The Journal: A Pair of Real Writers

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* I am not a writer
* An email and some thoughts on WITD
* Don Pendeleton and Michael Newton: A Pair of Real Writers
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” T.S. Eliot via The Passive Voice

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

By my own definition, I am not currently a writer, much less a “real” writer. With all that I’ve written I suppose I could still lay claim to the title, but it wouldn’t feel right. At the moment, it just isn’t true.

A writer is a person who writes. A real writer is a person who writes consistently, who writes because that’s just what s/he does. It’s who s/he is. I’ll be back to being a writer (and a real writer) soon, I hope, but at the moment, I’m neither.

A reader of the Journal and writer, Alexander T, emailed to say he’d recently finished his 10th novel. He’s 33 years old and has no children, and in that context complained that he was surprised to realize he’d written so little.

Now, Alexander and I have been in touch for a few years and he knows my take on it. He knows about Heinlein’s Rules and about trusting yourself and writing into the dark. Apparently, for one reason or another, he just can’t quite pull the trigger on it.

And of course, Alexander is not alone. He’s far from unique in his inability to trust himself and just write into the dark.

For various reasons, inane as it seems on the surface, some writers will never believe in themselves strongly enough to choose the advice of a real, prolific fiction writer over what they learned in school from non-writers. You know, the non-writer professional educators who did their best to convince us NOT to trust ourselves. I know. Go figure.

And to add to the inanity, the pro writers who teach WITD don’t even ask you to believe them. They just lay out the technique and then urge you to believe in YOURSELF.

When I first started talking about Heinlein’s Rules and WITD around 7 years ago, I suppose I assumed that if I could do something anyone could. That’s why I laid bare my successes and failures in this Journal for all to observe. For some reason I thought if I shared this wonderful, freeing technique, everyone would soak it up.

But of course, we’re all different. The truth is, not everyone WANTS to engage in a freeing technique. And honestly, that was something of a epiphany for me. How can anyone not want writing to be great fun?

But many, many writers are actually frightened of absolute freedom in writing. It’s very likely that they’re frightened of one or more purely imaginary consequences. What if someone doesn’t like their story or novel? Oh no! Will the world end? Uh, no.

Or maybe they’re only frightened of being solely responsible for their writing. If they write into the dark, they can’t blame anyone else for anything, because they alone have input. Or maybe they just need to be told what to do, what steps to follow, so they constantly have touchstones.

I personally believe it’s a combination of these things. I believe they are indeed frightened of imaginary consequences, but I also believe they need the security of structure and ceremony. The “smells and bells” of the writing world, so to speak. I believe those folks have an innate need to follow a formula: do this (outline, character sketches, etc.), then this (write), then this (revise), then this (receive critiques), then this (rewrite X number of times) and they will be successful.

Well, some very few of them will. But an overwhelming majority of them will not.

It’s ironic that—during this time of my not writing—I’ve finally come to understand that not everyone wants to be happy and free in their writing, that writing into the dark really isn’t for everyone. I still believe it’s the best way to go about writing fiction, but I also understand that some folks probably will never be able to trust in their own abilities.

Enter Don Pendleton and Michael Newton.

In his email, Alexander mentioned having found Don Pendeleton. Pendleton is the author of 125 books, the originator of The Executioner series, and the man who is credited with coining the terms “action-advneture” and “live large.” You can find his bio at

Alexander also pointed out Michael Newton. Only a year my senior before he passed away earlier this month, Newton was all that I aspire to be. He is the author of well over 300 novels and other books.

Newton is inexorably tied to Pendleton because he’s one of the writers who took over writing The Executioner series after Pendleton stopped. Very interesting guy, at least from the standpoint of being a writer. Check out his site at

Do I know for a fact that Pendleton and Newton followed Heinlein’s Rules and wrote into the dark? No, of course I don’t. But it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t. Just do the math.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “Business Musings: Comparison is the Thief of Joy” at

See “Haiku…an Introduction” at

See “Contraband: Finally, No More Cakes and Pies Containing Saws and Files!” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 900 words

Writing of WCGN 5: Tentative Title (novel)

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

Total fiction words for August……… XXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 623282
Total nonfiction words for August… 6560
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 161780
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 785062

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
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.

