The Daily Journal, Tuesday, July 2

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Recap
* Topic: On Writing Fiction
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Quotes of the Day

“It’s not Dostoevsky. It’s not going to tax your mental capacities. It’s not ahhrtt.” Judith Krantz on her writing

“I’ve been absolutely dead earnest and I’ve told the story I had in hand as best as I possibly could.” Herman Wouk on his writing

“I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write….” James M. Cain

“If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep anyone else up either.” James M. Cain

“The academics don’t know that the only thing you can do for someone who wants to write is to buy him a typewriter.” James M. Cain

Topic: On Writing Fiction

Read again the quotes above.

All of them are from masterful and extremely successful writers, and the first two say better than I ever could: WHAT you write is not important; THAT you write is important.

And THAT you write is important only if you’re a writer. And then it’s important only in the same way that repairing one more automobile engine is important for a mechanic or clearing one more clogged drain is important for a plumber or preparing one more legal brief is important for a lawyer.

“Writer” isn’t some elevated calling to martyrdom (accompanied by an angelic chorus) anymore than is “Mechanic” or “Plumber” or “Lawyer.”

It’s just what we do. And we’re fortunate because it also happens to be what we love doing. I suspect not all mechanics, plumbers and lawyers can say the same.

So why spoil it by pretending what we write is precious?

At the risk of sounding egocentric, I write great stories that entertain readers and keep them turning pages.

But here’s the caveat: the stories aren’t precious or special. Like a song that lingers in the memory for an hour or a day and then fades away, the stories are nothing more than a moment’s entertainment.

And that’s all they are to me too. Even a day or two after I’ve finished writing the story, if a reader emails to ask me about a detail, chances are I won’t remember it. Chances are I’ll have to open the Word document, look up the detail and refresh my memory before I can even respond to the email.

That’s how precious my stories are. They are compilations of little black marks in a particular order that most readers happen to find entertaining. Nothing more.

I’m not surprised readers find my stories entertaining. After all, they surprised and entertained me as I wrote them, so I suspected when I published them that others would find them entertaining as well.

And there’s nothing egocentric about it. It’s basic statistics, basic probability: If your characters surprise and entertain you as you’re writing, most readers will be surprised and entertained as well.

Of all the long-term major writers I’ve talked with, read about or whose work I’ve studied, not one felt what he wrote was precious.

As Herman Wouk put it so succinctly in the quote above, in every case, they “told the story [they] had in hand as best as [they] possibly could.”

Then they let it go and moved on to the next story. Which is exactly what I plan to do today.

A late addendum to the topic, the catalyst for which was another writer’s blog post and the ongoing comments there—

I am stymied and mystified every time I read that a fiction writer conducts multiple “passes” on their “first draft” to “improve” it.

Seriously, how do these otherwise intelligent folks NOT understand?

Every time you change even one word that was provided by your subconscious, CREATIVE mind, you’re teaching your creative subconscious that your critical mind knows better.

I know of no better or quicker way to silence your creative mind (or “stem the creative juices”) and relegate the creative subconscious to the corner of your brain where the critical voice should be locked away.

It doesn’t surprise me at all when those same writers also comment that they have trouble coming up with ideas.

Bail out of the hamster wheel, folks. Don’t hover. Trust yourself. Trust your characters to tell their own story. Then publish it and move on. I swear to whatever God you believe in, if you follow this advice, someday you will thank me for it.

For the naysayers out there, YES, the story might be “better”—IN YOUR OPINION. But how many other readers would have liked it just as much or more if they were allowed to read in as it was originally written in your authentic, unique voice?

I personally never read a novel written by someone whom I know rewrites. There, I said it.

I can’t. The whole time I’m reading (and encountering the inevitable glitches) I wonder whether the “glitch” was the result of an editing or rewriting pass.

That being said, I’m eager to read stories and novels by writers who do not rewrite. Those stories allow me unfettered access to the writer’s deepest self.

Still, no, I didn’t leave a comment to that effect on that writer’s post. One, doing so would have been a waste of my time. Two, I’m not a great admirer of people who refuse to learn. I owe them nothing.

Rolled out late at 4 a.m., wrote most of the stuff above, then let the babies out at around 5. My little girl seems to have returned to a cat’s version of normal.

I would like to come up with a new first name for the title that struck me yesterday. I feel like “Marco” just isn’t it. Or maybe I don’t want “Marco” to be it. Too many other connotations, the most bothersome being that echo of “Polo” every time it crosses my mind.

Still, I’ll write what I was given. (grin, hint-hint, nudge-nudge)

At 10, I was finally finishing up the nonfiction stuff, adding links to “Of Interest,” etc.

Kind of interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever started a project based on only a two-word title before. (grin)

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Guilty Pleasures: Goodbye To Two Of My Favorite Writers” at

Because it fits so well with today’s topic, see “Cycling vs. Editing or Revising, Revisited” at

See “The Wit, Wisdom, and Noirs of James M. Cain” at

See “Holy Smokes… It Is July!” at

If you’re a Facebook user, see “Researching Fiction and Facebook Settings” at

Fiction Words: 2159
Nonfiction Words: 1110 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 3269

Writing of Marco’s Way (novel)

Day 1…… 2159 words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 2159
Total fiction words for the year………… 353497
Total nonfiction words for the month… 3030
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 187230
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 540727

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

2 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Tuesday, July 2”

  1. Ya know, Harvey, I wrote a story one time, got frustrated with where it was heading (in a direction my critical voice didn’t *think* it should have headed), and still wound up frustrated. I finally finished it as best as I could just to be done with it.

    My wife read the story, thought it was okay, but had some issues with the plot. I mentioned the whole process of how it was headed one way and I decided it didn’t make sense, so I went another…and she said something along the lines of, “Oh, that sounds like it would have been really good.”

    So, yeah…another harsh lesson on why one should ignore that critical bugger of a voice.

    Let’s say, worst case scenario, the original direction would have not been any better (in her opinion). It still would have been a lot more fun to write rather than slogging it out against my creative voice.

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