The Journal: Believe in Yourself, Part 3

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Read the Contract
* Topic: Cycling (What It Is, How to Do It)
* Maybe I Should Write a Book
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day


“An author who has spent hours and days and weeks and months writing a book should be willing to spend the extra time necessary to make sure that her/his baby is going to have a good home surrounded by honest people. Plus, remember how much it will cost you in legal fees to get out of a bad contract.” The Passive Guy

Read the Contract

This is so important that I had to put it up here in the body of the post. It’s also repeated it in “Of Interest.”

See “What Can Happen When Your Agent Decides To Become Your Publisher” at Read the excerpted article in the main post if you want, but PLEASE read PG’s concise comment and take it to heart. It’s absolutely spot on.

I also strongly recommend reading the comment by C.E. Petit, which you can find just below the post or directly at

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I hope you’re enjoying reading this brief series as much as I’m enjoying writing it. If you missed them, you can find the first post at Believe in Yourself and the second post at Believe in Yourself, Part 2.

Topic: Cycling (What It Is, How to Do It)

Yesterday I mentioned that we who do not plot and plan and fret also have an alternative to revising, rewriting, and polishing. It’s called cycling.

Some critics have said to me that cycling is just another word for revising or rewriting, but it isn’t. There’s one major difference.

Revising, rewriting, and polishing, like outlining, plotting, editing, and participating in critique groups, all are accomplished with the conscious, critical mind. Nothing good in literature ever came out of the conscious, critical mind. And that’s the difference:

Cycling, like writing into the dark, is accomplished with the creative subconscious.

Readers have a conscious, critical mind too. If you can “figure out” (consciously plan) where a story’s going and what’s going to happen next, so can the reader. You can never excite a reader who knows what’s going to happen next. And if you write from the conscious, critical mind, that’s most readers. As Bradbury famously said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

But cycling—There are several methods or rhythms for using it. The only key is that it must remain the domain of the creative subconscious.

In my practice, each writing session is about an hour long, and in that time I generally write between 800 and 1200 words. Most often, that comprises a complete major scene and also a chapter.

At the end of a session, I take a break that usually lasts a few minutes to a half-hour or so. Regardless, when I return to begin writing again, I cycle back and read what I wrote during the previous session.

But—and again, here’s the difference between cycling and revision/rewriting—I read only as a reader, not critically. I suspend all sense of disbelief (that is, I suspend all criticism) and Just Read to enjoy the story.

As I read, I allow my fingers to rest on the keyboard. I don’t “look for” anything (that’s a function of the conscious, critical mind) but I allow my fingers to move if my characters decide to correct an obvious misspelling or add some description to the text, etc. As I wrote yesterday, it’s their story; I let them tell it.

Reading the previous session also gets me back into the flow of the story, and when I get back to the white space, I keep going. Say it with me, class: “I just write the next sentence, then the next, then the next.”

That’s really all there is to cycling as an alternative to revising, rewriting, and polishing from the critical mind, but there’s another aspect too: Writers who are not bound to an outline are also unstuck in time.

If I’m racing through the story, trying to keep up with the characters and writing down what happens and what the characters say and do, sometimes something unexpected happens. And sometimes that something-unexpected needs a little foreshadowing.

In that case, I can “cycle back” to the appropriate place in the story, allow the characters to revisit the scene and make any adjustments that they (not I) deem necessary. Then I return to the white space and continue writing.

Here’s my favorite example:

Say in Chapter 18, Aunt Marge hears an unusual sound from her living room at zero-dark-thirty. She puts on her heavy robe, the black one with the green vines and pink flowers twining around it, and pads barefoot into the living room. There she can barely make out a figure in the dark. Of course, he sees her too.

And the chapter ends.

Later, after several other events have occurred elsewhere in the story, we return in Chapter 26 to the scene unfolding in Aunt Marge’s darkened living room.

Aunt Marge says, “What are you looking for? What do you want?”

The man says nothing, but he emits a growl. As in slow motion, he takes a step toward her.

Aunt Marge’s eyes grow wide. She yells, “No! Stop!”

Whereupon the man lunges. (‘Cause yeah, he’s just that much of a moron.)

But Aunt Marge whips a .38 caliber revolver from the right pocket of her housecoat and puts two bullets into her would-be assailaint, one in each lung. Because Aunt Marge is crazy about things being in balance.

And the reader (and the writer) go, What? Where’d the gun come from? Because seriously, you can’t save Aunt Marge with a revolver that appears out of thin air. It’s bad juju.

So we cycle back to Chapter 18, and this time Marge puts on her black, flowery robe, then opens the drawer on the nightstand and slips her deceased husband’s .38 caliber revolver into her right pocket.

Cool. Back to Chapter 26. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Very important: Note that just before I laid out the example, I wrote that I “allow the characters to revisit the scene and make any adjustments that THEY (not I) deem necessary.” That is absolutely key.

Your job as a writer is to cycle back to where the adjustment might be needed and then to read and wait. Your characters are living the story, so they know far in advance what’s going to happen. Most of the time, they’ll make an adjustment (e.g., as above, letting the reader see Aunt Marge putting the revolver into the pocket of her robe thereby eradicating the miracle of its appearance in Chapter 26).

But sometimes, like maybe once in 200 or 300 times, they won’t.

Don’t question what your characters want to do. Go with your feelings. Go with that little internal voice, especailly if it’s particularly strong. If you get to the place where you thought an adjustment might be necessary and the characters choose to leave it as-is, Go With That.

Remember, trust your characters at all times. If you’ve given them the chance to make an adjustment and they choose not to do so, just go back to the current scene and continue writing whatever they give you. (Just write the next sentence.)

I can almost guarantee, sometime later in the story something will happen that will make Aunt Marge having that revolver seem perfectly logical even though the reader didn’t see her putting it into the pocket of her robe. Again, just go with it. Always trust the characters to tell the story they’re living.

A final note on writing like we (who do not plot and plan and fret) write: If you want to try this, you have to REALLY try it. Don’t go in with some little just-in-case safety mechanism in place. Because unless you can let go of the fear—unless you can dive in and trust the process and your characters completely—it won’t work. So if you can’t do that, don’t bother.

But if you DO let go of that unreasoning fear, if you DO sweat it out and force yourself to believe until it’s no longer necessary to force yourself, your characters will reward you beyond anything you can imagine. Literally. I promise.

Maybe I Should Write a Book

Wow. It’s been a pretty cool few-days ride on the topic of believing in yourself, and it was fun. It occurs to me that maybe I should write a book on this stuff. (grin)

But nah. There are enough books out there, and most of them are fluff-filled regurgitations of the same old stuff. Who needs the bad company? Besides, you can still get all my Journals free of charge in PDF from 2014 forward. That’s just over 3.4 million words of nonfiction about writing fiction. You only have to email me at to let me know you want them. Of course, they’re searchable.

And if I may engage in a little shameless self-promotion, I also strongly recommend two of my 15 or so nonfiction books:

Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction)

Writing the Character-Driven Story

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “What Can Happen When Your Agent Decides To Become Your Publisher” 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.