In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: A Frenzy of Fuzzy Disequilibrium?
* Of Interest
Quote of the Day
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke
Topic: A Frenzy of Fuzzy Disequilibrium?
Over at the Kill Zone blog today, James Scott Bell offers “How to Form Your Bestseller in 10 Days” and offers a system for doing so. The keyword there is “form.” For those who are satisfied with the labor involved in that, it’s fine.
Jim posits that “the word system immediately sets the various hairs on the back of an ‘intuitive’ writer’s neck into a frenzy of fuzzy disequilibrium.” The sentence reminded me of Spiro T. Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism.” I actually laughed out loud.
But no, I’m not consciously “forming” or constructing anything. The characters tell their story, albeit through my very fortunate fingers, and I convey that story. Full stop.
Aside from being baited with evocative innuendo, Jim’s post is laden with conscious, critical-mind myths. But don’t believe me. You can read it here.
I don’t understand why some “traditional” writers, by which I mean those steeped in the myths, find those of us who write into the dark such a threat. I don’t find them a threat.
I freely admit I don’t care for writing instructors who play to writers’ fears and spread the myths (I suspect to sell more how-to books that say exactly the same things as almost all the other how-to books out there), but I don’t find even them a threat of any kind. They do what they do and I do what I do. Shrug.
They teach what they teach and I teach what I teach. The difference is, if you really try Writing into the Dark, you can prove or disprove it for yourself in a matter of days. If it works for you, you’re off and running in an exciting new world.
And if it doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, you can slip back into obeying the myths. Of course, if the myths don’t work, well, you’ll think you aren’t applying them well enough and you’ll keep trying them.
Frankly, pretty much all Stage 4 writers who aren’t making money selling how-to books that perpetuate the myths laugh at the silliness of it all.
Anyway, as you might imagine, it’s difficult for me to let innuendo and outright bovine excrement slide past me on its way to unsuspecting writers without comment, so I left one. Then I decided it would make a good post for the Journal. So here it is:
No “frenzy of fuzzy disequilibrium” here, Jim. (grin) And I’ve done all the things you recommend. In fact, I once spent several years outlining one novel. I wanted it to be “perfect,” you see, and I thought I could somehow make it so—for everyone, I guess—an impossibility. What one reader finds perfect another will think sucks canal water from all 50 states.
(As an aside and for the record, the novel I spent all that time outlining? Still not written. I knew the whole story, so I was bored at the prospect of writing it.)
Then in early 2014, I found Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark. I was skeptical, but I decided the only way I could prove or disprove it for myself was to set aside my fears and give it an honest try. To my surprise, it worked. What was better, the process was actually freeing. Refreshing even.
I gave up all control. Instead, I learned to trust all that I’d learned from a lifetime of absorbing Story.
The truth is, writers no more have to consciously think about applying various aspects of the writing craft than they have to consciously think about applying a period at the end of a sentence. They know how to tell stories. They need only to learn to trust that they know. Trust—belief in one’s self—is the key.
Now, and for the last 67 novels and well over 200 short stories, I control nothing. I roll off the parapet into the trenches of the story and race through it with the characters, recording what happens and what they say and do. And I don’t second-guess the characters. I’m only the recorder (or as King calls himself, “the stenographer”).
It took me awhile, but I finally realized two things:
▪ The characters, not I, are living the story, and
▪ The characters are pure. They don’t worry about depth, or structure, or words, or scenes, or setting, or the five senses, or any other part of the writing craft.
Likewise, they’ve never heard any of the outlining-revising-rewriting-critiquing, negative, critical-mind myths that so many push. To be fair, they also have never heard of the process I advocate: following Heinlein’s Rules and writing into the dark. Characters don’t care either way about any of that. They’re too busy living their story.
Or, metaphorically put, for close to 60 years I was languishing along with millions of others in a massive, deep, dark mine. As a writer and writing instructor, my choices were to repeat the same echos that were bouncing off the walls the whole time I was down there or to find a way out.
One day I happened across Heinlein’s Rules. I was struck by their simplicity and challenged by how difficult they are to follow. But aided by a technique called “writing into the dark” and spurred by hope, I set aside my fears and took a chance on trusting myself.
I left the critical-mind safety net myths of outlining, revision, and critiques behind. As a result, I was able to climb out of the mine.
I was surprised to find my stories sold and were received better. And as a bonus, I hadn’t allowed my critical mind to second-guess my characters and revise the originality out of their stories. But the climb wasn’t easy. It was an accomplishment.
All of that said, it doesn’t matter to me in any real way how anyone else writes. I wish the best for everyone, but what doesn’t directly affect my time off or my paycheck is of no consequence to me. I’m not trying to convince anyone. I’m just testifying. It would be selfish of me not to at least lower a rope into the mine so others may follow if they wish.
Trying WITD costs nothing but a little time. If a writer tries it and can overcome the initial discomfort, a whole new world will open up. And if s/he can’t, s/he can always go back to the labor of outlining, revising, rewriting and inviting others’ critical mind input (critiques). No harm, no foul.
Still, it’s up to individual writers to take a chance, or not, on believing in themselves. Naturally, it’s far easier to remain in their comfort zone and depend on others for the “right” way to do things. And that, too, would be fine with me if I had any say over it, which I don’t.
I have never said and would never say writing into the dark is the only way to write. But once a writer breaks through the fear, it is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun.
Post Script: You might also read the comments on Bell’s post (other than my first comment, which you’ve just read).
Talk with you later.
See “Explaining Depth” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/explaining-depth/.
The Journal…………………………………… 1210 words
Writing of (novel, tentative title)
Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for August……… 13935
Total fiction words for the year………… 66431
Total nonfiction words for August… 13890
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 120120
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 186561
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 67
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: Along with discussing various aspects of the writing craft, I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. WITD is “the only way” to write, but it is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun.