The Daily Journal, Tuesday, July 9

In today’s Journal

* Yesterday, Jenny D commented
* Frankly, as I looked
* Topic: My Take on the Stages of a Fiction Writer
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers

Yesterday, Jenny D commented to thank me for explaining royalties. But I didn’t really.

I was going to write a topic on it today, but I realized I’d already done so. However, when I found the link, it didn’t work for some reason.

Fortunately, I save my Journal every day to a Word document. Tomorrow, I will edit and repost a topic on royalties, specifically comparing traditional publishing and indie publishing.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about indie publishing, I also strongly recommend downloading the free

A Fact Sheet Toward Efficiency in Epublishing

Quick Guide to Self-Publishing & FAQs

The Essentials of Digital Publishing

These are a little dated. For example, the aggregator Pronoun no longer exists, and the aggregator Draft2Digital DOES exist now.

Frankly, as I looked around the internet for items for “Of Interest” today, I felt a little overwhelmed. (Oh, and I found nothing worth listing.)

I didn’t feel overwhelmed professionally as a writer. Not with my current lack of writing fiction. I know that will come again, probably soon. It never stays away for long, even in my warp-speed world.

And not with the huge amount I still have to learn about writing and the business side. That’s simply a time-consuming endeavor that will come too. I just have to put my head down and move through the learning process at the schedule I’ve established.

But as an instructor, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the flood of misinformation out there about writing and the nuances of writing. I’m hugely outnumbered by all the stage-one and stage-two writers who feel qualified to give advice on writing. It boggles my mind. The only explanation I have is that they don’t yet realize what they don’t know.

Let me put this as succinctly as I can: Any writer who’s serious about improving her craft should seek advice and learn only from advanced stage-three writers and from stage-four writers. No stage-one or stage-two writers can teach you anything beyond the same reguritated myths you learned from your English Comp teacher.

Dean Wesley Smith came up with his theory of the Stages of a Fiction Writer probably twenty years ago when he was still going through stage two himself. I agree with him. Below is some of my take on it.

Topic: My Take on the Stages of a Fiction Writer

A stage-one writer is focused down on the individual words and sentences. She isn’t a storyteller. She’s a typist.

She might spend days going over and over the opening sentence of her WIP because she heard somewhere how important it is. But then, she might spend hours stuck on one word or any sentence in the entire WIP.

She depends heavily on others’ critiques. She wouldn’t dream of starting a novel without fully outlining it first.

She occasionally talks about terms used by English Comp teachers and critics, like characterization, dialogue, narrative, setting, plot, point of view and other deconstructed aspects of Story. (She doesn’t even know pacing even exists.)

But she doesn’t know those terms as actual in-depth techniques. She hasn’t endeavored to learn them from other, more advanced writers. She knows only what non-writers have taught her. Still, she carefully weighs each of those bits and then consciously pieces them together.

The stage-one writer is certain her writing is garbage despite her writing word-by-carefully-placed word. She expects and even plans to revise and rewrite and polish, probably several times.

She gives no thought to grounding the reader and generally eschews description, trusting the reader to “see” the setting and character and scene in his own mind. She’ll often write something silly like “Her eyes shot across the room” and will argue smugly, “Well, the reader will know what I mean.”

When she finishes, she’s certain the story is perfect and it’s all-important. The finishing and release of a story is an Event. She has no or very few sales and can’t understand why. Yet she feels qualified to hold forth, sharing her fear-based misinformation with the world.

Writers generally stay in stage one until they are able to begin setting aside the myths and realize that Story, not words and sentences, is what matters.

Stage two is a transition. The stage-two writer has begun to move away from the word-by-word stuff. She’s more open to non-myth-based instruction on techniques. She’s more attentive to description but still trusts the reader to fill in what she doesn’t provide.

If she uses an outline, she refers to herself as a “plotter,” and she actually gives the plot some consideration. If she doesn’t use an outline, she might refer to herself as a “pantser” or an “organic writer,” but she often also talks about erecting “signposts” or “touchstones” that she can refer back to as the story progresses. Not reference points but little safety nets.

In her blog posts the stage-two plotter praises outlining, etc. The stage-two pantser or organic writer professes to trust her subconscious and her characters. But that’s true only up to a point. In the next sentence or paragraph of the same blog post she talks about “editing passes” to “tighten” (critical mind) various aspects of the story.

The thing is, she still isn’t aware of (or doesn’t trust in) her innate ability to tell a good story. She still doesn’t trust her subconscious. But she DOES trust in her ability to revise and rewrite and polish, although she now calls them “passes.”
In other words, she trusts her conscious, critical mind.

She hasn’t quite broken away from the fear-based myths. You’ll seldom hear her talk about pacing, mostly because she is still only vaguely aware (if at all) that pacing exists.

When she finishes a story, she’s certain it is NOT perfect but she’ll often say it’s “as good as I can make it.” She still cares about others’ opinions of what she’s written just as she still relies on her own critical voice.

She makes some sales and, if she’s lucky, might even make it onto a bestseller list. The one drawback to early success is that it might make the stage-two writer certain she’s found “what works for me” and that she has little or nothing left to learn.

She often won’t even entertain the ideas presented in blogs like this one. And yes, she feels qualified to hold forth as an instructor, where mostly she passes on the same myths and clichéd advice.

The early stage-three writer has left most of the myths behind and really begun to understand Story. She’s vaguely aware of the eventual reader of her story.

Words are no longer important. They’re only tools. She’s keenly aware of the importance of using the POV character’s five physical senses to ground the reader in the setting (and in the story), plus his opinions of that setting to bring it to life.

