rejection slip? What if a reader does write a bad review? So what?

They don’t know you personally.

No acquisitions editor is going to remember your name. If you get a rejection, especially in a form letter, they probably didn’t read past the first page or two. Chances are they don’t even know your name.

If it was a paper submission, the editor probably just stuck the form letter in the self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) you provided and dropped it into the outgoing mail box.

When I was editing for three literary magazines simultaneously, I didn’t have time to read everything that came in.

If a short story or essay didn’t grab me within the first page or so, back into the SASE it went.

For poetry, I soon developed the habit of reading the words down the right side of the poem first. (The end of the poetic line is the most powerful position in a poem.) If those words interested me, I read the poem. If they didn’t, back into the SASE it went.

If an editor rejects an electronic submission, most of the time they don’t even bother sending a rejection. They just don’t send an acceptance letter or email. Many of them put the form rejection in their guidelines with something like, “If you haven’t heard from us within X months, consider your work rejected.”

And even if your work is rejected, nobody’s going to come to your house to point at you and laugh or beat you up.

Besides, chances are, if your story or novel is rejected at one magazine or publisher — and if you follow Heinlein’s Rule 5, “Keep it on the market” — it will be accepted at another.

In his essay titled “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction” (On Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing, Fantasy Press, 1947), Robert Heinlein wrote,

“I shall assume that you can type, … that you can spell and punctuate and can use grammar well enough to get by. These things are merely the word-carpenter’s sharp tools.”

Then he listed the “business habits” that today are referred to as Heinlein’s Rules. In the next paragraph, after saying plainly that his business habits “are amazingly hard to follow,” he wrote,

“But if you will follow them, it matters not how you write, you will find some editor somewhere, sometime, so unwary or so desperate for copy as to buy the worst old dog that you, or I, or anybody else, can throw at him.”

Now don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t assume just because his “business habits” were included in an essay on speculative fiction and included in a book by Fantasy Press that they’re only for speculative fiction writers.

If you only read them, you will see that they aren’t. And if you haven’t read them, you’re cheating yourself.

And all self-deprecation and joking aside, history is replete with examples of now-famous novels that were rejected umpteen times before they found a home. If you don’t believe me, just type “Famous novels that were rejected” into any search engine.

All of that being said, you’ll still be a lot more comfortable if you can somehow manage to overcome your fear of failure.

I’ve found only one foolproof way to do that: Turn the fear around. Instead of being afraid of how you’ll feel if you write, be afraid of how you’ll feel if you don’t.

The only real failure for a writer is to not write.

First, set a goal and make it specific. Ideally, it will be something that is within your reach but makes you stretch.

My goal was a daily word-count goal. I was determined to write 3,000 words of publishable fiction per day. I write 800 to 1200 words per hour (that’s a blazing-fast 14 to 17 words per minute). So 3000 words per day, including short breaks, boiled down to 4 hours in the chair per day. That was doable for me.

I hit it on most days.

But soon I realized when I didn’t hit it, Nothing Bad Happened. I didn’t get any nasty phone calls or emails. Nobody came to my house to rough me up. Nothing happened.

And whether I exceeded my goal, met it, or didn’t meet it, the goal reset to zero the next day.

So I had no chance at all to rest on my laurels or wallow in my bereavement. I had a new daily goal to meet. Amazing how that will drive you to the keyboard.

And another amazing thing happened. When I hit or exceeded my daily goal just one time I knew I could do it again. Just makes sense, right?

And when I hit my goal for two days in a row, then three, then ten, then twenty, suddenly I had a streak going. And the desire to not break the streak drove me back to the computer even on days when I didn’t feel like writing.

And my fear of failure vanished, or rather it reversed. I was suddenly far more afraid of of not meeting my goal than I was of writing.

I had turned the fear around.

After I had that streak going, of course I eventually missed on my goal to write a particular number of words.

But on the other hand, I figured at least I had written something that day.

So I kept going. I still aimed for my daily word count of 3000 publishable words of fiction each day, but now I had a new streak: Now I’d gone a certain number of days without missing writing fiction.

Even when I fell a little short of my daily word count goal, I’d still written something, and that streak drove me to write more. And my critical mind spent more and more time sulking in its corner instead of messing with me.

Then one day I realized instead of being afraid of what would happen if I wrote every day, I was afraid of what would happen if I DIDN’T write every day (my streak would end).

Later I set another goal: to write at least one short story per week. (I also still had the goal to write 3000 words of publishable fiction every day, so this wasn’t that difficult.)

So I started writing one short story per week. (Later, this continued while I was writing novels.)

And again, I turned the fear around. Instead of being afraid of what might happen if I finished a story (rejection), suddenly I was more afraid of what might happen if I DIDN’T finish the story (failure to meet my goal). That would mean, again, my one-story-per-week streak had ended.

