The Daily Journal, Monday, May 27

In today’s Journal

* Does anyone ever
* According to Dean
* Once again, I wasn’t going to write
* Topic: How to Quiet the Critical Voice (Chapter 10)
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Does anyone ever come up to you and open a conversation with “Still writing?” If so, how do you respond?

I finally decided to have fun with it. A year or so ago when I went to see my “primary care” doctor, he smiled. “So, are you still writing?”

I smiled back. “Yes. But how about you? Still patching people up?”

We laughed and laughed. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t need the shot he gave me later. (joking)

According to Dean (see “Of Interest”) not many writers have signed up for his learn-along course. I am amazed and frankly stymied.

I signed up immediately, and if he’d done this back when I had only a handful of short stories written, I’d have signed up then. This is truly priceless knowledge that will be valuable for years and years to come.

I really hope for your sake you take advantage of this learn-along. I mean all of you, though I admit I do have a few specific writer friends in mind. (grin)

Once again, I wasn’t going to write a topic for today. Then yesterday afternoon I took a cigar break out at the Hovel. I hate sitting and doing nothing, and besides, something new occurred to me. The result is  Chapter 10.

Topic: How to Quiet the Critical Voice (Chapter 10)

Chapter 10: Creating and Using a Reverse Outline

Bear with me. When I first started writing this chapter, I was going to make this an addendum to Chapter 8: Cycling. But the more I explored this topic, the more I understood it deserved a chapter of its own.

Ever since I first came across the technique of using a “reverse outline” to keep track of where the story’s been (never where it’s going), I’ve found the technique useful.

I create a reverse outline as I write. Many major long-term professional writers do this too. At least one I know jots notes with a pen on a yellow legal pad that he keeps next to his writing computer. Another uses spiral-bound notebooks.

I type mine on a Notepad (.txt) document. I keep it open off to one side of the Word document that contains my WIP. And yes, when the novel’s finished, I save that file in the same folder with the novel itself and other novel-specific files.

Most often I create or add to the reverse outline when I return from a break, usually while cycling through what I wrote during the previous session.

But again, don’t be confused. Although this is called a reverse “outline,” it isn’t really an outline at all in the original, negative, control-freak sense of the word.

The reverse outline doesn’t come from the conscious, critical mind, and it doesn’t tell me where the story is going. It tells me where the story has been.

A typical reverse outline for me will consist of

* the title of the work;

* an ongoing list of major and minor characters (and their relationship to each other, if any);

* a list of place names (cities, neighborhoods, towns, particular buildings, particular rooms) in which scenes appear; and

* any story-specific lists. I add to each of these lists as the story progresses and new character- or place-names appear.

By way of example, in the reverse outline for my current WIP (as I write this), in addition to the lists above, I have all of these story-specific lists:

* the names of the characters (and who they are) gathered around Wes’ table in the cantina as he recounts a particular tale;

* the room-by-room layout of Wes’ hacienda and the outbuildings;

* the list of bad guys who harmed his family in the previous book (because they figure in this story too);

* a list of the bad guys who appear in the current WIP;

* a list of the Guerrero Rangers, a specialized law enforcement group Wes established awhile back but who are still active;

* a list of Wes’ wife’s family members, as well as his children, grandchildren, and grand neices and nephews (for possible future stories);

* a list of the people buried in the family plot near the hacienda, in order of their location; and

* a list of good character- and place-names that jumped out at me while I was writing but that I have not yet used.

This might sound like an awful lot of work, but it isn’t.

Once you establish the basic reverse outline (all of ten minutes at the most), it takes only a minute or two during cycling to add to the lists and jot down a few notes about what happened in each chapter.

And those notes are really what comprise the reverse outline.

Following the lists, I write the chapter numbers down the left side of the page, 1 through however many chapters I think the story might run. (I can always add more later.)

Then, alongside each chapter number, I write a brief summary of what happened in that chapter. Again, I do that after it’s written, never before.

The chapter (or scene) summary might include which characters appeared (and sometimes how they were dressed), the major event and setting of the chapter, and so on. Anything I might need to “remember” later in the story. My typical chapter summary is around 20 words or so.

