In today’s Journal
▪ Topic: How I Became…
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers
Topic: How I Became a Professional Fiction Writer
Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that a scant 5 years ago I knew almost nothing about writing fiction.
Oh, I knew (and taught) mechanics: grammar, punctuation, the use of sentences and fragments, and some of the finer nuances passive vs. active construction, past tense vs. present tense and so on.
But about writing? I knew nada.
I’d written bits and pieces off and on for most of my life (poems, essays, articles, a few stories).
But it was only after I rediscovered Dean Wesley Smith in February 2014 and started following his blog that I began to learn what being a writer and the writing process is really all about.
(I’d met and talked with him years before at a conference or two where we were both presenting, but at the time he wasn’t teaching like he is now.)
But in February 2014 I started reading his blog every day. Sometimes, admittedly, I read it only to watch him go off the deep end, which I fully expected to happen. Only he didn’t.
And on April 15 of that year I finally “dared to be bad” (Dean’s term), meaning I dared to screw up. I dared to “fail.”
I tried writing into the dark. I remember clearly thinking WITD worked for Dean only because he’d been writing for so long and had so many publications out there, etc. I remember thinking no possible way was WITD going to work for me.
But something about getting out of my own way and letting my subconscious tell the story made sense. After all, my subconscious has been making up stories since long before I even knew there was an alphabet.
So rather than dismissing WITD out of hand, I figured what harm could it do to try it through one short story?
On that day I started a personal challenge (egged on by Dean) to write at least one short story every week.
(In his attempt to write one short story every week for a year, he’d failed when his streak broke at “only” 46 short stories. That was the first time I’d heard the term “fail to success.”)
I also decided to try writing into the dark.
I wrote “Consuela,” the first of what would be 76 short stories written in 72 straight weeks. “Consuela” was under 1600 words and written totally into the dark. Looking back on it now, it lacks pacing, and I knew absolutely nothing about grounding the reader.
Still (I was paying attention to reviews at the time), readers loved it. And more importantly, I loved it. I couldn’t believe how good the story was, how alive it seemed.
(If you would like to read “Consuela” free, click https://harveystanbrough.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ConsuelaD2D.pdf.)
That encouraged me, so I wrote another short story into the dark, and another, and another, and soon I was hooked.
Of course my conscious mind still tried to intrude, but soon I learned to recognize that voice and shove it aside. I had to concentrate on recognizing it at first, but soon it became second nature. No way was I going to allow it to put a damper on the sheer joy I felt when writing into the dark.
Then I figured if Dean had harbored this wonderful secret, what else might he know? What else did he know that I thought might only work for him but in reality would work for anyone who trusted it?
Then he talked in a blog post about Dreams vs. Goals and how and why to set goals.
I set a daily word count goal (3,000 words per day) and I hit it on most days. The “large” word-count goal helped keep me writing into the dark. If I wanted to hit my goal, there was no time for rewriting and hovering over words and sentences. And it all worked So Well!
I started taking lectures and workshops, eagerly absorbing everything I could get. Now and then, I still thought some of what he was saying would work only for him (he had so many years in the business and was so successful) but not for a beginner like me.
In every case, I was wrong. In every case, what he was teaching worked wonders for me and for my writing.
Then I got to thinking, I’d already proven to myself that WITD worked for short stories. But how in the world could it possibly work for whole novels (critical voice)?
Well, I should at least give it a try, right?
So on October 19, a scant 6 months after I’d started writing short stories in earnest (and into the dark), I sat down, opened a new Word doc, and wrote this paragraph:
Wes Crowley leaned forward and poked at an ember that had popped out of the campfire a moment earlier. “Been a long trail this time, boys.” His attention fixed on the ember, he worked the tip of the stick under the edge nearest him, then flipped it backward into the fire. A few sparks released. “Sure lookin’ forward to gettin’ back.” He looked up, a tired, easy grin on his face. “What about you, Mac?” ”
And my first novel, Leaving Amarillo, was underway. Writing into the dark and driven by my daily word-count goal, the novel was finished twenty-some days later
Almost without me noticing, the characters had led me through the story sentence by sentence, scene by scene, and right up to the end, which they handed me on a silver platter.
Dean was right again. I was amazed. I published that novel on November 11, 2014.
Still, it took me hearing Dean’s Heinlein’s Rules lecture in January 2015 to really understand what WITD was and to begin to discover the magic of Heinlein’s Rules. By then I’d written 40 new short stories and had begun my 4th novel (Confessions of a Professional Psychopath).
That’s when the little light came on. That’s when I finally understood the value of ongoing learning (which I’d already been doing vs. talking about learning). And that’s when I realized I was a professional fiction writer.
I continued taking Dean’s craft workshops, still writing all the while. For the next couple of years my almost-daily routine was learning, writing on the current novel, and remembering that I had a short story due at the end of every week. And I’ve never looked back.
I don’t know everything there is to know about writing in general or about writing fiction in particular, but I know a hell of a lot more than I did 5 years ago. (grin)
And yesterday I realized how very good it feels to be able to cut that learning curve for others. What it took me a year to learn initially (February 2014 to January 2015) — trust the subconscious, quiet the critical mind, write into the dark — I’ll be able to teach one of my mentoring students in only two or three months.
And once I’ve absorbed the lessons I’ve learned from Dean, once I’ve put them into practice and made them my own, I can share those with you, here, in topics and snippets.
Does life get any better than that?
Rolled out a little after 2, headed to the Hovel, wrote all of the stuff above. A break at around 5, then back here to find items for “Of Interest,” then to the WIP. Onward!
So I did all that stuff, turned the water on in the yard, screwed around with email etc. for awhile, and finally saddled up to meet Wes at the cantina at 9:30. He won’t be there ’til noon, but I wanted to be sure I get a good seat. (grin)
Well, Wes didn’t make it to the cantina yet. But I have a feeling he’ll be there in the morning.
Talk with you again tomorrow.
See “Are Only Humans Creative? Plus, 6 Ways Creativity Improves Health” at https://killzoneblog.com/2019/05/are-only-humans-creative-plus-6-ways-creativity-improves-health.html.
Via Linda Maye Adams, see “Take Me Back To” an interesting research website at https://takemeback.to/.
See “14 Markets for Themed Submissions” at https://www.authorspublish.com/14-themed-calls-for-submissions/. Some of these have quickly approaching deadlines, so take a look today.
See “Free Fiction Monday: Perennials” at
See “The Open Library” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/the-open-library/.
Fiction Words: 2456
Nonfiction Words: 1410 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 3866
Writing of In the Cantina at Noon (novel?)
Day 1…… 1538 words. Total words to date…… 1538
Day 2…… 2456 words. Total words to date…… 3994
Total fiction words for the month……… 3994
Total fiction words for the year………… 265464
Total nonfiction words for the month… 7600
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 119460
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 384924
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 6
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 193
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31