The Journal: A Little More on Cycling

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* It Keeps on Tickin
* Topic: A Little More on Cycling
* About Dean Wesley Smith
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other.” Ernest Hemingway (via The Passive Voice)

It Keeps on Ticking

I came across an old Timex watch in my desk drawer a few days ago. On a lark, I wound it (no battery) and set the time in sync with the clock on my computer. I wind it again each morning. Four days later it’s still keeping good time. The odd thing is, this is the olive-drab Timex I was issued in Marine Corps boot camp in September 1970. That’s almost 50 years ago. Go figure.

Topic: A Little More on Cycling

I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for some folks to get this. And I’m not saying that disrespectfully. I really don’t understand.

This isn’t a matter of semantics. Cycling and revising are simply not the same thing.

Cycling, like writing into the dark, is done strictly from the creative subconscious. No part of cycling comes from the conscious, critical mind. If while you’re “cycling” you’re making conscious decisions about your work—omit this, move that over there, etc.—you aren’t cycling, you’re revising… no matter what you call it.

To cycle routinely (meaning every 500 or 1000 or 2000 words), you simply read for pleasure back over what you’ve just written. But again, you read for pleasure. You don’t work. You don’t “look for” anything. You don’t “decide” anything. You let your fingers rest on the keyboard as you read, and you allow your characters (your creative subconscious) to touch the story or not as they deem necessary. Chances are good they’ll change very little or nothing at all.

That’s what routine cycling is.

Not only is cycling NOT consciously fixing or correcting things, it’s a letting-go of the NEED to “correct” or “fix” things. In fact, it’s a letting-go of the need to “look for” things to fix or correct. You’re just reading and letting your characters touch the story if they want to. If a blatant misspelling pops out at you as you’re reading, can you fix that? OF COURSE. But you don’t go in consciously “looking for” things like that.

If you just thought, “Then how will I ever find what’s wrong in my work?” you’re missing the point. If you assume there’s something wrong in your work in the first place, you’re still buying into the myth that you can’t trust your creative subconscious to… wait for it… create.

The thing is, if you can’t let go of that thought or at least push it down, then you can’t write into the dark and you can’t do what I call cycling. You just can’t. And that’s fine. Shrug. There’s no requirement that says you have to trust yourself and enjoy the freedoms of WITD. You can labor over every word and sentence and paragraph if you want to. Or you can do anything in between.

But if you’re making conscious, critical decisiona about your work, please don’t confuse that with “cycling.” Read on….

Revising, on the other hand, like rewriting and editing, is a function of the conscious, critical mind. Revising is second-guessing or “deciding” about words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. that you’ve written. If you’re making conscious decisions about what you’ve written, what’s “right” or “wrong,” etc., you can only do that from the conscious, critical mind. That is revising, not cycling.

This is what I meant awhile back when I said writing into the dark (and cycling) can be learned, but it can’t really be taught. I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but you can’t and won’t learn how to WITD or cycle until you are able to let go and trust yourself and your creative subconscious.

Now, if you just thought “But if I don’t care about cycling why should I do it?” the answer is, you shouldn’t. How you write and whether or how you manage to present a clean manuscript is nobody’s business but yours.

If you’re interested in WITD and cycling but you’re skeptical, I suggest you do what I did: try it as a way to prove once and for all that it won’t work for you. Of course, to do that you have to really try it. You have to release the myths that have been drummed into you for years, push down the fears and really try WITD and cycling. (And when it works, you’ll probably need to try it again to prove that first time wasn’t a fluke. I did.)

Every writer wants to turn out a clean, finished, reader-ready manuscript. Plotters and rewriters haven’t cornered the market on being conscientious. They’ve just cornered the market on making writing seem like work. (grin) Some writers believe turning out a clean manuscript requires writing and rewriting several drafts.

Some even “write sloppy” intentionally on the first draft. (I’ve never understood the reasoning behind doing anything poorly the first time.) Folks like me believe we can write cleanly the first time through rather than having to go over and over and over the manusript. So we cycle back as we write.

So the whole purpose of writing into the dark coupled with cycling is to produce a clean, finished manuscript in one draft. But it isn’t for everybody. (Yes, it could be, but it just isn’t.)

If you’re finished after writing one clean draft, good for you and welcome to the club. If you feel you have to write several drafts and/or make several “passes” for editing or whatever, that’s fine too. But that’s a club I left a long, long time ago.

So to recap for what I hope will be the final time, cycling goes hand in hand with writing into the dark. Both depend on the writer’s ability to let go of the myths and the unreasoning fear, even if only long enough to write one sentence, then the next, then the next.

In my experience, that leads to letting go long enough to write a scene, then the next, then the next. And then long enough to write a novel. And then the next. And then the next. And before you know it, you’re typing The End on your 50th novel.

