The Daily Journal, Monday, August 5

In today’s Journal

* Topic: Which Brass Ring to Grab?
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Topic: Which Brass Ring to Grab? An Allegory

When you decide to learn the craft of writing (or any other craft, really), it’s like being set at the edge of a wilderness that’s steeped in a forbidding haze.

To either side are a million other aspirants, all wanting the same thing, all eager to become Real Writers.

From either side, you hear a million advisers say to their charges, “The journey might take years. But if you want to excel at the craft of writing, you must do only two things: read extensively, and grab the right brass ring.”

But you have your own trusted advisor, so you block out the other voices. You give your advisor your full attention.

He smiles and puts his hand on your shoulder. And says the same thing: “The journey might take years. But if you want to excel at the craft of writing, you must do only two things: read extensively, and grab the right brass ring.”

Then he gestures vaguely (ominously?) toward the wilderness, just as all the other advisors do.

A tiny chorus of voices in your own head says, “If you want to write, just write. We’ll help.”

But you push it down. “Not now. I have too much to learn.”

And along with the other million aspirants, you set off.

Early in the journey, the haze is not heavy. The air is clean, mostly clear, and in places seems almost perfumed.

Rings are visible virtually everywhere. There are so many that some overlap others. They’re easy to spot. They all gleam with a patina, polished by the touch of millions upon millions of hands.

And friendly, disembodied voices come at you from every direction. At first you hear them as a welcoming murmur, then more loudly as you begin grabbing the beautiful, polished rings and tugging them open.

It isn’t difficult at all. The trapdoors move on well-used hinges.

The voices all mimic each other, often coming in choruses. All of them offer time-honored advice, and none of it feels threatening. You listen, take notes, lower the trap door and move on to the next ring.

As time goes by, you stop taking notes. After all, nobody’s saying anything new. You grin and wonder why the old guy who dropped you off seemed so worried. This is going to be easy.

And it is. It’s so easy, so welcoming, that many have already found what they’re looking for. Less than a month into the journey, almost all of the aspirants have joined those behind the brass rings.

You’re startled to find there are only a thousand or so left.

But it can’t be that easy. All of the advisors said it might take years. Your own advisor said it might take years.

So you continue. You listen closely. No, still no reason to take further notes, but you strive to follow the oft-repeated advice.

You learn you must outline. (Everyone says so.) You learn you must revise and rewrite, to make your work as perfect as you can. (Everyone does it.) And you never think to ask for credentials from the voices behind those highly polished brass rings.

Over months and then years you advance through the wilderness, and the haze only grows thicker and more dense. The air is less perfumed but still filled with the same voices that surrounded you at the beginning.

The ground is still littered with those highly polished rings, but there are fewer than before. You don’t bother to open them because you know you’ll only hear what you’ve heard countless times before.

You and your thousand fellow aspirants stagger on. Surely you’ve learned all you need to learn: outline, revise, rewrite, polish. So what’s wrong?

And maybe, finally, a frown comes to your face. Shouldn’t the haze be growing lighter?

You’ve learned your lessons well. Your work has been published in dozens of magazines and journals. At each, you were paid with “exposure,” as all the voices said you would be. So why don’t you feel like a writer yet?

You’ve even outlined five novels. They’re in your head, waiting to be written. But there must be more to it than you’ve heard so far. There must be.

What you’ve learned was easy, a series of steps: outline, revise, rewrite, polish… and wait. Still, it’s only a set of mechanics. The same list, over and over. You’ve been on the journey for years, and you’ve learned and applied everything on the list multiple times. So why don’t you feel like a writer?

As you continue to stumble through the haze, made thicker by the voices all around (Are the voices creating the haze?), you finally notice one brass ring that doesn’t look like the others. It gleams only dimly. It is not highly polished. It’s been opened only a few times, and even fewer have stayed.

But at this point, what have you got to lose?

You look around, gesture to gather the other 1000 aspirants to share what you are about to discover. Then you grasp the ring and pull it open.

A thousand pens are poised over a thousand well-worn notebooks, all ready to jot down the same notes yet again.

But the voice is different. It bears a confidence born of success.

