The Journal: Learning and Challenges

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Nothing about my nonsense
* Topic: On the Process of Learning
* Topic: On the Value of Challenges
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“The halt on the road before the journey serves an important dramatic function of signaling the audience that the adventure is risky. It’s not a frivolous undertaking but a danger-filled, high-stakes gamble in which the hero might lose fortune or life.” Chris Vogler

“[T]he difference between amateurism and professionalism is you have people looking after you and holding your hand as an amateur. Professionally, no one does. … What matters is, what you do and how you apply yourself consistently.” Farnam Street blog

Well, I’m back a lot sooner than I thought I’d be, but nothing about my personal nonsense today. I’ll work that out when I can and the numbers will start appearing below again. (After all, the Journal is my place to report, and you are my monitors. More on that later.)

But first, just a couple of brief topics prompted by other blog posts: one on learning and one on challenges.

Topic: On the Process of Learning

Over at the Kill Zone blog today, James Scott Bell posted “Mythic Structure: Refusal of the Call to Adventure” (see This is a good article in a “valuable tidbit of knowledge” kind of way. (For the tidbit, see the first quote of the day.) But on the surface the article seems to champion a conscious-mind approach to writing.

That’s fine. We’re all different, and some folks feel a need to see writing as hard work, I suppose as a way to give it value. Again, that’s perfectly fine. I’m sure we all have different definitions of a personal hell. Considering writing fiction any kind of “work” would be high up on my personal list.

But remember, even those of us who write into the dark learn with our conscious, critical mind. The difference is that we trust ourselves and we understand the learning process. As we read such an article, what makes sense to us and what we need to retain seeps into our creative subconscious—actually, just as it does even for those who attempt to “remember” it consciously.

But there’s another important difference: we don’t “think about” when to apply what we’ve learned. We don’t force it because we don’t have to. We trust our characters and we trust our creative subconscious. In other words, we trust that we’ve gleaned what we need from the article. As a result, what we need comes out as-necessary as the story unfolds.

So I personally recommend you read this article and learn from it what you will, but then forget about it while you’re writing. Trust that your creative subconscious will provide what you need as you write. And if you need to do it another way, that’s fine too.

Topic: The Value of Challenges

Today also, Dean Wesley Smith posted “Figuring Out a Challenge” at I strongly recommend you read it, maybe two or three times.

First, consider that this is December. There’s no better time to think about setting one or more personal writing and/or publishing challenges for yourself. Challenges can hold incredible value.

And the overall beauty of a challenge is that even if you fall short, you will have failed to success. If you set out to write six novels in a year and end up with only four, that’s still four more than you would have had without the challenge, right? And if you set out to write a short story every week for a year and fall short by a few stories, what’s wrong with having 49 or 50 new short stories in your inventory?

Second, Maggie King was kind enough to comment on my previous post, which talked, in part, about a previous comment she made. In her more recent comment, she mentioned how much the writing and publishing challenge she took from Dean helped her. In fact, she’s planning to sign up for another challenge with him.

That’s great, and the payoff is wonderful: aside from what you learn while writing for the challenge and how much you add to your personal inventory with the results, you can win a lifetime subscription to his online workshops.

But you don’t have to go through Dean or me or anyone else. You can set your own challenge. No motivation is better than a personal challenge and the resulting streak. What Dean really provides with his challenges is a place to check in, a person to whom you must report re your writing habit.

Having a place to report is invaluable. As many of you know, that was the main reason I started this Journal 7 years ago or so. And even when the primary purpose of the Journal changed to one of sharing my own journey to illustrate what is possible, it still provided me with a place to report my numbers.

So you could start a blog in which you report your numbers. At a bare minimum, I suggest starting a spreadsheet to which you report and post your numbers. Watching them grow can be very rewarding.

But you can also get into a challenge with another writer. You can be each others’ place to report. Years ago, Dean did this with Nina Kiriki Hoffman. That’s when they came up with the “Dare to be bad” concept.

They agreed they would both write a story every week and that they would not rewrite (Heinlein’s Rule 3). They would “dare to be bad” by submitting the story as-is, and then they’d write another one. Both were thrilled and surprised to find that when they stopped rewriting the stories, the stories started selling. Go figure.

But however you choose to set up a writing challenge, it’s a good thing. The challenge drives you to the keyboard, and by the time the novelty wears off and you’re tempted to quit, the challenge itself has become a streak. Then the streak drives you to the keyboard. As some of you probably know, streaks are nothing if not self-perpetuating.

As an example, when I started writing into the dark in April 2014, I started with short stories. I set a challenge to write a new short story every week, as Ray Bradbury famously recommended. My streak lasted for 70 or 72 weeks. I forget which.

But in mid-October of that year—so after the first 24 or 25 weeks (and the first 24 or 25 short stories)—I started writing my first novel. Now, how powerful are streaks? Even after I started the novel, I continued writing a short story every week. That’s how powerful streaks can be.

For some stupid reason that I still can’t fathom, I intentionally ended my streak of short stories at 70 or 72 in September 2015. But by that time, I’d also written 9 novels and I was hooked on the longer form. Back then my normal time for writing a novel into the dark was around 30 days. So for a few months I inadvertently had two streaks going.

My point is, you can do the same or better. It doesn’t take “hard work” or discipline. It takes attitude. If sitting alone in a room and making stuff up is a fun escape for you, that’s all you need to get started.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “The Kindle Vella Experience: Is It for You?” at

See “Artists on Trial” at What PG says.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1240 words

Writing of WCGN 5: (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for December……… 4338
Total fiction words for the year………… 629419
Total nonfiction words for December… 3530
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 22670
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 825162

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

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.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Learning and Challenges”

  1. Hi Harvey ~ it’s probably just my critical mind messing with me, but I can see where if a writer gets fairly prolific that finding enough proofreaders to keep up with a fast-paced output could be an issue. (Yeah, I’m pretty sure my critical voice IS messing with me right now.) But thanks for your thoughts, if you have any, on this…

    • Thanks for the comment, Maggie. You wrote “if a writer gets fairly prolific … finding enough proofreaders to keep up … could be an issue.”

      That’s definitely the case, and that’s when it would be wonderful to have a staffed publishing company the writer could turn to, one that knew the writer was prolific and enjoyed reading his or her work. Of course, most of us don’t have that. (Dean has that, but he says they don’t want to hire more staff to keep up with his output. That’s a choice, a conscious decision, so not something about which one can really complain.)

      I’ve been through several first readers myself, whose only task was to read for pleasure (not consciously “look for” problems) and point out anything that popped out at them. The most first readers I’ve had at one time were seven. One had to quit for medical reasons, and most of the others dwindled away. Now I’m down to one, though he’s very thorough and has an amazing turn-around time.

      So your critical voice is absolutely right. The more prolific you become, the more difficult it will be to find proofreaders. And pay for copyediting and take time to publish. All of that is true. But so what? None of that is a reason to not write in the first place. More in today’s Journal entry. (grin)

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