The Journal: A Long Journey

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Faulkner
* A Long Journey
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“When [the writer] begins to temper what he writes to who will read it, then I think the writing itself suffers.” William Faulkner

“Sometimes the characters in my books surprise me, yes. They don’t surprise me in doing something that I never heard of or never imagined human beings doing before, but I hadn’t expected them to do it at that moment.” William Faulkner

“I think that if the writer is going to write simply to express his own opinions, then he is not primarily a fiction writer, he’s a propagandist or a polemicist.” William Faulkner


If you haven’t at least read the transcript at of the Faulkner after-speech exchange with the audience at the University of Virginia, I hope you will. I pulled the quotes above from it, and there are many more I didn’t bother to pull. The thing is chock full of wisdom. And his soothing Southern drawl makes me wish I’d met him.

The closest I’ve come is a friend named John M. Williams, a remarkable writer in his own right. I strongly recommend his collection The Weariness of the South. He has other titles available as well and I also recommend them.

In the short story “The Weariness of the South,” he wrote one of my favorite dialogue exchanges:

“You have no sense of the tragic.”

“Oh for God’s sake.  When things are wrong you change them.  You don’t set them to strings.”

A Long Journey

Be forewarned—I’ll probably wax a little philosophical in this.

Remember that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for?”

More than once over the past several years, I said I wished I could start over as a writer at the very beginning.

I wanted to feel the joy of trusting myself and my characters and the freedom of writing into the dark again. I wanted the exhiliration of learning for the first time that ideas really are everywhere, and they aren’t golden.

I wanted to learn all over again that where the characters live — in my mind or in some other dimension — doesn’t matter. What matters is recognizing that their stories and my story are different and apart from each other.

In my very favorite part of my story, I’m doing nothing but sitting at a laptop trying to keep up with the characters as they live THEIR story.

Here’s how it goes, every time: The characters — always in the lead since they know where they’re going and I don’t — race through their story as I (out of shape and sadly lagging behind) try to at least stay close enough that they are within range of my senses of sight and hearing.

Every 900 to 1500 words or so, they take pity on me and stop to let me catch up. As I bend, hands on my knees and gasping for breath, they glance over the manuscript and point out any small things I might have missed. And about the time I get those things added, off they go again.

I don’t mind my role at all. But I do envy them their energy and boldness and their exciting adventures. I envy them their common sense. Even the bad actors in their world understand that a word or phrase is neither the physical thing nor the physical act it describes. (Children of my generation will remember this more plainly as the Sticks and Stones rhyme.)

But most of all I consider myself fortunate that the characters have selected me to record their stories. I appreciate their willingness to share those stories with me, and I am fortunate to be the first to read them.

Sometime back in the ’90s, maybe prophetically, I wrote a poem. The subject applies, and it’s short, so I thought I’d foist it on you:


It’s time to reconnect some frazzled ends,
unbend a few warped planes, demagnetize
a short in my long circuit. No robot,
I, but in dire need of maintenance. I need

to spark a reconciliation
of my soul and fire, nearly extinguished
by this funny, filthy world. I’ve come
full circle to this necessity —

neither desire nor pouty-lipped request —
of full rejuvenation, an overhaul,
electrical, mechanical, and chemical,
so this rusted spirit might yet shine again.


Yeah, it goes a little melodramatic there at the end (grin), but it explains pretty much exactly how I felt following August 6, 2021. I was full of disconnects and frazzled ends.

For the few who might not know, that’s the day I stopped taking nicotine into my system, which effectively disrupted the operation of theretofore important neural pathways — apparently, as it turned out, the same pathways along which my characters conveyed their stories to me — and slapped my mind into a tumbling, buzzing fog of inability, ineptness, and confusion.

(By the way, in Europe and possibly elsewhere, this effect is talked about openly, a sharing of facts that enable competent, thinking human beings to make up their own mind. I won’t go back to cigars because who knows what might happen. But had I been aware of how disruptive stopping would be, I wouldn’t have lost 10 months of fiction. In the US, though, the entire thrust of discourse on the topic is “um, nicotine bad.” We are no longer exactly the fount of free exchange that some believe us to be.)

After a few false starts early on, I finally realized I couldn’t rush my recovery. I had to sit back and wait as my brain took the time it needed to sort things out. Or not. And the clock continued to tick.

I have to say this: I could have outlined a novel based on earlier novels in any of my series, then worked my way through it intellectually with my conscious, critical mind and all the knowledge I’ve gained about craft over the years. But the resulting story would have been only a cheap knockoff. It wouldn’t have even resembled the characters’ authentic story. More importantly, it wouldn’t have been fun. And besides, I wear many labels, but Hypocrite is not among them.

Having fun with storytelling is important. I can tell you now that at least four or five times, one as recently as a month ago, I seriously considered announcing my retirement as a fiction writer and then setting even the Journal aside. As I’ve always said, if it can’t be fun, I don’t want to do it.

But during the whole time, I’ve also tried to keep my hand in, doing what I could to remain familiar with my tools against the day when I would be able to write again.

So most days I still visited other blogs, occasionally left comments, and/or filed a new edition of the Journal. I also reminded myself more than once that many writers take months or even years to finish even a single 60,000-word novel. So really, me being on a forced hiatus for most of 10 months wasn’t that big a deal in the normal world.

Except for me, it really was. I couldn’t forget that if I’d written even 100,000 words of fiction per month, I’d have written a million words of fiction during that 10 months.

By the way, if 100,000 words of fiction per month seems like a lot, it really isn’t. It’s an average of only 3333 words per day. Which is only 1111 words per hour for three hours per day. Which is less than 19 words per minute. Which leaves a TON of time for staring off into space.

But those 10 months are gone now to history. And although on August 6 2021 I effectively forfeited my first realistic opportunity to write a million words of published fiction in a year, that’s all right. Because a new year begins every day.

What matters at this point is that my wish was granted. I get to start all over again. Only this time I’m not starting off as a skeptic. This time I know in advance that Heinlein’s Rules, WITD and all the rest will work. I just have to give it time to smooth out again.

Who knows? Maybe my first 1,000,000-word year of fiction began two days ago when I started writing a new novel: Blackwell Ops 8. For those of you who’ve read the series, 8 will continue the story of Operative Philip Dunstan (from 7), and maybe a few others.

I guess we’ll see.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Writing Memorable Character Flaws” at Learn and absorb with the conscious mind, apply with the creative subconscious.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1430 words

Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… 2371 words. Total words to date…… 2371
Day 2…… 1305 words. Total words to date…… 3676
Day 3…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for May……… 3676
Total fiction words for the year………… 9469
Total nonfiction words for May… 17760
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 77410
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 86879

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: A Long Journey”

  1. Harvey! Congratulations! I’m very happy for you that you’re writing again. And those numbers are very inspiring! The poem’s a gem; it resonates tremendously with me in the present time.

    But above all, your experience has also served as a valuable lesson in waiting. It has helped me look at my own life experiences in a very different light. I’m able to discern when critical voice is stopping me in my tracks versus when other unavoidable stuff is taking its toll.

    Interestingly, when I’m not giving myself grief for not writing, it makes the return to writing much more effortless! Thank you for continuing to write about writing and helping me and others throughout this period.

    • Thank you, Anitha. I almost didn’t write that post. It seemed too much ‘me’ instead of the more generic stuff. But I remembered that in the past, reading about some of my mentors’ problems (and reading that they even had problems) helped me a lot. And so I posted it. I’m glad it helped you in some small way.

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