The Journal, Monday, September 16

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: I’m Finally Convinced
* Yesterday
* In my reading this morning
* The numbers

Quote of the Day

Via The Passive Voice, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that receives it.” Edith Wharton

Which coined this thought in my mind: Most writers won’t risk the benefit of light. They blow out the candle and huddle safely in the corner of the room, secure in doing the same worn-out things in the same worn-out ways, then wonder why they aren’t successful.

Topic: I’m Finally Convinced

Writers either “get” Writing Into the Dark (WITD) or they don’t. Which means once they’re made aware of it, they will either set their fears aside and honestly try it or they won’t. So I’m no longer in the conversion business.

When I preach WITD, I say that I personally would no more force events or dialogue on my characters than I would try to force my neighbors to live their lives the way I want them to. So it is with trying to force other writers to write into the dark.

Not that I personally am abandoning WITD. Ain’t gonna happen. (grin) Unless you’re a masochist, WITD is the only way to write fiction AND enjoy every step of the process.

I don’t outline or otherwise figure out what’s going to happen in advance for the same reason I don’t read a novel for which I already know all the plot points or watch a film after someone’s told me the ending. Why would I? I’d be bored the whole time.

And if writing was boring — if it wasn’t fun and entertaining for me — I wouldn’t write. Even when I’m not writing, I get an adrenaline rush from anticipating what might happen when I sit down at the keyboard.

But I also know of writers who spend months outlining. Then they write word-by-specially-chosen-word and sentence-by-meticulously-crafted-sentence. Every word is perfect, every sentence exact. Their work is just that earth-shakingly “important,” or as one writer put it, their words are just that “precious.”

And then, having labored their way through two or three hundred words per day over those meticulously crafted sentences, they still rewrite several times because they’ve been told they “have to.”

Writing a short story takes those writers a week or two (or longer), and writing a novel can take from one to several years.

IF the work is ever finally finished and published (and that’s a huge IF), it’s STILL only a few minutes’ entertainment (short story) or hours’ (novel) entertainment for the reader, and the READER still decides what is “good” or not.

But maybe worst of all, if the writer can anticipate what’s coming next in a written work, so can the reader. Only by writing into the dark can the writer retain her unique, original voice and surprise the reader.

I know what I’m talking about here folks. I spent over forty years of my life in a fog that smelled like bovine excrement, writing and rewriting a few short stories and “planning” a novel. None of the stories were ever submitted, much less published. The novel was never written.

I finally got serious and became a real fiction writer after I found and adopted Heinlein’s Rules. And once I found and tried WITD, the fog finally lifted and I started turning out fiction that has earned rave reviews from most of those who read it. Who can ask for more than that?

As a result of my belief in myself and my own unique voice (both of which I only discovered when I started writing into the dark five years ago in October), I’ve written and published almost 50 novels, 8 novellas, and almost 200 short stories.

It takes me 2 to 6 hours (one day) to write a short story in one clean draft. It takes me 40 to 80 hours to write a novel, again in one clean draft. The longest novel I’ve written took 32 days.

Yet I do all sorts of other “life” things. I do chores around the house, watch television, see movies, go shopping, go camping, etc.

But as I wrote at the outset, I’m no longer in the conversion business. Try it, don’t try it, completely up to you.

After all, the initial decision to push aside the conscious, critical mind in favor of trusting your subconscious storyteller is not easy to do, and it’s an ongoing process. To borrow an old truism, if WITD was easy, everybody would be doing it.

The thing is, once you actually learn to trust the worth of your own subconscious, WITD IS easy. Because it’s natural.

But as I said, many writers will continue to take the easier, less-threatening path and write as their English teachers and other nonwriters taught them. And that’s fine with me.

Every writer is different. Some writers are able to trust their characters (their own creative subconscious) or and some aren’t. Shrug. To each his own.

If you’re one of the fortunate few who really want to try WITD, I’d be happy to teach you. We can either do a formal, paid mentorship or I’ll answer any questions (free) you’d care to toss my way.

Either way is fine. But you have to have skin in the game or it won’t be important to you. Neither I nor anyone else can guarantee your success. That’s up to you.

Yesterday my son and I got the gate built and hung. We had to dig yet another posthole and set a new post too, something we didn’t anticipate. But the whole thing looks and works great now. (Thanks, Roy!)

I was scheduled to go camping for a few days starting today, but due to family concerns (and me being tired and sore) I postponed that. (Sorry, Dan.)

My vacation continues. When I come back to writing, I will probably start a new novel. Eventually I’ll finish my current WIP, but that will happen sometime in the future. I think I want to write in a new world for awhile.

In my reading this morning I happened across “3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program.” You can find it at just in case you might get something from it.

What popped out at me is that tradpub editors read story openings “quickly but closely, alert for the sort of prose that signals a unique voice….”

Duh. For years tradpubs have said they’re looking for a unique voice, yet for years they’ve also advised workshopping, rewriting, etc. All of which polishes off that unique voice. Maybe their way of thinning the herd? After all, the more “same” submissions they get, the less time they have to spend reading them.

As a reader, I too look for a unique author’s voice. It’s easy for me to spot something that’s been polished until it reads like everything else in the genre. When I do, I give up on that author forever. In short, when I know an author doesn’t care enough about her story to trust her own unique voice, why should I bother reading her work?

Know how to retain your “unique voice”? There’s only one way: WITD.

Talk with you again soon.

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 0
Nonfiction words today…………… 1050

Total fiction words for the month……… 0
Total fiction words for the year………… 374653
Total nonfiction words for the month… 8930
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 255640
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 630293

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 7
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 2
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 195
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31