The thing about WITD and cycling is, you either want to or you don’t want to. If you want to, then you either can or you can’t, and you do or you don’t. It’s all up to you.

If you choose to write into the dark and cycle from the creative subconscious, that’s wonderful. If you choose to write and revise from the conscious, critical mind, that’s fine too. But either way, I suggest you defend whatever works for you, and while you’re at it, call it what it is. Seriously, nobody cares.

About Dean Wesley Smith

I’m blessed with a natural ear for the American version of the English language and, for that matter, for the British version aside from some of the slang. I learned pretty much all I consciously know about the actual craft of storytelling from Dean Wesley Smith. And I learned most of that from tidbits I picked up from his blog posts, online workshops and lectures.

Even in his workshops, knowledge didn’t come along in one big chunk. I learned a little here, a little there. And to be honest, Dean isn’t always the best at presenting information (at least to me), so I figured out a lot of it on my own. But I hasten to add, I wouldn’t have been able to extrapolate what he was trying to say if he hadn’t tried to say it in the first place. Even when he didn’t bring a concept fully home, he at least planted the seed.

I wrote all that to preface this: You can trust Dean Wesley Smith completely as a writing instructor. You can take what he says as fiction-writing gospel, because it pretty much is. I’ve questioned or flat disbelieved several concepts he’s offered. The first and biggest was Writing Into the Dark. As I’ve mentioned more than a few times, I set out to prove to myself that no possible way could it really work, and instead I proved the opposite.

As a result, I’ve written all the stuff you see below in the Numbers section in less than 6 years. Every single time, no matter what technique or concept I questioned, eventually I always came to understand that Dean was right. So I’m just sayin’, you’ll trim some time off your learning curve if you just trust the guy completely up front.


* I recommend his lecture on Heinlein’s Rules.
* I recommend his books on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing and Indie Publishing.
* I recommend his books on Think Like a Publisher.
* I recommend his craft workshops (Pacing, Cliffhangers, Idea to Story, etc.), and
* I recommend his genre-specific workshops (Thrillers, Mystery, etc.) if they interest you.
* I especially recommend his Writing Science Fiction workshop even if that particular genre doesn’t insterest you because there’s so much extra in it.

It might be awhile before I’m back again. I still have a lot of things to figure out. I wish you good luck, good sense and good writing.

Talk with you again when I can.

Of Interest

See “Did a Person Write This Headline, or a Machine?” at Stunning news.

See “Follow Ernest Hemingway’s Footsteps Through Havana” at

The Numbers

Fiction words yesterday…………………… XXXX
Nonfiction words today…………… 1620 (Journal)

Writing of (novel)

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

Total fiction words for the month……… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 309655
Total nonfiction words for the month… 8210
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 130450
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 440105

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 12
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 50
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 208
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Journal: A Little More on Cycling”

  1. I think that cycling definition is far too narrow, and the reason I expanded on it for my own writing (I think Dean’s version set me back because it encouraged me not to trust what I knew worked for me).

    My creative side loves to play in the story, but it also tends to leave things out. When I first started taking Dean’s classes, I was leaving out setting and five senses entirely. I tried letting the back brain filter that into the story as recommended, but creative brain went on autopilot and continued to leave out the setting. I’d cycle back through and discover it wasn’t getting in at all, and that did trigger the inner critic. Instead, I gave inner critic the job doing a nudge–“Don’t forget to check on the setting.” Whatever creative side did with it was its business. On my current story, when I cycle back to pay attention to the character complexity, my creative is going, “Cool! I didn’t know I could do that!” It’s actually been a lot of fun because creative side can see how the learning can help it do more fun things.

    NONE of this is what I would associate with revision. The inner critic openly wears the hat in revision and it can be easily identifiable by its negativity. It comes in, rolls up his sleeves, and says, “Now it’s time to do the real work on the story”–as if none of the creative process really counted. It’s the voice that says, “All first drafts are terrible,” “First drafts are torture to write,” and “Now it’s time to hammer out the flaws.”

    The challenge with explaining cycling is that it is a creative process. Anything creative is going to evolve with time and more learning. How I explained cycling to my friend a few years ago would not be how I explained it now. It’ll probably be different on the next book.

    • I’m not sure why you’re arguing. Whatever works for you is fine. You and I just see things differeently. No big deal as far as I’m concerned. Enjoy.

      FOR ME personally (and as I will continue to teach), labels simply don’t matter. What matters is Creative Voice vs. Critical Voice. What I choose to call (and teach as) “cycling” does not invoke the critical mind at all. The conscious, critical mind has a role: learning. After that, I simply Trust that my subconscious has absorbed what I need from what my conscious mind learned. I don’t invoke the conscious mmind to double-check on my subconscious, EVER, because I want my subconscious to know I trust it.

      Shrug. Works for me. Works for others. Will never work for some. Just the way it goes.

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