In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: How to Get Here, Part 1
* Of Interest
Quote of the Day
“[T]he absolute best promotion for your books, proven through history and thousands of surveys and studies, is your next book.” Dean Wesley Smith
Topic: How to Get Here, Part 1
If you want to be a professional fiction writer, there are two ways to go about it. To my mind, they are the hard way — following the myths and turning what should be fun into labor — and the easy, fun way: Writing Into the Dark, which means trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living.
As I wrote yesterday, which method you choose really doesn’t matter to me. But whatever writing method you choose, seek advice from people who’ve been writing fiction for awhile and who have written a lot of it. If the reason for that isn’t self-evident, I can’t help you.
Hanging around “writer boards” and other venues where beginning (Stage 1 and Stage 2) writers slop writing advice back and forth as if they just came up with it themselves is not only a massive waste of time, it is (or will be) actually detrimental to your writing practice. And please don’t try to learn how to write fiction from agents, editors, and others who, um, don’t write fiction. (Duh. [grin])
All of that said, if you’re determined to stay with the myths (outlining, revising, rewriting, soliciting critical input from others, etc.), I recommend David Farland’s My Story Doctor website at https://mystorydoctor.com. Dave passed away in January, but I believe his son is still running the site. Maybe even consider joining their APEX writers’ group if that’s still going.
On the other hand, if you want to try something new and freeing — trusting yourself instead of all those so-called experts and gurus — then below are the steps I recommend to become a professional fiction writer.
Note that these are about creation, not construction. They do not include character sketches or outlining or chapter layout summaries or “signposts” or anything like that. If you trust yourself and all the things you’ve learned about storytelling without even realizing you were learning, these really are all you need:
▪ Follow Heinlein’s Rules religiously. Be an adherent. It isn’t about not falling off the rules occasionally — everyone does — it’s about always getting back on and continuing forward.
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must not rewrite.
4. You must put your work on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market.
It was Robert A. Heinlein’s contention that if you follow those simple business rules, you would be a successful fiction writer. But take care: Don’t read-into them and don’t second-guess what you think he must have meant. He meant what he wrote. Just follow them and see what happens.
▪ Write Into the Dark
When you write into the dark, you trust your characters. You aren’t consciously making up anything, and you aren’t kicked back in an authorial ivory tower somewhere, exerting external control over what happens in the story and over everything your characters say and do.
As anyone with children knows, when you control someone, you are responsible for them and their actions. And responsibility is hard work. Same thing with storytelling. Controlling the story and the characters is a sure way to turn storytelling into sheer labor.
But you don’t have to engage in the work of controlling everything. Instead, you can be an active participant in your characters’story, though you aren’t a character yourself. So no responsibility that way either. You’re free to run and play.
If you write into the dark, the characters have invited you to drop down into the trenches of the story and race through it with them. Your “job” is to try to keep up as you record what happens and what your characters say and do. You’re telling the story that they, not you, are living. (In your own story, you’re sitting alone in a room with your fingers on a keyboard.)
▪ Practice Cycling
When you read as a reader, just to lose yourself in a story and enjoy the experience, you’re reading with the creative subconscious.
You aren’t looking for things to correct, and chances are if you encounter a typo, you’ll mentally (and quickly) correct it and continue to read. You might even just skip over it and go on with the story because you’re so deeply engaged in the characters and the storyline.
This is the same creative subconscious you engage — the same zone you enter — when you record your characters’ story.
Cycling 1 — After each writing session (about 1000 to 1200 words), I engage in what I call Cycling 1, meaning I “cycle back” and read AS A READER what I wrote, just enjoying the story.
I’m NOT reading critically. If a wrong word or inconsistency pops out at me of its own accord, I’ll fix it. But the key is, I don’t consciously “look for” anything. I’m just reading and enjoying the story.
As I read, I allow my fingers to rest on the keyboard so my characters can fill in any details I missed. When I get back to the white space, I write the next sentence and then I keep going.
Cycling 2 — I can do this because as a writer I’m unstuck in the timeline of the story. The reader reads in a linear fashion, beginning to end, but the writer is free to move from one part of the story to another as s/he’s writing.
So if Aunt Marge suddenly pulls a revolver from the pocket of her robe in Chapter 28, I can stop and cycle back to the place in the story where she put on her robe. There I’ll allow my characters to add a sentence or two. She’ll slip her deceased husband’s revolver into the right pocket of the robe. Then I go back to where I left off (the white space) and keep writing.
Nothing important in a story ever should appear out of thin air. If you have a young man and woman chatting one moment in a drawing room in an 18th century romance, you can’t suddenly have her leaning on the balcony rail and looking out (wistfully) over the estate. The reader will become confused. You have to write a transition scene so the reader can see the characters move from the drawing room out onto the balcony.
Hence, Aunt Marge has to put the revolver INTO the pocket of her robe at some point before she pulls it out. And it isn’t enough for you, the writer, to “see” it in your mind. You must enable the reader to see it as well by putting it on the page.
Now, this is going on too long, so again I’m going to break it into two parts. Tomorrow, in How to Get Here, Part 2, I’ll present the final few necessary steps to becoming a professional fiction writer.
Talk with you then.
See “Free Advertising For Writers” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/free-advertising-for-writers/.
See “First Page Critique: When Being Too Coy Creates Confusion” at https://killzoneblog.com/2022/08/first-page-critique-when-being-too-coy-creates-confusion.html.
See “Don’t Call Them Trash” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/dont-call-them-trash/. As I keep saying, one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure. But regardless of genre, good writing is good writing.
The Journal…………………………………… 1190 words
Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)
Day 19… 2117 words. Total words to date…… 41729
Day 20… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 43754
Day 21… 1770 words. Total words to date…… 45524
Day 22… 3296 words. Total words to date…… 48820
Day 23… 3259 words. Total words to date…… 52079
Day 24… 2712 words. Total words to date…… 54791
Day 25… 1068 words. Total words to date…… 55859
Total fiction words for August……… 7039
Total fiction words for the year………… 59535
Total nonfiction words for August… 6630
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 112870
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 172405
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. I’ve never said WITD is “the only way” to write, nor will I ever. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among other topics.