In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Reflections 1-5
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
Quotes of the Day
“To move past obstacles, you need to move.” Lost Attribution
“The author is having such a good time in telling his tale that he gives us necessarily a good time in reading it.” Clayton Meeker Hamilton in A Manual of the Art of Fiction (1919) about Treasure Island
“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” Joan Didion
Reflection 1—On My Silly Goal
Reflecting on my own goal of writing at least one million words of publishable fiction in 2022, I realized how completely trivial that goal is.
How can a professional fiction writer who has no outside job, no children left to raise, etc.— how can that writer NOT hit at least a million words of fiction every year? Yet thus far I haven’t.
Again, the math is indisputable. If you write even 2740 words of fiction on average every day for 365 consecutive days, you will have written 1,000,100 words.
In other words, if you are able to write a blazing-fast 17 words per minute (1020 words per hour), and if you spend three hours per day in the chair actually writing, you can’t KEEP from writing over a million words in a year.
Writing 17 words per minute leaves a lot of time for staring off into space. That’s useful for those times when your subconscious doesn’t automatically deliver the right word. But for most of us that happens very seldom.
Reflection 2—Writing Into the Dark (Duh)
So all that’s left is to trust the characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. You must trust that even though you don’t know where the story’s going, They Do. I can vouch for that from long experience.
If you do trust them, the writing is almost automatic. The story is being written for you. The words and sentences and gestures and facial expressions are being handed to you. All you have to do is remember to Write The Next Sentence. And then leave it alone. Trust it.
Reflection 3—But Not Knowing Is Scary
Yes, not knowing what will happen next—not being able to “see” where the story’s going and feeling like maybe it’s dead in the water—is frightening. Which is another word for thrilling.
When fear has real consequences, such as it would if you were attempting to make your way around a skyscraper on a windblown ledge that’s one foot wide and 30 stories straight up, well, ahem, that’s at least a reasonable fear.
So reasonable that it might even give you reason for pause, a pause you could use to attempt to ascertain why you’re on a windblown ledge 30 stories above a very hard asphalt street in the first place.
But if your fear stems from sitting in a comfy chair at a desk in your room with a cup of coffee or tea and simply not knowing in advance what’s going to happen next in your characters’ story, that would be an unreasoning fear, which is why I personally would characterize that fear as “thrilling” or at least “anticipatory” rather than outright “frightening.”
Because no matter WHAT happens next in the story, you’re still going to be sitting in your comfy chair sipping tea or coffee and congratulating yourself on not completely freaking out. Well, or grinning about how clever you suddenly seem.
So I’m just saying, maybe that unreasoning fear is not something to be avoided. Maybe it’s something to be welcomed and embraced and plowed-through. Because it means you’re on the right track. The characters are writing the story, you’re transcribing it, and all is well in the world. Well, at least in your room.
For the record, once I have the initial idea that grabs me and propels me into the story, I welcome the thrill of not knowing what will happen next.
Reflection 4—An Illustration About Unreasoning Fear
Consider, when your neighbor or friend or family member (but not boring old Uncle Bob) is telling you a story, maybe relating what happened during a recent trip, can you foresee what’s going to happen next in their story?
Of course not. Other than maybe suspecting a surprise ending is coming (because why else would they tell you the story?), you don’t have a clue. So now the question becomes, Does your inability to foresee what’s going to happen in their story fill you with fear?
Nope. In fact, if it did, you’d probably recognize the fear as unreasonable and seek professional help.
It’s exactly the same with your characters. They’re telling you a story. Again, it’s one that they, not you, are living in their own little world. Just like your neighbors or friends or even weird Uncle Bob. You aren’t experiencing what’s happening in your characters’ story. You’re only recording it for them.
Reflection 5—Two Ways to Start a Story
A few paragraphs ago I mentioned that once an initial idea grabs me it propels me into the story. That’s true. And that’s how all of my short stories and novels have started for the past six years or so. It’s kind of like waiting for “inspiration” but I’ve been fueling that inspiration pretty much every waking moment for around 60 years. But there’s another way.
I’ve mentioned here before that all you need to start a story is a character with a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story) in a setting. That’s true too. And in my first year of writing fiction seriously, I used that technique. When I tackled the Bradbury Challenge (one short story per week) and was successful for 70 weeks in a row, that’s how I started most of those stories, a few of which turned into novels.
But despite knowing how well that technique works and despite recommending it here, I haven’t used the technique myself since I ended the Bradbury Challenge. Ever since then, my own catalyst has been that “inspiration,” a line of dialogue or a part of a scene that suddenly appears from a story that’s still in my future.
In other words, I don’t come up with a character with a problem and drop him or her into a setting. The character or the setting itself initiates contact.
Maybe I hear a character’s voice (and attitude) as the character says a line of dialogue in a setting in the Bronx or Amarillo or LA. Or maybe a shuddering cataclysm fills the dying atmosphere of a populated planet with hot ash tinted red by the multitude of fires. Or maybe two bone-weary riders dismount in front of a livery stable after a days-long journey. Or maybe something else. Almost anything else.
Now, the story coming to me instead of me “creating” the story (character with a problem in a setting) might seem like a minor difference, but believe me, it isn’t.
The question “What will happen next?” is solely a function of the conscious, critical mind. When I create a character and a problem and drop him or her into a scene, some tiny bit of my critical voice way back in the recesses of my mind wants to know what happens next. Of course, I’m able to push that voice down and get on with what I’m doing, but still, at first, it’s there. It’s something I have to overcome. Every time.
But when a character tugs on my sleeve or says something to me or I “see” part of a scene unfold, my creative subconscious is already invested. I’m already deeply engaged in the story, just as I would be if I were reading someone else’s story or watching scenes unfold in a film.
So the question of what happens next never comes up. It isn’t my story. It didn’t even initiate with me. It’s my characters’ story, and whatever happens, happens. I’m just the guy who gets to write it down. And yes, I consider myself very fortunate.
So I guess I’m saying yes, the character + problem + setting = story equation is perfectly legitimate. But if you exercise your idea muscle and your imagination and your intuition, inspiration will also visit you directly and bring the characters and problems and settings to you.
Next time, probably, I’ll talk a little more about goals.
Talk with you again later.
See “Getting Set Up for 2022” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/getting-set-up-for-2022/. Just in case something speaks to you. I also recommend reading the comments if you want tracking software for sales.
See “How Am I Losing Weight?” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/how-am-i-losing-weight/.
See “Merry Writing and a Snappy New Year” at https://killzoneblog.com/2021/12/merry-writing-and-a-snappy-new-year.html.
See “The Bizarre Death of the Toxic Lady – Gloria Ramirez” at http://dyingwords.net/the-bizarre-death-of-the-toxic-lady-gloria-ramirez/.
See “StoryGraph Plus: The perfect gift for book lovers!” at https://app.thestorygraph.com/plus.
The Journal…………………………………… 1460 words
Writing of WCGN 5: (tentative title, novel)
Day 1…… 2786 words. Total words to date…… 2786
Day 2…… 2536 words. Total words to date…… 5322
Day 3…… 1205 words. Total words to date…… 6527
Day 4…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for December……… 10865
Total fiction words for the year………… 636749
Total nonfiction words for December… 7960
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 27100
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 836119
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.