Once I’ve created a reverse outline, if I suddenly need to cycle back and find when in the story Aunt Marge put on her housecoat (so I can see when I need to slip a .32 caliber Owl revolver into her pocket), I can quickly refer to my reverse outline instead of going back and searching through the entire novel.

As you can probably imagine, this is a major time saver, and of course, I recommend it. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be part of this book.

A quick few notes on writing a novel series —

The reverse outline as described above is intended to be used per novel. That is, each novel I write, whether or not it’s part of a series, has its own reverse outline.

However, this is also an excellent way to create a “series bible.” The difference is that the series bible might contain all of the above PLUS notes about the overall arc of the characters and events in the series. Again, this would be written after the fact, as the characters appear and as the events occur.

For me personally, I find it useful to open a new Notepad document, then copy and paste the reverse outlines from each novel in the series — in sequence, of course — into the new Notepad document, which then becomes my series bible.

Once the series bible is up to date, you might be tempted to go back and delete some repetitious information.

I don’t do that since sometimes the characters who appear in one series novel will also appear in others. So I let the series bible stand as-is, basically a compilation of all the reverse outlines from the individual novels in the series.

So what does any of this have to do with quieting the critical mind?

Nothing directly, but it’s a great way to reinforce your trust in the creative subconscious and to keep the conscious, critical mind at bay once you’re writing. “Yes, I’m using an outline, but I’m not allowing you (Critical Mind) to create it.”

Of course, it’s also a really great way to keep track of what-happened-when as you wrote.

But the critical mind will take every opportunity to try to trip you up. So if you choose to use a reverse outline, be ready to defend it against the critical voice.

Often as I’m jotting chapter notes in my reverse outline, my critical mind says, “Ooh, maybe this will happen next!”

When it does that, I ignore it. I don’t even write the “idea” down because it came from my critical mind. I don’t want to give my critical voice even the slightest inroad.

Instead I just go back to the story and read through what I’ve written (cycling) with my fingers on the keyboard. When I reach the place where I took a break, I write the next sentence that occurs to me, then the next, then the next.

And just like that, I’m right back into the flow of the story — the characters’ story — and where they want it to go next.

This way I’m always in the subconscrious creative mind, always creating, never critiquing. I guard jealously against the intrusion of my conscious, critical mind on the very personal relationship I have with the character in my WIP.

Criticizing or judging my work is not my job, ever. That’s the job of my readers.

I’ll leave that to them.

Rolled out at 4 this morning after a rough night. Anyway, I’m posting this hyper-early so I can visit with my son before he takes off later today.

If I write any fiction today (there’s a chance) I’ll post the numbers tomorrow.

Also, the Critical Voice book is winding down, with only two or three chapters to be posted. I’ll probably post tne next chapter tomorrow, and the last chapter or two probably on Wednesday and (maybe) Thursday.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Not Many Writers Want To Make Money” at

See “What’s to Be Done with an Author’s Pen Name?” at This spurred my opening comment at the beginning of today’s post. (grin)

Some good comments on “Let’s Help a New Writer Out” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1560 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1560

Writing of In the Cantina at Noon (novel)

Day 10… 1365 words. Total words to date…… 20874
Day 11… 3696 words. Total words to date…… 24570
Day 14… 1050 words. Total words to date…… 25620
Day 15… 1622 words. Total words to date…… 27242
Day 16… 1413 words. Total words to date…… 28655
Day 17… 2098 words. Total words to date…… 30753
Day 18… 1222 words. Total words to date…… 31975
Day 19… 2586 words. Total words to date…… 34561
Day 20… 1890 words. Total words to date…… 36451
Day 21… 2961 words. Total words to date…… 39412
Day 22… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 39412
Total fiction words for the year………… 300882
Total nonfiction words for the month… 36420
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 148280
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 449162

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

2 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Monday, May 27”

  1. I just have to say “Amen” to everything you’ve written on quieting the critical voice. And I hope you had a great time with your son. 🙂

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