The Journal, Monday, October 22

Hey Folks,

Long post today, but a good one, I think.

I’m in the Hovel as I write this. I got out here around 7 this morning, played a game or two of Spider Solitaire, then decided to write this stuff before moving back to the novel.

I’ll probably finish the novel today, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m in no big rush.

After I write the stuff below, I’ll probably delay writing on the novel for a little longer. I have to update my reverse outline. For those who don’t know yet what a “reverse outline” is, I’ll explain it in a couple of days. It’s a real life-saver at times, and well worth the extra effort.

After I wrote the topic below, it lent itself to a follow-up topic, so I wrote that one as well. I’ll publish that one (and count the words from that one) in tomorrow’s Journal.

Topic: Writing Into the Dark — Why It’s So Hard to Do

Well, truthfully, it isn’t. Not after you’ve re-learned to trust your own subconscious.

Many believe the “writing into the dark” technique is simply deciding not to use an outline. A close writer friend of mine recently alluded to this in his own blog post.

But WITD is actually a great deal more than that.

Although my friend didn’t talk specifically about the more important aspect of WITD, he did lay out the formula for it: Write the first sentence that occurs to you, then write the next sentence and the next. And as they say in the shampoo ads, later, rinse, repeat.

The thing is, once you learn to trust yourself, writing into the dark actually negates the need or desire for an outline.

What I mean, when you get used to WITD, you won’t even want to write an outline. After all, with WITD, you’re writing first and foremost to entertain yourself. So why would you want to write a story when you already know (via your outline) every twist and turn and the ending?

Do you still want to read a novel or watch a movie when you know how it’s going to end? Yeah, me either.

For the same reason, I’ll never write an outline. Or a character sketch. Or a world-building exercise. Or anything else that would enable me, the writer, to levy control over the characters and situations in the story I’m writing.

I don’t want to “control” my characters. I want them to do what they do and make their own choices. I want to roll off into the trenches of the story and run along with the characters, letting them and their story entertain me as I go, rather than controlling them from some ivory “Author” tower on high.

Writing off into the dark is not difficult. Nor does it have anything to do with outlining or not outlining. In fact, there’s only one “rule” to learn, and although it has four moving parts, it’s really easy. The rule is Just Write the Story. The moving parts are

1. Put your fingers on the keyboard.
2. Write the first sentence that occurs to you.
3. Write the next sentence that occurs to you.
4. Repeat until you’ve accompanied your characters to the end of the short story, novella or novel.

Yes, it really is that easy.

In the past few years (since 2014) I’ve written 34 novels (when I finish my WIP), 6 novellas, and almost 200 short stories. I wrote every one of those “into the dark,” allowing the characters to tell their own stories. Most of the time, they did and said things that never would have occurred to me.

My process became difficult only a few times when I was “stitching” a prequel to an original first novel of a series, or tacking a sequel onto another novel I’d written much earlier.

The difficulty was created by having to match timelines and characters. In other words, the difficulty was caused by my having to “think,” having to allow conscious thought into the process momentarily to make sure things matched up.

If I’d had to think my way through everything I’ve written by adhering to an outline, I wouldn’t have written nearly as much. And probably I’d be doing something else by now, because writing really would be a grind instead of the wonderfully fun release that it is.

And that’s the whole point of writing into the dark and why it works so well.

When you’re writing into the dark, you aren’t thinking. No conscious thought is involved. (Some famous writer once said nothing good in literature ever came from conscious thought.)

When you write into the dark, you’re allowing the characters in your subconscious mind to tell their own story, a story they’re living.

Why in the world would anyone want to screw that up by imposing a framework on the characters in the form of an outline? Why would anyone want to predermine a character’s psychology and his or her physical and mental abilities by limiting the character to a character sketch?

For me, none of that makes the slightest bit of sense. It would be like me taking it upon myself to determine what and when the folks next door eat, how they dress, where they work, and what they do in their leisure time.

If I wrote that “outline” of my neighbors’ lives, do you suppose it would bear any resemblance to reality? Of course not. And if I tried to force it on them anyway, wouldn’t they have every right to protest? Of course they would.

That’s because the neighbors are living their story in their own way, by their own rules and according to their own needs and desires. Who am I to force them to do things my way?

It’s exactly the same with the characters in my stories. They are who they are, from the bad guys to the heroes, and they’re highly entertaining. Why would I want to screw that up by making them look and sound and act like every other character in every other novel in the slushpile on every editor’s desk?

But if you need a more selfish, maybe money-driven reason to create original characters and stories in your original voice, try this on for size:

Every time you write from an outline and hold your characters to it, you’re making conscious-mind choices. The same conscious-mind choices being made by thousands or millions of other writers every day. What’s original about that?

And how can you hope to surprise (and thereby entertain) your readers when those readers also make exactly the same conscious-mind choices every day of their lives?

