The Journal: A Matter of Mindset

In today’s Journal

* Topic: A Matter of Mindset
* Today
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Topic: A Matter of Mindset

You might consider this a little tough love. In this business, and it IS a business, your mindset is all-important.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write. It really is that simple and, for some, that difficult.

Please remember that I’m not talking from some magical ivory tower here. I’ve been where all other writers have been before or are now.

Some writers outline. Been there, done that.

Some writers research, research, research. Until research takes over. Been there, done that.

Some writers take classes, lectures, and workshops. Attend writers’ groups and critique groups and writers’ conference and conventions. Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.

Some writers do any or all of the above to delay actually writing. Yep, I’ve even done that.

But you can’t escape the bottom line: If you want to be a writer, you have to actually write.

Increasing your knowledge is important too. So write, read, and take classes. Get a mentor. Attend select writers’ conferences. Do all of that. But write.

I was just thinking back about when I “made my bones” as a poet. I wanted to be a poet. I’d always read a lot of poetry, especially by Nemerov, Hecht, Frost, both Brownings, Dickinson, Shakespeare, Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Langston Hughes and many, many others, and I enjoyed it like I enjoyed nothing else.

I loved the rhythms of the language, the nuances. I loved rhyme and interal rhyme. i loved form and a lack of form. I loved knowing that poetry is a genre, whereas verse is a mode of expression. I loved knowing that the poem is based on the Line, not the Sentence. I invented the blank verse sonnet. So one day I sat down and started writing poetry.

I didn’t attend classes on poetry in high school or college (except one class in college in which, as it turned out, the professor had never had a poem published—take that as you will). I didn’t learn much in that class beyond the importance of checking credentials on folks I wanted to learn from. I didn’t attend groups or confereces or conventions. I just wrote poetry.

After awhile one of my collections of poetry was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize (’95 or ’96). A few years later, I was the first poet to publish a book-length collection of poems as an electronic book. It took 3rd prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair in FICTION (they didn’t have a poetry category) and was later nominated for the National Book Award (’98, I think).

My work wasn’t short-listed for either the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award, but still. And one of my collections came in second (to Maya Angelou) for the then-prestigious Foreword Magazine Engraver’s Award.

My point here isn’t to brag. My point is that you can do sort-of writing-related things, or you can solve the old Dual Application Problem. You can apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair, apply your fingertips to the keys on your keyboard, and write.

There really isn’t any way around it.

Now, if you only want to TALK ABOUT being a writer or hang out with writers at conferences and in writers’ groups, that’s fine. You can call yourself anything you like. These days, I suppose you can even “self-identify” as a writer without ever having committed a word to screen or page.

But if you want to actually BE a writer… well, then you have to actually write.

Then you have to come to understand, somehow, the truth of this statement: WHAT you write isn’t important; THAT you write is what’s important. After all, you’re a writer.

And then you’ll encounter another problem, a big problem, one that seems like a paradox to many, although it isn’t.

You have to learn to VALUE your work (don’t give it away, get it OUT of the 99-cent ghetto, and don’t sell all rights for a pittance). That’s the first half of the seeming paradox.

But at the same time you have to remember that WHAT you write isn’t important. That’s the second half.

So your stories should be VALUED because they’re VALUABLE, but they aren’t IMPORTANT. Get it?

Everything you write has potential value. Any short story or novella or novel or series you write MIGHT be made into a TV series or a film or a play or a new game for gamers.

THAT’s its value. And that’s why traditional publishers are more than happy to send you a check for $15,000 or $20,000 for all rights to your novel, and then add it to their assets spreadsheet where it automatically increases the value of their company by a cool million dollars or more. Even if they never publish it.

But every short story or novella or novel or series you write is also nothing more than a few minutes’ (or hours’) entertainment for a reader. So seriously, it isn’t all that important. It’s just a way for you to have fun.

Now, if you don’t understand that, you can still be a writer, but chances are you won’t be a SUCCESSFUL writer. So if you don’t get that, I invite you—no, scratch that—I ENCOURAGE you, I URGE you, to reread (aloud if necessary) and study the preceding six paragraphs.

Because when you get that—all of it—not only will you be a writer, but you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful writer.


A day or two ago, one of my mentoring students asked whether I ever write on two different pieces of fiction in the same day. The answer is, it depends.

Today will be one of those days when I almost certainly will. I’m pretty sure I’ll write on two different stories today because I have a short story due by today at midnight. And the novel’s running very well, so I probably will write on it too. (I’m anxious to get back to it to find out what happens next. That, for me, is the mark of a writer.)

So today probably will be a very good writing day: 4,000 or even 5,000 words or more. And I probably won’t write past about 1 p.m. because my sister-in-law comes in today.

By the way, I’m feeling the slightest bit of pressure on the novel because at the moment it’s sitting at almost 39,000 words and the ending is nowhere in sight. Which is fine. I won’t force it to wrap (critical mind stuff) just because my goal is to have it finished on or before February 29.

I set goals to make me reach, to Prod me, not to Pressure me. There’s a difference.

If I go over on finishing my novel by a day or a week or whatever, I will have missed my goal to publish a novel by the end of February. BUT the goal resets to zero on 1 March and I’ll have to finish 2 novels (this one and the one for March) by 31 March. See how that works?

Will I be disappointed if I don’t finish this one by 29 February? No. Not really. I will have failed, but I will have failed to success, with another novel notch added to my writerly gun.

And back to the short story that’s due sometime today. Do I feel pressure from that?

No. Why should I? My minimum word count for a short story for this challenge is 2,000 words. So around two hours of writing. If I can’t find two hours out of the whole day today to write, I should probably just give up writing and open an Earth Shoe franchise or something.

So now it’s almost 3 a.m. and I’m about to start the short story. No idea what it will be. As I advise others, I’ll start with a character with a problem, drop him/her into a setting, and write an opening. If it runs, I’ll be back in a few hours to move over to the novel. (If it doesn’t run, I’ll trash it—yes, outright—and write another opening.)

The opening ran. (grin) I finished my latest short story at 6, then took about 40 minutes to read over it (cycling) and add a little more sensory detail. You’ll see it below. And I’ve decided to send it in PDF to my patrons. Then a break for breakfast and back to write on the novel in progress.

It’s now 9 a.m. I wrote the topic above, and now I’m finally turning to my novel.

Didn’t write quite as much as I wanted to, but I had an unexpected trip to Tucson. Still a very good day.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Feeling Overwhelmed: A Process Post” at

See “How We Bury the War Dead” at Possibly good research.

See “A Miss That Should Have Been a Hit” at

See “How to Spot A Tech Scam Before You Get Stung” at

See “The Life and Work of C.W. Grafton: Crime Novelist, Lawyer, and Father to a Mystery Icon” at Yes, the father of Sue Grafton was a writer too.

See “Did Three Prisoners Really Survive…” at

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 4942
Nonfiction words today…………… 1550 (Journal)

Writing of “Silence Is Better” (SF short story)

Day 1…… 3265 words. Total words to date…… 3265 (done)

Writing of The Three-Year Turn (novel)

Day 11… 3442 words. Total words to date…… 36545
Day 12… 2278 words. Total words to date…… 38823
Day 13… 1677 words. Total words to date…… 40500

Total fiction words for the month……… 53355
Total fiction words for the year………… 118899
Total nonfiction words for the month… 18540
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 49800
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 168699

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 5
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 47
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 201
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31