The Daily Journal, Monday, July 1

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Recap
* Topic: On Writing This Journal and Teaching
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Quote of the Day

Via the Passive Voice, “People are always asking me, ‘What do you want people to say about you a hundred years from now?’ I want them to say, ‘Dang, don’t she still look good for her age?'” Dolly Parton

Yesterday I updated my production spreadsheet to get it ready for July. Then I looked over my notes from the Pacing workshop and decided I didn’t need to view it again.

Topic: On Writing This Journal and Teaching

Yesterday, I also looked way back on some blog posts I wrote back in the early to mid-1990s when I was still firmly entrenched as a Stage 1 writer. From the early 2000s through 2013, I was still mired in Stage 1 and 2 when I was writing at all.

So what are these “stages”?

From Dean Wesley Smith’s book, Stages of a Fiction Writer (yes, I recommend it),

Stage one writers focus only on the sentences, the grammar, the polish of a manuscript. They give lip service to better characters, endings, and so on, but will spend ten drafts getting that “perfect” first line because they heard somewhere that was important.

Stage two is a transition stage. Writers are starting to worry about story, but still focus on words and sentences.

Stage three writers have expanded out to be aware of story and characters and they notice pacing and so much more. Words are only tools to be used. They have a solid grasp of story, character, and setting and are constantly trying to get better at all three. They are writing at a decent pace. Early stage three writers will still rewrite at times to fix story, but middle and late third stage writers seldom rewrite.

Stage four writers are in the complete control of all aspects of writing and they’re still studying masters. What is important to a stage four writer is what the reader is experiencing at any given moment in the story.

Today, I’m a late Stage 3 writer and proceeding (practicing).

Pre-2014 my attention was tightly focused on things I already knew but didn’t trust that I knew: words, sentence structure, being sure each paragraph covered one full topic or subtopic (no more and no less), the use of punctuation as it was taught in school (how to respond to it as a reader), etc.

I didn’t teach writing back then, though I did teach what I knew—mechanics—like sentence structure, punctuation (but for writers), the difference between phrases and clauses, what constitutes a run-on sentence or comma-splice, and dialogue.

I can still teach those mechanics, and I sometimes do (usually in conjunction with an edit) for those who need it.

But by and large, most professional fiction writers (mostly Stage 2 and 3) already have a solid grounding in those essentials.

Plus, a good copyeditor will catch and correct 99% of those little mechanical errors.

Aside #1—Though you should be careful that the copyeditor him/herself has at least a clue when it comes to things like sentence structure and punctuation. Copyeditors, like literary agents, are not licensed.

Nowadays I’m more interested in teaching (mostly through this Journal and mostly free) actual Writing—the techniques that lead to Story—and Story itself.

Fortunately, most of what I teach can be boiled down to one word: Trust.

If you TRUST that you have absorbed the mechanics, the simple act of trusting will automatically shift your focus from those mechanics to Story.

That shift, plus continued practice (not hovering), will move you from being a Stage 1 or 2 writer solidly into Stage 3. There you will begin to consider the effect the various aspects of your story (pacing, setting, POV, depth, characterization, etc.) will have on the reader. And you will be practicing reader manipulation.

You’ll come to know instinctively how to pull the reader deep into the story. You’ll come to know instinctively how to increase the reader’s physical heart rate. You’ll come to know instinctively when to speed up the pacing and when and how to slow it down to give the reader an intentional break.

You’ll come to know how the reader is actually reacting to those various aspects of your story. (How do I know I was right about what readers were thinking and how they reacted? They’ve told me.)

In other words, in making that shift, you will actually release focus on what you’re writing and Just Write the Story.

Your conscious-mind-focus will be on THAT you write vs. WHAT you write. Suddenly you will zealously guard your WIP against the intrusion of not only your own critical mind but against input from others.

And best of all, suddenly you won’t worry about your WIP because if you TRUST, the WIP will take care of itself. At that point, all that will remain is for you to show up, put your fingers on the keyboard, and allow them to move under the direction of your POV character. Welcome to Stage 3.

At that point, if you think (conscious mind) at all now and then as you write, your thoughts will be on the reader.

Is the reader seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching (and feeling in an emotional way) the setting in which the scene is being played out?

If you’ve allowed the POV character to describe the setting and provide his opinions of it, then yes, the reader is getting it. And rapidly turning the pages of your book.

Aside #2—just so you know, if the description comes from the POV character (vs. the writer) and his opinions of the setting, you can’t write “too much” description. Again, Just Write.

After all, the character is living the story; in each scene he knows what he notices and what he doesn’t.

Again, you only have to Trust and don’t allow your writer self—and especially your critical mind—to intrude. When you do allow your writer self or your critical mind to intrude, you’re teaching your creative subconscious that you don’t trust it.

When does that happen? While you’re still in Stage 2: When YOU the writer steal the story from your POV character. When YOU the writer describe a setting (instead of letting the POV character describe it). When YOU the writer go over a finished manuscript, cutting and “tightening” and rewriting and polishing and whatever else.

