In today’s Journal
* The topic for today and why I’m here
* Topic: Busting Some Myths for a New Writer
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
The topic for today (and a few more) were recommended to me in an email from a writer (RG) who joined our Journal family fairly recently. Some parts of the topic will be old hat to some of you, but I encourage you to read it anyway. You never know what particular phrase will strike a chord.
I hadn’t planned to write a Journal entry at all today, but I appreciate RG taking the leap to trust me enough to email me. I also appreciate him recommending topics (per my recent request), and his permission for me to share his concerns with you.
When we share, everybody learns. So if you have a topic or topics of interest, please email me.
In full disclosure, I haven’t seen any samples of RG’s fiction yet, or any of his writing other than his email. But if you (RG and everybody else) haven’t taken Dean Wesley Smith’s “Depth in Writing” online course, I strongly recommend you do so.
In all honesty, I have to say I’m not a fan of the swimming analogy Dean uses throughout the course. I found it overly simple and too abstract and shallow to be of much use.
But barring that analogy (a minor concern), I found the course itself absolutely invaluable. I learned techniques that gave my own writing skills a huge leap forward.
Another online course I strongly recommend is “Writing Science Fiction” (even if you don’t write science fiction). That one too advanced my writing skills by leaps and bounds.
In the body of his email, RG actually sent me several topics. I’ll attempt to address a few of those today in a statement/response format. I’ll address other topics in later posts.
So to the topic.
Topic: Busting Some Myths for a New Writer
Below, “RG” denotes the writer’s statement or question. “HS” denotes my response. When I refer to “DWS,” that’s Dean Wesley Smith, and of course “WITD” is Writing Into the Dark. (RG, I hope this helps more than my email response did.)
RG: I acknowledge that writing into the dark is the only way to go. I also understand cycling and the lunacy of revision and the critical mind and the need to publish and release.
HS: Thanks! I agree. WITD works for me, and has worked ever since I gave it an honest try not quite 6 years ago.
That being said, owing to at least 12 and often many more years of being taught that we “must” outline, revise, rewrite, etc., most writers understandably do not trust themselves enough to really try WITD. And THAT being said, I’ve never known any writer to really try WITD (i.e., come to really trust their creative subconscious) and then go back to outlining, revising, rewriting, etc. Not one.
Consider, most writers aren’t even aware that outlining, revising and rewriting are fear-based delaying tactics (again, instilled by years of instruction) to keep them from writing, finishing what they write, and publishing what they write.
Budding writers are taught (pointedly) that what they write can’t possibly be any good. They are taught to second-guess (revise, rewrite) with their critical mind what is written from their creative subconscious.
To the credit of all those teachers and instructors and professors, writers ARE told early-on that they are the worst judges of their own work. But then those same teachers undermine that wisdom with a lie: That when the writer believes the work is “bad,” he’s suddenly right somehow.
Think about that. Writers are the worst judges of their own work. That is absolutely true. It can’t be wrong, because the writer’s opinion is Only One Opinion. No writer can possibly speak for all the potential readers out there.
Yet writers are taught that when they believe their work is “good,” they’re automatically wrong. It CAN’T be good because they are the worst judges of their own work. So they should revise, rewrite, etc. because they’re wrong about their work being “good.”
But when they believe their work is “bad,” they’re automatically right. Which again means they should revise, rewrite, etc. See what’s happening here?
When I realized that “Writers are the worst judges of their own work PERIOD,” I finally understood that what RG asserted in his first paragraph was correct: that WITD — trusting your own subconscious creative mind — really is valid.
To personalize this, I seriously doubt whether RG has read any of my novels, and that’s fine. But if he had, and if he enjoyed them, it would give WITD more credibility. Or (maybe more likely) it would cause him to question whether I really WITD.
To date, I’ve written westerns, thrillers, action-adventures, mysteries, and science fiction/science fantasy (the former obeys the laws of physics as we know them and the latter does not). Maybe some of those are in RG’s (or your) reading wheelhouse and maybe they aren’t.
But neither does that matter. Readers read what they want, and they return to read more works by writers whose work they enjoy. And that’s the extent of how much I worry about it. Shrug.
The only way to enhance discoverability — the likelihood that readers will find your work in the first place — is to put a lot of work out there. The more times your name appears on various book covers, the better the chance a reader will buy it.
So again, I do my best to control what I can control, and then I don’t worry about the rest.
Once I’ve created the most enticing cover I can create and written the best sales copy I can write (and slapped all of that on the most entertaining story I can write at my current skill level), I’ve done all I can do. At that point, I really, honestly don’t care.
Readers will find my work and read it or they won’t. My focus is on writing the next story. Because I’m a writer, not an arm-twister of readers. (grin) If you want to check out what I’ve written, take a look at StoneThread Publishing.
RG: But my question relates to the early period in a writer’s career where what they produce really isn’t that good.
HS: Again, “what I produce really isn’t that good” according to whom? Remember, you are the worst judge of your own work. Period.
But honestly, I had exactly the same concern when I started. Exactly. My first thought was, “Well of course this works for DWS. He’s been writing sucessfully for 40+ years.” Still, what if WITD DID work?
So for me, there was only one thing to do: I would give WITD a real try. I would ignore all the advice I’d heard from non-writers over the years (and from writers who had bought into that stuff) and trust a 40+ year professional writer. To me, that just made sense.
I would really try WITD. Which means I wouldn’t “try” (conscious, critical mind) anything. I would let go of all those fears of not being good enough and just trust my creative subconscious. I would write whatever it gave me to start, and then I would write the next sentence. And that would turn into a short story or novel or it wouldn’t.
So I wrote a short story. And WITD worked. And as a bonus, it really was a ton of fun.