6 thoughts on “The Journal: A Pair of Real Writers”

  1. You dropped one of those low-KT tactical nukes here today Harvey!

    RE: WITD… Speaking for my ownself, it is 100% down to fear, self-doubt, and what I’ve come to call the “death spiral of rumination”.

    I “know”, rationally, that I can write well enough to publish if I get myself into the chair, set the timer, and go. I know this because I’ve done it. There’s a track record of producing words, and some of them even get readers to respond favorably.

    But the rational knowledge doesn’t matter one whit when 9 am comes calling to start the work. That gets me to *thinking* on it… and the more I *think* on it the more the critical voice starts telling the lies.

    I find it strangely similar to exercise. There’s few days where I’m pulling at the leash to get in a workout… but once I get over the inertia, it’s never so bad as the anticipation… and it’s hardly ever the case that I’m not glad I did it after the fact.

    I think you’re dead-on about turning to the “smells and bells” to overcome this. Working on outlines and reading about writing and all that jazz gives one a feeling of *doing something* kinda-sorta writing-like without having to face up to the page. This kind of faux-accomplishment feels satisfying, but it’s like sitting home on the couch instead of getting your shoes on to lift weights.

    It feels good right now, but you always look back at the end of the day and wonder where the time went and why you’re not feeling right about it.

    RE: Michael Newton, I’m sad to hear of his passing.

    He has two books on writing (that I’m aware of) which I read several years back. Both are focused on action/adventure and thriller writing. I don’t recall any direct references to Heinlein’s Rules, but I do remember a “show up and get the work did” edge to both of them.

    Pendleton has a posthumously published book on novel-writing, which has the word “metaphysics” in the title. Not so much a craft book as a “here’s how I look at it” kind of thing. I found it interesting, mostly because I’m eerily interested in the outlooks of prolific professionals.

    • Thanks, Matt. Yep, I can hear the critical voice. You just have to learn to tell it to shut up and leave you alone. Anything you write is written “well enough to publish.” If you write it, someone out there will enjoy it, and someone out there won’t. They cancel each other out. You only have to have fun with the writing and let the characters lead you through the story. Write to learn the story, not to tell it. Write to let it wash over you. I’ll talk more about the topic in the next post.

  2. Harvey, what a post! I was feeling rather lost on the writing front these past few days, so to come here and receive yet another does of this well-known but easily forgotten truths was great! Thank you!

    Speaking for myself, on days when my writing is flowing, I can see all the magic in WITD and am happy to let it take me wherever it wants to. On days when I’m struggling to not listen to the critical voice, that nasty voice convinces me I’m mad to even consider that WITD might even work, no matter how many times experience has proven to me otherwise. As Matt says, that knowledge of the magic of WITD seems to hold no sway at all!

    Matt, I can’t thank you enough for explaining the ‘death spiral of rumination’ the way you did. I am 100% guilty of that. I’ve only recently started to understand the infinite ways in which my own mind trips me up.

    I was able to draw a parallel between what you both said and an article on how we resort to distractions (social media) to get away from the pain of focussing on the work that matters most to us.

    “Some Zen Buddhists hold that the entirety of human suffering can be boiled down to this effort to resist paying full attention to the way things are going, because we wish they were going differently (“This shouldn’t be happening!”), or because we wish we felt more in control of the process.”

    So on days when WITD seems to lead me down an underground mine with no exit in sight, it’s that much harder to trust it than when it takes me on a stroll on the beach. Sure, there’s no real mine, there’s no real beach either, but so many of us are so fearful in our ways of living, we’ve become accustomed to that fear. Losing it somehow feels scary, even if it’s downright silly when we pause to think about it!

    • Anitha, thanks for the comment. You wrote “on days when WITD seems to lead me down an underground mine with no exit in sight, it’s that much harder to trust it.” YES! You might be on the verge of breaking through the veil and trusting WITD more. When WITD leads you “down an underground mine with no exit in sight,” take a deep breath, decide to trust your characters, and simply write the next sentence, then the next, then the next. The solution (and the reason for being in the dark mine in the first place) will eppear. Remember, it’s all about trusting yourself.

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