She still consciously wants everyone to think her story is good, though. She might check reviews occasionally, and might even respond to the better or worse ones.

The more advanced stage-three writer is aware of the reader and begins to understand her job is to manipulate him.

She’s aware of pacing and is beginning to understand that the characters, settings, scenes and overall story are paced differently. She believes in her ability as a storyteller and mostly (or fully) trusts in her characters to tell their own story.

She understands the story itself is not important, that it’s only a moment’s passing pleasure. She wants every reader to experience exactly the same story that’s in her head. To that end, she leaves very little to the reader’s imagination.

She’s made herself aware (with her conscious mind) of most or all of the aspects and techniques of fiction writing. But she quiets her conscious, critical mind and employs those aspects and techniques with her subconscious as she writes.

She sells well (especially if she’s also kept apace learning the business end) and might have more than one book on a bestseller list. She couldn’t care less about reviews because she understands each one is only that person’s opinion.

There’s only one drawback to being an advanced stage-three writer: If she feels she finally knows all there is to know about writing, she’ll stop learning and eventually disappear.

But if she continues to learn from other advanced stage-three and stage-four writers and apply new (to her) techniques, she will eventually advance to stage four.

The stage-four writer exerts complete control over what the reader sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels as he reads the story. She’s a mind-control expert. She leaves no room for reader imagination. (Imagining the story is the writer’s job, not the reader’s.)

She couldn’t care less about reviews or, for that matter, sales. She knows her stories are good and won’t argue the point or even give it much thought. She’s at the top of her game, yet is still hungry for more knowledge about the writing craft. She continues to study the works of more advanced stage-four writers.

So there you go. We all go through all of these stages as long as we keep writing. No one is immune. You are where you are, but if you keep learning, you will advance as you grow in craft.

If you’re a stage-one, stage-two or early stage-three writer, open your mind. Chances are, even I can teach you something.

If you’re an advanced stage-three writer we can exchange information and learn from each other. If you’re a stage-four writer, well, you aren’t reading this. You’re too busy writing your next bestseller.

All of that being said, sometimes I wish stringently I’d taken DWS’s advice and kept my own process to myself. For a great deal more on these stages, I strongly recommend you buy Dean’s book and/or take his classic workshop on the topic.

Rolled out at 3, wrote the stuff above. Not sure what the day will hold other than the labs for my upcoming doctor appointment. (I didn’t go yesterday.)

Probably I’ll work on other stuff around the house and the Hovel. There are changes I want to make to the interior of my office that I can’t make until I clear some room in the storage area next door.

And then I’ll probably spend the afternoon in the house learning new things, probably re-reading a Jack Higgins novel.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

Nothing today.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1730 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1730

Writing of ()

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

Total fiction words for the month……… 3173
Total fiction words for the year………… 354511
Total nonfiction words for the month… 10180
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 194380
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 548891

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

8 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Tuesday, July 9”

  1. I don’t know if you’d had been better off following DWS’s advice and not talking about your process, but I for one am selfishly glad you do talk about it. Hearing the same type of advice from different sources reinforces the sense that there might be something to it. Of course the same is true for bogus advice, with stage one and stage two writers reinforcing it amongst themselves – it’s easy to get lost in that bubble.

    So it’s really refreshing and helpful to have writers who are further down the road like Kris, Dean and you share their process. As well as the contributors on Pro Writers Writing, or Phillip McCollum. I hope you and the others don’t regret too much your decision to speak about your process, but in any case I wanted to thank you.

  2. Wow, thank you for including me among the esteemed company, Céline! I’m glad Harvey and the others share as well as I wouldn’t have grown, nor continue to grow, as much as I have without their willingness to share their words of wisdom.

    I’m way behind the rest of these folks when it comes to my current “level,” but they give me something to continually reach for.

    • Thanks for the nod, Phillip. Dean and Kris are solid stage-four writers, and Kris, to my mind, is advanced stage-four. She’s up there with King and Higgins. That’s one reason I always advise writers to study her work.

    • Phillip, whatever your current level of writing, I’ve learned a lot from your sheer persistence. You set up to write 52 stories in one year, and you wrote 52 stories in one year. That’s fairly impressive. Even DWS says that when he was on a challenge to write 52 stories in one year, he never managed to achieve as many.

      And not only did you write all those stories, but you documented your process for anyone interested to see, and collect gems along the way.

      • That sincerely warms my heart to hear that, Céline.

        Thank you for the kind words and a reminder of why I put it out there in the first place. I know I’m not the only writer who has gone through, and continues to go through, those painful beginner stages. We all do. But I hope my stories and transparency helps others carry on and say, “Hey, if this guy could work through his writing insecurities, so can I!”

        Thank you again! Made my day. 😀 😀

  3. Now you’re seeing what I was talking about in the past with all the beginning writer advice. That stuff’s everywhere. I think the worse part is that a lot of the advice tends to sound credible, or reasonable–and perhaps it is reasonable at that level.

    I’ve had to look for sites that can be related to writing. It’s too time consuming to track down writing sites when there’s so few I can use.

    But if you want a link for tomorrow, this is a tool I ran across for timelines: Haven’t tried it out yet, but it does have a free trial.

    • I’ve been seeing and hearing it for over 40 years, Linda. What bothers me is when it comes from stage-two and early stage-three writers who should know better (like sometimes at TKZ). Now and then it just annoys me enough to talk about, and it made a great sedgeway into the stages of a writer.

      There are several Helpful Pro Writer Sites listed at But some are so hit and miss with advice that I don’t visit them anymore.

      I checked out the link you sent. Uh, no. But thanks anyway. I keep track of my timeline in my reverse outline.

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