That streak did end eventually. But I wrote at least one short story every week for 70 weeks. And I admit, it gave me quite a sense of accomplishment.

But didn’t I “fail” since my streak ended?

Well, yes, in a way. But I failed to success. Because I set that goal in the first place and strived to reach it, I had 70-some more short stories (and the attendant collections) out there earning me money.

So what do I recommend to get over the fear the critical mind keeps throwing at you?

Turn the fear around.

Instead of being afraid of what will happen if you write, be afraid of how you’ll feel if you don’t write.

Once I found Heinlein’s Rules and writing into the dark, I never looked back. I understood THAT I wrote was important, but WHAT I wrote (the particular story or novel) wasn’t.

That enabled me to more easily ignore the pressure from all sides to write character sketches and outlines, to know in advance where the story was going, and all that nonsense.

If I had succumbed to that fear — if I had succumbed to the notion that WHAT I wrote (the story) was more important than THAT I wrote — today I would have finished and published no more than five novels and a handful of short stories. Instead of 50+ novels and novellas and almost 200 short stories.

Instead of being afraid of what will happen if you don’t write character sketches and outlines, and then revise and rewrite, be afraid of your writing time — your escape, fun time — becoming work. Because if you do all of that (write character sketches, and so on), it will.

Set a goal, one that is attainable but that will stretch your abilities, then call on that stubborn streak your mother didn’t like. Put your fanny in the chair, put your fingers on the keyboard and write.

See you in the next chapter.

Rolled out at 3 a.m. Finally to the novel, sort of, at 6. I wrote a little, cycled back to add some character descriptions here and there (so the reader can “see” the character that I see), then added the stuff I wove into the story yesterday to my reverse outline.

Took a break around 8. Back to the hovel at 8:40 where I read over and revised Chapter 11 above (yes, revised… it’s a nonficton book) a little bit for clarity.

Back to the novel at 9:30. Wrote a little, puttered a little, did some online shopping, took a break at 10:30. Then I wrote the first part of the Journal above.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “How Is The Writing Going?” at If you set goals for yourself (or if you don’t because you’re afraid to fail), this is an important post to read.

See “All Books Won’t Please Everyone” at

See “Burglars: Experts or Unorganized Amateurs?” at

Not directly about writing, but some great story ideas. See “The preachers getting rich from poor Americans” at

Fiction Words: 2313
Nonfiction Words: 2260 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 4573

Writing of In the Cantina at Noon (novel)

Day 20… 1890 words. Total words to date…… 36451
Day 21… 2961 words. Total words to date…… 39412
Day 22… 1192 words. Total words to date…… 40604
Day 23… 1718 words. Total words to date…… 42322
Day 24… 2313 words. Total words to date…… 44635

Total fiction words for the month……… 44635
Total fiction words for the year………… 306105
Total nonfiction words for the month… 43700
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 155560
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 461665

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 6
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Friday, May 31”

  1. This nonfiction book that you’re writing is so good. I’ll be buying it as soon as it’s published.

    I’ve now posted 3000 words (I’m borrowing your goal) and, THAT you write, not WHAT you write, above my computer. This chapter is so good. As is the one on reverse outlining. I feel like that has been a game changer for me. I can’t ever remember my stories. Especially series. It makes it hard to write them sometimes.

    • Thanks, Darcy. I appreciate it. I see creating a reverse outline a time investment. It pays that time back many times over during the course of writing a novel, and even more so when writing a series.

  2. Couple of thoughts:
    On Chapter 11- no wonder you thought about putting it first. It’s so powerful. But I agree it belongs where you have it. You have to take down the demons in the order they’ll attack you.
    You know that I’m dealing with my very strong critical mind. I feel like a recovering addict. “I’ve beaten Critical Mind for 25 straight days”. The goals are important. The streak (of sticking with your goals) is important. I love the line you have in Ch 11 “The only real failure for a writer is to not write.” I’d plaster that all over the book! Really.
    Regarding Wes & your WIP. That reminds me so much of Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove. I cried like a baby when he died & I’ve never been able to watch it again. My daughters bugged me for years to watch it before I decided they were old enough. Then they were mad as hell at me for letting them get attached to Gus, knowing he would die.
    The truth is, that like some dogs or horses or friends, if we’re lucky a character comes into our lives that just is more special than the others.
    How lucky are we to get to know them?
    The luckiest.

    • Thanks, Karen. And yep, Wes reminds me a lot of Augustus. Wes is a very similar character, but lives a very different story. I literally feel as close a kinship with him as I do with my closest friends. Pretty sure when I wrote novels 1-10 and now my WIP, I was/am channelin Wes.

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