The Journal: A Rare Second Post

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Two Journal posts today
* Six years ago today
* Writing Into the Dark
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“Some days things don’t line up quite right. That’s why they make tomorrows.” Wes Crowley

If you don’t receive two posts via email today, you can see the earlier post at There are several “Of Interest” items in that post and none in this one, so you might want to take a look.

I felt like something was special about today, October 19, but I couldn’t quite bring it up. My wife mentioned it when I left the Hovel and went up to the house for breakfast: Six years ago today, I wrote the opening paragraph to my first novel (a Wes Crowley novel), Leaving Amarillo:

Wes Crowley leaned forward and poked at an ember that had popped out of the campfire a moment earlier. “Been a long trail this time, boys.” His attention fixed on the ember, he worked the tip of the stick under the edge nearest him, then flipped it backward into the fire. A few sparks released. “Sure lookin’ forward to gettin’ back.” He looked up, a tired, easy grin on his face. “What about you, Mac?”

The novel was published on November 11, and I was off and running. Wow. What a ride it’s been so far: 50 novels, 8 novellas, and over 200 short stories, all written into the dark.

To celebrate, I’m going to skip off learning for the day and write more on “Turnaround” (short story, probably). (grin)

Writing Into the Dark

If you’re new to the Journal, or if you otherwise don’t know what writing into the dark means (we often use the acronym WITD), it means Trust:

* Trust what you already know.

You’ve gleaned knowledge over the years about grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc. You learned with your conscious mind, but stored the information in your subconscious. It’s all there, and the skills you need will surface automatically as you’re writing.

As you attend workshops and lectures and read things like this Journal and the works you admire of other authors, you will learn new skills and those too will be absorbed into your subconscious. So again, trust in your knowledge and keep learning new skills.

* Trust your subconscious storyteller to tell your stories.

You’ve been telling stories since you were a toddler, long before you even knew there was such a thing as an alphabet. The same subconscious storyteller that rendered you cute and clever back then will do the same thing now if you trust what you know and get out of your own way.

The surest and quickest way to screw up a short story or novel and render it a bland, boring, predictable reading experience is to second-guess your subconscious. Don’t worry about where the story’s going next, even when you bog down or get stuck. Just write the next sentence that occurs to you, then the next and the next. And soon you won’t be bogged down or stuck any longer.

And my favorite tried-and-true method to begin a story?

1. Sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard.

2. Now come up with a character, give him a problem (usually a very minor problem like an untied shoelace or a sticking door, not “the” problem of the story) and drop him into a setting.

3. Then write an opening of a page or two (say 300 – 500 words). Be sure to include all five of the character’s physical senses.

To do that, describe the setting through the senses and opinions of your character. If you include an emotional sense from the character (forboding, fear, joy, elation, unease, etc.) so much the better.

If the opening takes off, run with it. If it doesn’t, cut your losses, delete the story start, and write another one.

Sometimes an opening will turn into a short story. Sometimes it will run to a novella or novel. (The only difference between a short story and a novel is that a short story is about One Event.)

One caution — Don’t “decide” anything. Just write the opening and the ensuing story. Remember, it’s the character’s story, not yours. You’re only recording it.

Practice this exercise several times over a few weeks. If nothing else, practice it to prove it won’t work. (That’s what I did when I started.)

But I promise (and not lightly), if you’re faithful to yourself (if you trust yourself) WITD will work for you. You’ll experience both the fear of the unknown and the satisfaction of watching a story write itself to a successful conclusion. And all of that will mix with the excitement of being the very first person in history to enjoy your character’s story as he conveys it to you.

Happy writing. Talk with you later.



4 thoughts on “The Journal: A Rare Second Post”

  1. Happy first novel anniversary!! And all that’s come since. And more importantly, many many more! The world is so much richer for those 50+ novels, gazillions of novellas & short stories.
    Not to mention your writing craft books…
    Happy WITD!!

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