To move into Stage 3, you have to trust not only that you know what you know (mechanics, etc.), but you have to trust in your characters’ ability to tell their own story, albeit through your fingertips.

In other words, you have to trust in your own ability to write the best possible story at your current skill level.

But once you learn to Trust, all that remains is to practice. And truly, at that point the sky is the limit.

But before you can trust, you have to teach yourself to Let Go of

* the mechanics—you have to trust that the mechanics are there
* the fear of what might happen if you don’t carefully manipulate those mechanics (which means you’re manipulating the story itself)
* the myth that your book will be “improved” if you hover over it, editing and rewriting however many times

It was interesting to look over some of those old blog posts and topics. Admittedly, from a strictly selfish standpoint, it was interesting to gauge my own progress since those days. How far I’ve come as a writer since back in the day when I was focused sentence by sentence on mechanics and words.

Today, things are different. Today, most of what I teach is advanced, Stage 3 writer stuff.

As a result, in my mind, I have a responsiblity to the readers of this Journal just as I would have to the attendees if I were teaching a live writing seminar.

Would I teach something I know can actively harm the writing process? Would I teach something that might drag a Stage 3 writer back to fretting over words and punctuation and sentence constructions?

Uh, no. Never. Because I want to see you advance. If you need help with those mechanics, I can teach you that too, but I’ll do so only in conjunction with the more advanced stuff.

I want to see you succeed, and (selfishly) I want to feel that I had a small hand in that. And maybe most importantly, I want to know you’re having fun when you write. Because you can’t have fun storytelling at Stage 1 and 2.

And finally, I want you to know you can trust me too.

To that end, despite how I feel personally about another writer, I will never recommend or link to a source that advocates any technique or practice that I believe would hinder or be detrimental to your writing process. Never.

On the other hand, I’m pretty much through trying to “convince” anyone of anything. Frankly, it isn’t worth the hassle.

As I (with a smile) told the lady who flatly and stringently refused even to look at Heinlein’s Rules because she doesn’t write science fiction, “Hey, every writer’s different.” (grin)

Rolled out a little after 3 and looking forward to writing fiction today. At the moment, I still have no idea what I’m going to write or in what world.

Something’s a little “off” with my kitten. Beginning yesterday at about 5 a.m., she’s been skulking everywhere she goes, as if ducking under a ceiling only she can see while moving very carefully.

She’s better this morning, after I spent more time than usual with her (outside, but where she could see me at all times), but we’ve yet to figure out what set off her defensive alarms.

My wife wondered aloud whether maybe an owl had tried to get her yesterday after I let her out in the dim light of pre-dawn and then came to the Hovel.

Whatever it was, I’ll be watching more closely from now on, and the baby won’t go outside until it’s full daylight or unless I’m with her.

By 11 a.m. I’d written all of the above plus another topic for another time, but no fiction. (I was invested in the topic above.) I was also floored by Dean’s new offering (see “Of Interest” below).

After a break for lunch, back to the Hovel at 11:30.

Where I continued to work on the topic above and do some other learning stuff of my own. Ran out of time, so no fiction again today. I did come up with a title that grabbed me (Marco’s Way), so we’ll see.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Licensing Transition” at This is so big, it practically took my breath away.

See Sean Monaghan’s “Your First Draft Stinks, Part II: Fire Your Crit Group” at

Via Linda Maye Adams, see “Former CIA Operative Explains How Spies Use Disguises” (video) at Extremely interesting and informative. I’d love to write a scene in which a character is removing a disguise bit by bit as he ‘disappears’ through a crowd.

See “How Can 1 Person Have 2 Different Sets of DNA?” at

See “18 Themed Calls for Submissions – July 2019” at

Via The Passive Voice, see “Top 10 FAQs About Book Publicity and Promotion” at

See “Free Fiction Monday: Patriotic Gestures” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1920 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1920

Writing of Marco’s Way (novel)

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

Total fiction words for the month……… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 351338
Total nonfiction words for the month… 1920
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 186120
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 537458

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)…………………………………… 44
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Monday, July 1”

  1. Great topic today, Harvey. I consider myself a Stage 2 writer who’s finally starting to cross one foot over to Stage 3. And it’s exciting. I’m having a blast with the current WIP and I owe it mainly to eschewing the wordsmithing and getting on with the storytelling!

    • Thanks, Phillip. And absolutely, I know what you mean. I sort of felt a new “plateau” when I realized I’d moved into Story and away from the silliness of worrying about words, sentences, etc.

  2. “On the other hand, I’m pretty much through trying to “convince” anyone of anything. Frankly, it isn’t worth the hassle.”

    Amen to that, Harvey. Reminds me of when I taught freshman composition years ago and two tenured professors almost came to blows over the placement of a comma, for God’s sake. That is a wonderful book by DWS you referenced.

    • Thanks, Bob. Better to just put it out there and let them listen if they want to. When I taught grunt English, I taught on both sides of the hall (Fresman Comp and GED English) from a 16-page handout I wrote called “The Rules as They Should Read.” Later I expanded it and today it’s called Punctuation for Writers (grin).

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