But I was still skeptical. I figured it must be a fluke. So I continued the experiment. I wrote another short story, and another one, and another one. Over 7 months, I wrote around 30 short stories, strictly WITD.
Then, still skeptical, I thought, “Okay fine. WITD works for short stories. But that doesn’t mean it will work for a novel. After all, short stories are, well, short.”
So on October 19, 2014, I started my first novel. I started with a line of narrative that popped into my head. Then I wrote the next sentence, then the next, etc. I finished my first novel twenty-some days later (28 if I remember correctly). And it was GOOD (my opinion). But what really matter was that it had entertained me. So it stood to reason that it would entertain at least some other readers.
It did. And I haven’t looked back.
Now for a few minor finishing points for this topic:
RG: There’s no way anyone will ever convince me ….
HS: Sure they will. READERS will convince you. But only if they have the opportunity to read your work.
RG: … that what I’ve written is comparable to what you can write. (You’ve written a gazillion more words more than me. Our writing shouldn’t be the same.)
HS: Really, this is a category error. To level the presumptive playing field, let’s compare like items. But first, not to be flip, so what?
Your very first novel will be BETTER than my very first novel was to some readers. And my very first novel will be better than yours will to some readers. The point is, SOME readers of your genre (my go-to stat is 80%) will like yours and the same number of readers of my genre will like mine.
RG: And what I can write is not comparable to the fiction I like to read.
HS: Again, so what? There really isn’t any magic involved. It’s only letters and words arranged in a particular order.
And listen to this: NOBODY ELSE arranges those letters and words in the same way your creative subconscious arranges them.
After you’ve read FOR PLEASURE, go back and study any sections that blew you away. Ask yourself how the writer did that. Reread that section a few times. What he or she did will sink into your subconscious, adding to your skill set.
RG: Yet, if I release [my book], readers will compare me to more experienced storytellers. And I won’t fare well in that comparison.
HS: As an avid reader myself, for me, at least, this just isn’t true. That readers will compare your story to the story of some other writer is a myth.
When I’m reading a novel by Lee Child, I don’t compare it to a novel by Jack Higgins. And when I’m reading a first thriller by a brand new writer, I don’t compare it to either of those.
As a copyeditor, because I’ve learned some techniques as a writer that most new novelists hasn’t yet learned, I do recognize when those techniques are lacking (if they’re important). And because I’m an instructor and enjoy cutting learning curves and spreading the wealth, I might tell the writer in a comment how to ground the reader or how to add more depth or whatever.
Personal to RG — I do encourage you to send me a story or novel for a free sample edit (a full edit of up to a few pages). I’ll almost certainly find a few things that will help, and you can then apply those yourself to the rest of your novel.
Although as I told you in my email, I suspect I will more than likely also tell you that you don’t need a copyeditor. In your case, I really suspect a good first reader will suffice.
That’s all for this time. I hope this helps. As always, comments or emails are welcome.
Today I’ll enjoy a combination business and personal visit with my son, daughter-in-law and grandbabies.
For those of you following my personal challenge, just a reminder: only target dates matter now. I have to have finished a novel by the end of each month of the year, and I have to have finished a short story by Saturday midnight of each week.
There are no restrictions for when I start a short story or novel. This is a way of putting days in the bank instead of wasting them. Doing it this way will more than likely enable me to write far more than 12 novels on the year. (grin) What could possibly be bad about that?
But no fiction writing today unless some character or line of dialogue or narrative pops into my head and drives me to write an opening. (grin) I never discount that possibility.
Talk with you again soon.
See “WWYWTR – Fortune-Telling” at https://prowriterswriting.com/wwywtr-fortune-telling/.
See “Why Book Reviewing Isn’t Going Anywhere” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/why-book-reviewing-isnt-going-anywhere/.
Fiction words today…………………… XXXX
Nonfiction words today…………… 2060 (Journal)
Writing of (novel)
Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the month……… 48392
Total fiction words for the year………… 48392
Total nonfiction words for the month… 19630
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 19630
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 68022
Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 2
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 46
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 199
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
4 thoughts on “The Journal: Busting Some Myths for a New Writer”
I’m confused about why outlining is so popular in the English fiction writing world.
Where did it come from?
Where I live, Japan, WITD is completely normal. Some people do outline, but it’s not treated with the formality that western writers seem to prefer; they certainly won’t be making a living out of teaching it. I’m curious where outlining came from to begin with.
Thanks for the comment, Yuko. I honestly can’t say where or when the silliness of outlining started. I only know that it (and other myths) are taught stringently here in the States in pretty much every English and writing class as “essential.” Which of course it isn’t. Possibly it gained popularity from some of the structures that some of the old pulp writers developed here back in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s (three-, five-, and seven-act structures, and Lester Dent’s plot formula). But that’s only a guess. And of course, it’s difficult to re-learn to trust the subconscious when we’re actively taught all those years not to trust it. Sigh. It’s based on a fear of the unknown. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you possibly get there? But almost all long-term professional fiction writers trust their subconscious, write off into the dark, and get there just fine. 🙂
Hi Harvey, thank you. I did learn a lot about storytelling by studying the three act structure and other formulas, as before that I used to write “stories” with the protagonist sitting in their room doing nothing (and I thought I was writing art! LOL). And I have experimented with outlining, but absolutely hated it, and am pretty much committed to WITD. It is so much more enjoyable.
Fear is a big factor for a lot of us younger writers, and what makes the issue even more tricky is that fear is so normal now that we can’t even see it. We don’t like being novices, we don’t like learning from more advanced writers, and most of all we cannot stand being seen as “weak”. I can only pray that every writer and artist will break out of the spell and find their way to better art.
That’s it exactly, Yuko. Study and learn with the conscious mind, then write from the subconscious.
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