The Journal: A Diary of Days and an Epiphany That Might Help

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: A Diary of Days and an Epiphany That Might Help
* Why I’m telling you all of this
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“And that’s why I don’t outline and plot novels in advance. My characters and their stories don’t like to be forced into submission.” me

Topic: A Diary of Days and an Epiphany That Might Help

You know the slump I was in? Totally my fault.

It had nothing to do with CovID-19 or the political season or me quitting cigars, though mostly privately I used all of those as excuses. (Publicly I used quitting cigars as the excuse.)

My slump began on May 10, one day after I finished my 50th novel. (Turns out, that fact is significant.) The slump didn’t end until I started writing The Ark on September 22 over four months later. For a prolific fiction writer, four months is an eternity.

In an attempt to snap myself out of it and end the slump, I reached:

1. First, I decided to indulge in learning Affinity Publisher. I’d bought the program awhile back, but during the slump I bought the professional tutorial/workshop and created a publication as I studiously followed along.

As always, gaining that new knowledge was a good thing, but I did it for the wrong reason.
Remember, I kept touting a secret “big new project” I had in mind? It was a publishing project, not a writing project. I was using my learning frenzy to avoid writing new fiction. How crazy is that if I’m a fiction writer?

Note: By the way, I still have that project in mind, but it’s on the back burner. Once I’m firmly entrenched in my fiction writing (my number one priority) I’ll devote part of my day to bringing that project to fruition. Once all the mental building blocks are in place, I’ll announce that here and everywhere else I can think of.

2. All of June and July, I wrote no fiction. In August, I reached again. I went back to my Blackwell Ops world and started a new novel in that series. As is the pattern of that series, I came up with a new protagonist/operative and a new target and I was off and running.

But again I was doing it for the wrong reason. I was doing it to Write Something, not to enjoy listening as my character told me his story. In fact, I became a “plodder,” reading and re-reading what I’d written and trying to figure out why this happened and what would happen next. When I realized what I was doing, I shelved that one shortly over 8000 words in. It’s a good storyline though, so I will probably return to it eventually. (Fortunately, I saved the original un-plodded draft. I threw out the one I over-thought.)

3. In September I finally started writing again, sort of. You know that sound your car engine makes when it turns over but doesn’t quite start? That was me.

I wrote a short story (“The Worlds”) to explore a new technique. That was fun. Then I screwed up, reached again and started a new novel tentatively titled Body on the Beach. Less than 2800 words in, I realized I was re-telling a novel I wrote a long time ago (The Implications). I was hedging my bets, trying to stay on “safe” ground. So I shelved Body on the Beach. And I can promise, that one won’t be back.

4. Then, still in September, I entered into a frenzy of writing new short stories. I wrote five more stories in quick succession (“Five Tight Indians,” “At the Moment,” “Wild Dogs and Rabbits” (recast for a contest), “An Inch and Three-Sixteenths,” and “Turnaround”). I reasoned that if I wrote enough of them, one or two would beg to be expanded into a novel. Hey, it happens.

But I wasn’t having fun. I was forcing it. Even as I wrote the short stories, I was reaching for a novel, so it didn’t work. And that’s why I don’t outline and plot novels in advance. My characters and their stories don’t like to be forced into submission, no pun intended. Whether you realize it yet or not, yours probably don’t either.

I should add that as I wrote those stories, I practiced different techniques and my writing improved. Practice is always valuable, so I don’t regret writing those, but they did nothing to lead me out of the slump.

5. In October, I finished “Turnaround” at just under 6,000 words. Then, on October 22 I hit upon a borrowed idea and started writing The Ark. And 23 calendar days later it was finished at around 52,000 words. During those 23 calendar days, life intervened. So only 17 were writing days. So finally I’m back.

Today and maybe tomorrow I’ll run through The Ark a final time, allowing myself to touch it as I go, then I’ll ship it out to my first readers. (The Ark, the first novel in what I suspect will be a long series, is an SF/Romance novel. If you’d like to be a first reader for it, please email me at

Since today and tomorrow I’ll only be cycling, I won’t call those writing days, but I’ll update the final word count on the Journal when I’m finished.

So why am I telling you all of this?

Because as always, I hope you won’t forget, as I did, to keep the writing fun. Don’t allow your goals to become golden.

That is why I slumped. I forgot, a long time ago actually.

And not only did I forget, I instructed my own creative subconscious to shut down. Hence the slump.

Ever since I finished my 25th novel, I held a long-term goal in my mind of doubling that and writing 50. For the next 24 novels, I was quietly telling my subconscious all I had to do was reach and finish Novel 50.

So reaching my 50th novel wasn’t only a goal in itself. It became the shiny, golden be-all end-all for me. More importantly, it became the be-all end-all for my subconscious. In other words,

Writing my 50th novel became “important.” In reality, of course, that novel was no more important than any other. What’s important and what isn’t is up to the reader, not me or you.

But because I’d made the number “50” a golden, magical goal, my fiction writing career almost died. My subconscious simply did what I told it to do. When I reached my magical number, it shut down. Six years is not a long-lived career as a fiction writer.

Your only real job as a writer is the very first part, the story idea: Come up with a character with some minor problem to get yourself to the keyboard. Drop the character into a setting (describe it using all five of the character’s physical senses, whatever emotional senses he’d feeling and his opinions) and then sit down at the keyboard and Just Write the Next Sentence.

At that point, you stop being The Writer and you become The Recorder. From then on, your only task is to listen as the character tells you his story and put it on the page for him.

Good luck. I hope this will help some of you. Even better, I hope you don’t need the help.

I’ll be back in a couple of days to finalize the numbers on The Ark. And thanks in advance to any of you who want to be first readers for the novel that broke the slump.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “A Neighborhood Story” at A nice read AND a writing lesson.

See “Narrative structure of A Song of Ice and Fire…” at A great story and a little about structure.

See “6 Sci-Fi Writers Imagine the Beguiling, Troubling Future of Work” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1310 words

Writing of The Ark (novel)

Day 10… 4361 words. Total words to date…… 31495
Day 11… 3312 words. Total words to date…… 34807
Day 12… 2142 words. Total words to date…… 36949
Day 13… 1344 words. Total words to date…… 38293
Day 14… 2355 words. Total words to date…… 40648
Day 15… 4311 words. Total words to date…… 44959
Day 16… 4884 words. Total words to date…… 49843
Day 17… 2335 words. Total words to date…… 52077 (Done)

Total fiction words for November……… 28509
Total fiction words for the year………… 391787
Total nonfiction words for November… 7270
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 173110
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 564897

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 6
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 51
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

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