The Daily Journal, Saturday, June 15

In today’s Journal

* Happy Father’s Day (tomorrow)
* I cast about my mind
* Topic: How to Practice (and Improve)
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Here in the US, tomorrow is Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, in the US and elsewhere. I am blessed that my youngest son is visiting this weekend.

I cast about my mind this morning, fishing for ideas for a topic for today’s Journal. I found too many, and they overlapped, but not in a good way.

Rather than complementing each other, they contrasted in that special way that, had I committed them to the page, might have caused you to be concerned (or convinced) that I had taken leave of my faculties.

So I abandoned the search and wrote this bit of drivel instead.

And of course, once I abandoned the search for a topic, one presented itself:

Topic: How to Practice (and Improve)

In writing, practice is everything. You’ll hear it here, on Dean Wesley Smith’s site, and from other sources. The importance of practice is heavily implied in Heinlein’s Rules.

But what does it really mean to practice writing?

On the surface, practice means to keep writing and keep moving forward. “Forward momentum” is an excellent watchword for the writer.

It means to not hover over one work, nitpicking words and sentences and paragraphs in an effort to achieve perfection. (Besides, the very next reader will find vastly imperfect the perfection you created.)

It also means to not move backward, going back to apply some newly learned technique to a previous work or works. Rather, write to the best of your current ability and then let the work go out and stand on its own two shaky little legs.

Any practice will help improve your writing. After all, you’re learning and improving all the time without even realizing it. Your subconscious is constantly absorbing new tricks and techniques from reading others’ works to overhearing people talking in line in the grocery store to watching commercials.

But today I want to talk about FOCUSED practice.

Focused practice is different, and it’s a great technique to try. But I do recommend you wait to try it until after you’ve learned to quiet the critical voice (by and large) and let your characters tell the story (always).

If you’re ready, this is how to engage in focused practice:

1. Finish your WIP. Just continue as you have been, letting the characters tell the story until they lead you through to the end.

2. Take or review a course or technique you find interesting, one that you believe will improve your story. For example, adding all five senses as filtered through the POV character’s observation and opinion of the setting. Or for another example, the structure of a particular kind of novel. (This second one is the one I’m practicing in my WIP.)

3. Learn (a function of the conscious mind) as much as you can about the technique that interests you, and boil it down as far as you can to one or two thick, juicy statements.

4. Once you’ve happened on (or settled on) your new WIP, before you start writing, focus on the technique you want to practice. Maybe even say aloud to your characters, “Okay, guys, as I write this one, we’re going to focus on this technique.”

5. Then forget about it and Just Write the WIP. As always, allow your characters to tell the story. They’ll give you what they have (as always, in the sequence and timeframe THEY set) and lead you through to the end of the story as always.

But when the story’s finished, it will contain at least most of the new technique you studied and internalized.

My Own Experience

A couple of years ago when I first learned the five-senses exercise, it immediately made sense to me. The more the POV character related what he saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt (both physically and emotionally) of the setting and situations in the story, the more deeply the reader would be engaged and invested in the story. (He would see, hear, smell, taste and feel vicariously.)

The next WIP I wrote was much more engaging. The story pulled the reader to depth almost immediately and never let the reader surface until he stopped reading or finished the story.

And if he stopped reading, when he started again he was pulled right back to depth in the next opening, then held there until he stopped reading again.

In that first WIP (probably my 7th or 8th novel), I added more depth as I cycled back through each session. Today, writing with depth and pulling the reader into the story comes naturally to me so I don’t even have to think about it. When I cycle back over a scene now, I have to add very little depth because it’s already there, provided by my characters as I wrote.

Now, present day, I have a new technique I want to try.

In my recent study of a lot of the old pulp writers (the best of whom used the five senses to pull the readers to depth), I noticed that most of the pulp stories were almost nonstop action.

The structure? Intense action, followed by a short or very short lull, followed by intense action again, etc.

In my books up to this point (in all genres), I’ve given my readers more of a break than that.

I can write an intense action scene with slam-bang action, and I can write an intense action scene with a Sam Pekinpah kind of zoomed-in slow motion that still feels like slam-bang action, albeit even more intense because the POV character is zoomed-in on bits of the setting, the other character, etc.

But regardless, after each intense action scene, I gave the reader a calming break during which the characters and the reader could relax for awhile. Usually that lasted for a chapter. Sometimes longer.

As an aside, even the most thrilling thrillers being written by the NYT bestselling thriller writers are loaded with lengthy, calmer scenes that allow the reader to relax for awhile before dropping him back into the action.

So that’s how I’ll continue to write most of the time. I like it. My readers like it.