Calmly, it says, “If you want to be a writer, there is only one set of rules to follow: One, you must write. Two, you must finish what you write. Three, you must not rewrite. Professional writers are paid to write; professional cleaners are paid to polish. Four, you must publish what you write. Your opinion of your work doesn’t matter. Let the readers decide what is good or not good. And five, once it’s published, leave it there so readers can find it.”

For a moment you frown again. Could it really be that easy? You call through the trapdoor, “Can it really be that easy?”

Laughter emanates. “It is exactly that easy, and that difficult.”

To either side of you, the same frown covers a thousand other faces. Most of them scoff and flip their notebooks closed. They begin yelling, ardently defending all they’ve heard up to that point. Then they stomp off to continue the journey.

But you and a few others realize this is something new, something you hadn’t heard before. And something about it feels right. It feels like a challenge, something to test your mettle.

It isn’t comfortable. It isn’t usual.

And you remember your initial advisor’s final words: “…grab the right brass ring.”

As those words resonate in your mind, you look through the portal. “May I join you?”

And the old man there looks up and grins. “You don’t need me. Continue your journey, but remember the rules. I think you’ll find the haze has lifted.”

As the trapdoor eases shut, you look up and find a clean, clear, beautiful sky filled with possibilities and story ideas. There are still trapdoors occasionally, all with highly shined brass-ring handles, but you know, now, you don’t need them.

In your mind, a tiny chorus of voices say, “Welcome back. We’ve been waiting. Now that you’re ready, just write. We’ll help.”

And so you do.

Rolled out way late at almost 5 a.m. I needed the sleep I guess.

I found Sean Monaghan’s post at PWW (see “Of Interest”) and that keyed the short fiction that appears in today’s topic. And a great deal more. Thanks, Sean.

I spent most of the day yesterday watching James Bond movies, one with Roger Moore and two with Sean Connery. Great fun, and the commercial breaks were even relatively short. I think I needed a break from Thinking (about business, a million little life concerns, everything).

Then I watched another two-hour episode of the Brit show Midsomer Murders on Netflix. Sometimes the show is great and sometimes it’s obviously (to a writer anyway) not so great. I recommend it as a quick way to see what to do and what not to do in a story.

I thought I was going to write fiction today, but I won’t. Still on my sabbatical I guess.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Unlearning” at Bravo.

See “Copyright Class 3 – Copyright Protection and Ideas” at

See “16 Themed Calls for Submissions” at A few of these pay pro rates.

See “The Problem with Avoiding Genre Formula” at I humbly submit the problem is not an attempt to avoid “genre formula.” The problem is writers not educating themselves as to what readers expect from a particular genre (the genre “formula”) in the first place.

See “It Is August…” at Some great opportunities here. If nothing else, if you have $600 to spend and you KNOW you can write 52 short stories in 52 weeks or 6 novels in 12 months, sign up with Dean for one of his challenges. Basically you’ll be buying one of his lifetime subscriptions (your choice) on Teachable for a pittance ($600 instead of $1000, $1200 or $3000 value).

See “Free Fiction Monday: Flower Fairies” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1460 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1460

Writing of ()

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… XXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 358737
Total nonfiction words for the month… 6590
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 224660
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 583397

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 7
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Monday, August 5”

  1. I loved your allegory. Awesome! As someone who started writing in 1997, attending meetings, lectures, conferences etc. , it really resonated with me. Thanks! 🙂

  2. I don’t write in English, but I went down the exact same path. Started writing maybe ten years ago, at first it was fun, but in a couple of years got greedy (how could I impress the reader? how could I stand out more? how could I be more popular?), took in a lot of stupid writing “advice” and basically ruined the art for myself.
    I’m coming back to it though. Something I learned from spending time on another art form is that the audience really does not care how much “work” was put into a piece; to them it’s either interesting, or not so interesting. It’s unimportant. If something works, great, make another one just for fun. If something doesn’t work, great, you got to practice something you love. Even (to you) the stupidest, most random piece of garbage you ever put together could be life changing to somebody, who knows. The only mistake you can make is not making anything.

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