And every time you make another “polishing” pass at your manuscript, you’re making it look like everything else out there. In other words, you’re polishing your original voice off of it.

Think about that. Every day, millions of writers around the world buy into all the BS they’ve learned over the years, mostly from non-writers. And in the name of “originality” they outline, write, rewrite (ad nauseam) and polish all the originality out of their works.

Silly, isn’t it?

Still, as I am often reminded, WITD is not for everyone. (Back in the day, we called this a cop-out.) And the thing is, WITD could be for everyone. You only have to learn to let go of the BS and trust yourself.

Those for whom WITD absolutely will not work are those who are unable to let go of their safety net: all the garbage they’ve been taught over the years about writing. Again, most often by non-writers.

BUT if you want or need the safety net of an outline, knock yourself out. After all, your meticulous planning and the resulting boredom won’t affect my process, so what do I care? (grin)

But I do have a wish for you, and it’s this:

Be original. Live an authentic life. By all means, always march to the beat of your own drummer. Enjoy the feeling that you aren’t allowing others to control you. Live your own life’s story.

Then allow your characters to live theirs too.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See the second comment on “Nifty Writing Bundle Once Again” at Is “cycling” confusing to you at all? I’l be back with more on that tomorrow.

See “How To Use False Eyewitness Testimony…” at The post is aimed at Thrillers, but the advice should work in any genre.

And for a ton of fun, see “Politically Correct 10-Codes” at

Fiction Words: 3337
Nonfiction Words: 1420 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 4757

Writing of Nick 3 (novel, tentative title)
Brought forward from September………… 21695

Day 10… 1736 words. Total words to date…… 23431
Day 11… 1468 words. Total words to date…… 24899
Day 12… 2796 words. Total words to date…… 27695
Day 13… 1719 words. Total words to date…… 29414
Day 14… 2677 words. Total words to date…… 32091
Day 15… 2682 words. Total words to date…… 34773
Day 16… 1533 words. Total words to date…… 36306
Day 17… 2118 words. Total words to date…… 38424
Day 18… 3337 words. Total words to date…… 41761

Total fiction words for the month……… 20066
Total fiction words for the year………… 356792
Total nonfiction words for the month… 11180
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 144276
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 500818

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 7
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 33
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 6
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193

Days of writing fiction……………………………………… 8

8 thoughts on “The Journal, Monday, October 22”

  1. Harvey,
    Great post on Writing into the Dark. I have a couple of things I tell people about the process – “I write to find out what happens next.” And I hate spoilers, I have a hard time finishing a book or movie if someone spoils the ending. Similarly, if I figure out how the story ends ahead of time, I have no desire to finish it. I’ve given myself a spoiler.

    • Thanks, Tony, and my condolences on the loss of your brother.

      To the topic, I usually know the end when I have a few thousand words left to go, but even then I don’t like it. I keep hoping the characters will throw another twist in that I didn’t see coming. (grin)

      On the other hand, I recently set aside a little over 17000 words when a friend who was visiting inadvertently blurted, “Hey, maybe [this could happen]” bfore I was able to slap my hands over my ears and start yelling “Lalalalala!” It seemed the perfect ending, so I couldn’t go on with the book.

      Yet one more reason to follow Dean Wesley Smith’s advice not to allow ANYone else into your work in progress. Sigh.

      Hey, is there a way to subscribe to your blog?

  2. Harvey, to me WITD is the personification of the characters telling the story, even to the author. A good article.

    • That’s exactly it, Ron. It’s their story, so let them tell it. I see myself as the Recorder. I’m the lucky guy who rolls off into the trenches of the story and races through it with them, striving to keep up and writing down everything they say and do. I also regularly employ “cycling” to be sure I didn’t omit anything they wanted to include. More on that in the 10/23 post. (grin)

  3. Harvey, I must have inadvertently deleted the follow button, in one of my blog ‘theme’ updates. The follow button should be on the sidebar now.

    And I’m usually at about the same point on the climax reveal. A few thousand out. I’m around 80,000k on my current WIP, and have a suspicion I’m getting close but don’t really know.

    • I found it and pressed it. (grin) Thanks! Wow, I’m surprised to hear you’re at 80,000 on a noir novel. Most of mine are short in comparison, closer to the length of the old stuff.

  4. Most of the stuff I’m influenced by – John MacDonald / Chandler falls in the 60-85k range. (Having said that my readers say I write like Spillane…I’m not the biggest fan, but I’d love to have his sales!). BUT, I don’t set out with any word count in mind. This one seems to be running a little longer, which is okay. Whatever the story needs.


    • Absolutely, I agree. My novels have come in from 30k to 100k. As you say, whatever the story needs. One of my stories wound up being a saga and required around 600k words. Fortunately it came in bits and pieces and spanned a 10-novel set. In the world of marketing, having 10 (albeit shorter) books available beats having one available any time. (grin)

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