But for one book (at least), my current WIP, I wanted to see whether I could write this new structure: the all-but nonstop action embodied in the old pulp stories. Again, this was regardless of genre: SF, western, crime, detective/PI, noir, steamy romance, etc.

So far, I’m pulling it off. It isn’t easy by any means. I still have to add the depth, for example, but maybe with far fewer but more-selective words and phrases. (I already had to go back and cut one full chapter. I’ll save it if I can condense it from 1200 words to more like a couple hundred. But don’t be dismayed. I’m learning and applying a new structure, remember?)

So the description will still be there, as filtered through the POV character’s physical and emotional senses and opinions. But there will also be almost nonstop action with much shorter “breaks” in between. So a nonstop-action western but still with depth.

And I have to tell you, writing this is a great deal of fun. I have a feeling this new structure will get easier as I go. At the moment, the biggest problem is watching (critical mind) to be sure I don’t let the action die away for too long. But my characters are watching for that too, so as usual it’s a team effort. (grin)

How about you? How do you practice new techniques? Please share your thoughts, especially if you practice writing one clean draft from beginning to end.

Rolled out at 1 this morning to get some writing done before the normal day begins. That didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I looked around a little for items for “Of Interest,” then found a way to waste almost four hours.

Finally I knocked off the silliness and turned to the novel.

I cycled back through everything I wrote yesterday, getting back into the feel of the story. This is a western but it’s a different kind than I’ve ever written before because I’m practicing something new. (See the topic above.)

With cycling and starting a new chapter, I managed just over a thousand words in the first session. Up to the house for a break. I might or might not write more today depending on how the day goes.

Nope. I came back to the Hovel for a cigar break and wrote the topic above. I’m gonna spend the day with my son and get back to the WIP in the morning.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See Michaele Lockhart’s “Priming the Pump” at

See “July Workshops Available” at Here’s a chance to learn some of those new techniques I mentioned. (grin)

See “The Churn of the Screw” at

Fiction Words: 1035
Nonfiction Words: 1400 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 2435

Writing of Sam Loredo and the Point of No Return (novel)

Day 1…… 2803 words. Total words to date…… 2803
Day 2…… 1035 words. Total words to date…… 3838

Total fiction words for the month……… 31182
Total fiction words for the year………… 337287
Total nonfiction words for the month… 17100
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 172660
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 509947

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 7
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 44
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Saturday, June 15”

  1. Loved the topic. It’s given me a lot (more) to think about. I’m practicing writing into the dark on the book I’m about to finish, trying to write one clean draft…with limited success. Lol. This isn’t the first book I’ve done this with, but it’s the first time I’m determined to continue writing this way. It’s been great. I’m hooked.

    • As you might imagine, Diane, it’ll only get better and better. I love being surprised by my characters, forcing myself to trust them (even when it doesn’t make sense at the time) and everything coming together in the end. (grin)

  2. A busy week of work travel last week, so I’m playing catch-up once again on your posts, Harvey. Great topic. I love reading about writing practice (and practice in general).

    One thing I realized after the short novel I wrote earlier this year was a desperate need to understand structure at both the scene and story level. I’d outlined a few of my favorite novels in the past and it helped a little bit, but I’ve actually moved on to typing up a whole novel in my manuscript format.

    I’m almost done typing up all of Stephen King’s “Carrie” and it’s been an eye-opening experience. That’s an especially unique novel, because of it’s use of epistolary info between dramatic scenes and King does a fine job of pulling it off.

    Basically, I’ll type up a scene and then:
    – Analyze the pacing
    – Analyze the voice
    – Analyze description and dialogue.
    – Analyze word choice
    – Outline the basics of the scene — POV, wordcount, and any cliffhangers

    Once I’m done with the novel, I’ll go back and review that outline and dig into how King weaved all of those pieces together so masterfully.

    By the time I get to my own work during the day, I try to just let what I’ve learned come out naturally. I already feel so much more confident as I progress through my current WIP, so I’m hoping it’s rubbing off. The readers will tell me. 🙂

    I definitely plan on following this technique with other novels and short stories I’ve truly enjoyed.

    And a belated Happy Father’s Day to you as well!

    • Thanks, Philip. Bradbury once said something about beginning a new scene with each new camera angle. That did it for me. (grin) Now that’s exactly how I write my scenes, with the POV character being the “camera” and the new setting being each new setting or situation he enters. And then with my faster books (action-adventure, war, etc.) each new major scene is also a new chapter. King is so good, so masterful, he’s hard to study. But I’ve gleaned a lot from reading his books too. I especially enjoyed the seamless yet changing POV in The Stand.

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