The Journal: Believe in Yourself, Part 2

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* I almost went back
* Topic: Believe in Yourself, Part 2
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“The devaluation of music and what it’s now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That’s what a [single] cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises — the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with. Some would say the fart app is more important. It’s an awkward time. Creative brains are being sorely mistreated.” Vince Gill

I almost went back into the post at to add the Quote of the Day above to the others. It seems more than appropriate given the topic in that post, “Believe in Yourself.”

And fiction writers go a step further than Vince Gill’s complaint. We actually devalue our OWN work. With some regularity, beginning fiction writers are advised (mostly by other beginning writers) to work free “for experience” or “for clips” or whatever. Unbelievably, long-time experienced writers occasionally also advise beginners to give their work away. It’s insanity.

Of course, giving away your writing for nothing reinforces the feeling deep inside you that your work is worthless. Or as Linda Maye Adams put it in a comment on an earlier post, when you give away your work, “…you’re subconsciously telling yourself you’re not good enough to be paid for your writing and that you’ll never be good enough.”

Worse yet, giving away your writing teaches editors, publishers, and the rest of the reading public that they can and should expect free labor, not only from you, but from other writers. See Harlan Ellison’s justifiably angry take on the practice in this video, an excerpt from Erik Nelson’s definitive Ellison documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth: Strong language, but it’s an important topic.

Likewise, pricing our short stories at 99 cents devalues them. Doing so not only belies how we feel about our work, it is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves—how we value ourselves—as writers.

Never sell yourself short.

Topic: Believe in Yourself, Part 2

Over in the Kill Zone blog in “Christopher Columbus and the Discovery Method,” Kay DiBianca asks, “Are you a plotter? A pantser? Or a hybrid plantser? Have you happened onto any unexpected discoveries in your writing? Maybe you’ve experimented with a new idea to extend yourself beyond the safe haven of what has always worked for you. ¶ Is the possibility of discovering something new worth the risk of failure by launching out into the unknown?”

Okay, that last part first. Ugh. “The risk of failure?” What risk is that, exactly? If your story or novel flops, will someone come to your house and murder your family? Will someone take the time to break your fingers individually? Will someone even ring your doorbell and then smack you in the mouth when you open the door? No? So what risk?

Anyway, I knew that most of what I could write in response would be a waste of my time in that venue, so here’s the comment I left:

“It all boils down to trust. If you believe your characters (like your neighbors, the folks down the street, and even complete strangers) can live their story without you telling them what to do and say and how to feel, then simply let them live it. You can be their access to a keyboard, and both you and your readers will be amazed at what goes on over in that other world.”

And here’s some of what I could have written in response, but saved for you instead, you lucky writers you (grin):

Those of us who don’t plot and outline and revise and rewrite and polish and participate in critique groups but somehow manage to write hundreds of thousands of published words of fiction per year don’t have a secret handshake, and there are no special incantations or magic fairie dust. We simply trust ourselves enough to drag our ego aside and allow our creative subconscious to create. That’s all. Nothing more.

Obviously, all writers are different. Some have that level of confidence and some don’t. Some are secure in their wealth of knowledge and others are not. Most don’t even recognize how much they already know.

For example, you’ll rarely see anyone even among the most meticulous plotters and outliners consciously fretting over whether to insert an apostrophe in don’t or wouldn’t or can’t, or over whether to insert a period at the end of a sentence. They just do it.

Likewise, we who trust ourselves “just do it” but on a much larger scale. We allow our creative subconscious to create, and we don’t allow our conscious, critical mind to second-guess that.

As a human being, I am responsible for controlling only my own story, the one in which I’m currently sitting at a keyboard writing a blog post about believing in yourself. By extension, as a rational human being I trust the characters to tell the story that they, not I, are living. Just as I trust my neighbors and others to tell the story that they, not I, are living. An authentic story directly from the source is always better than one that somebody makes up about another person or people.

And as writers, we who do not plot and plan and fret simply trust what we’ve absorbed about storytelling over the years from various media, whether from our mother reading aloud to us or from watching movies or sitcoms on television or from the various “how-to” books we’ve read about the craft of writing.

Of course, as I wrote earlier, every writer is different. Some require the safety net of an outline, or “signposts along the way” or whatever. Some might have a 3-act or 5-act or 7-act structure printed out and laying close by or pinned up on the wall. Some manufacture (conscious mind) extensive character sketches. All of that is fine, but we who do not plot and plan and fret—we who trust—don’t do any of that.

You cannot create an authentic, surprising work of fiction, something remarkable that nobody has seen before, with the conscious, critical mind. Because if you can think it up or figure it out, so can the reader. Your characters, on the other hand, will surprise both you and the readers if you let them.

Not only do we not outline, but we also don’t allow our conscious, critical mind into the process in any other way: we don’t revise, rewrite, or polish, for example. (Yes, we have a better, cleaner, more honest alternative.)

And since we don’t allow critical input from our own conscious mind, we certainly don’t invite critical input from others. Not because their opinion doesn’t matter, but because it’s only One opinion, and as such it’s no more valuable than the opinion of any other reader. Think about that: If you would change your story to suit the input of a critic you might as well change it again to suit every reader’s whim.

It is completely possible to write something you personally believe is a complete waste of time, the worst old thing you could have turned out. But if you turned it out with your creative subconscious, some readers will love it. Most readers will at least like it, and a few will hate it. Again, this is a fact, not an opinion. I’ve done it myself numerous times.

Remember, Writers are the worst judges of their own work. That’s true, but it cuts both ways. It’s true when you don’t like your own work just as it is when you do like your own work. Don’t stick your work into a drawer somewhere. Publish it and let the readers decide whether they like it. Your opinion doesn’t matter.

We who do not plot and plan and fret trust instead. We trust what we know about structure, pacing, suspense, and all the rest. Like dotting an i or crossing a t, the knowledge we’ve gleaned over the years comes forth just as naturally, if only you trust that it will.

And that trust is possible because we’ve learned by applying previous knowledge to new stories, not by revising, rewriting, and otherwise hovering over one work. We move forward, not back, and we never stand in place, not moving at all.

Earlier I mentioned that we who do not plot and plan and fret also have an alternative to revising, rewriting, and polishing. This post is too long, so I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Talk with you again then.

Of Interest

See “Christopher Columbus and the Discovery Method” at

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.

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