The Journal, Saturday, September 8

Hey Folks,

Topic: On Being a Hack Writer

Character stands up tentatively from a brown metal folding chair:

Hello. My name is Harvey Stanbrough and I’ve become accustomed to the idea that I am a hack writer.

Character resumes his seat. Someone yells, “Scene.”

That doesn’t mean I write stories about taxicabs, but that I write far too fast and turn out so much work that no possible way could it be any good. (grin)

Never mind that my poetry and fiction is taught in at least two university English programs.

I must be a hack. How else could I churn out a short novel (30,000 – 50,000 words) in ten to twenty days? How else could I write a 100,000 word novel in a month?

I personally know writers who intentionally take much longer to write a novel. Some write only one hour per day (on days that they write at all). Some ruminate over each word, and then each sentence, as it strikes the page.

I know writers personally who already have established in their mind that they absolutely can’t write anything worthwhile unless they severely limit themselves.

One writer, whom I admire personally for other achievements, recently posted for all the world to see that he “hopes” to write 8 or 10 novels during his lifetime, including the two he’s already written. And he’s only in his 40s.

Of course, he was roundly applauded. By nonwriters.

If I could convince only one person to Sit Down, Trust Your Subconscious, and Just Tell a Story, it would be him. Or maybe the lady who wrote three novels in eight years and said, vehemently, that Heinlein’s Rules wouldn’t apply to her because she doesn’t write science fiction. Sigh.

The conscious mind does have a role to play in our lives. But writing isn’t that role.

We use the conscious mind to learn new information, to absorb that information and determine what will work for us and what won’t. But that’s where the role of the conscious mind ends.

What we learn and absorb and believe useful filters into the subconscious. From there, it “shows up” in our writing. It becomes as integral a part of our process as crossing T’s and dotting I’s and putting a period at the end of a declarative sentence or a question mark at the end of an interrogative. We initially learned all of that with our conscious mind too, and then we internalized it.

In other words, once we take in the information, we no longer have to “think” about it as we’re writing. It just happens. Like magic.

That’s how I write. I drop a character with a problem into a setting and Just Write. Or an opening line occurs to me and I Just Write.

I trust my knowledge. I trust in my own ability to remember, without consciously thinking about it, to add a question mark at the end of a question.

And without thinking about it, I remember to ground the reader in my stories by describe the setting through the POV character’s physical senses and opinions. Because I learned and internalized that too.

Most of all, I trust my characters to tell their own story instead of me slogging along trying to force my vision of their story on them.

It wasn’t always that way.

When I started this journey, I thought writing off into the dark was impossible. I actually thought maybe my unintentional mentor, Dean Wesley Smith (see Dean’s guest post), was one of the scam artists he’s always warning others about. I thought No way in hell can I write a short story without knowing the whole story in advance.

But I also realized it would cost me nothing to try it. So I did.

Wow. Easy-peasy, and the 190-some short stories I wrote after my awakening are much better than the few I wrote before.

And between April and October of 2014, I still thought Maybe that does work for short stories (I’d proven to myself it does), but that’s a short form. No way in hell can I write a whole novel without knowing in advance what’s going to happen.

Then I did. Thirty-three times (not including short stories or novellas). Before this month is out (this will be the 48th month since I started writing novels), it will be thirty-four times. On average, that’s 1.41 months to write a novel.

That is dreadfully, almost terrifyingly slow.

To put it into perspective, that’s a total of 1,653,695 words in 1460 days. (I estimated my current WIP, Nick 3, at 47,500 words, averaging Nick 1 and Nick 2.) That’s an average of only 1,132 words per day. One hour of work per day.

At 1,000 words per hour (17 words per minute), if I had even a lax work ethic — say I worked only 5 days per week and only 4 hours per day, including breaks, for that four years — my word count for novels would be 3,120,000 words.

And I would have turned out SIXTY-FOUR novels (my average is 48,000 words per novel) in that four years instead of thirty-four.

Still, I’m far and away ahead of where I would have been if I’d written Leaving Amarillo (my first novel) and then spent the next four years rewriting and “polishing” it.

Had I done that, my novel word count today would be 40,610, a blazing-fast 28 words per day for four years. And I would have ONE novel. And it would be horrible because I would have “polished” my original voice off it until it sounded like every other novel out there.

And what’s worse, I would have learned nothing new.

If you want to learn to write good stories (or to write stories “well” if you wish), the long and short of it is that you have to write.

Rewriting is not writing. Researching is not writing. Taking classes is not writing. Writing is putting new words on the page.

So I guess I’ll accept that I’m a hack writer. (grin) As long as my readers keep telling me they were entertained by my stories, who am I to argue?

If you’d like to be a hack writer too — like Heinlein, Hemingway, Bradbury and a host of others you recognize by only one name — download a free copy of Heinlein’s Rules, then fasten your seatbelt and hang on.

And oh yes, this topic will appear very soon over on the big blog. Now and then I like to thin the herd by making subscribers so upset they choose to unsubscribe. (grin)

Even after all of the above, it’s Saturday and I squandered the early morning hours with this post. So probably no fiction writing today.

The novel is doing well. I know the two words that will key the next scene (smaller vehicle), so it’s all good. In the meantime I’ll post this. As usual, if I do happen to write any fiction later today, I’ll report it tomorrow or Monday.

Of Interest

See “Only One Day Until The Challenge Starts” at

See Joe Hartlaub’s “Do What You Gotta Do” at

See “[Reading Room] There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury” at More than just the story.

(Note: the link at the bottom of the article to read the story is broken, but you can click this horribly long link to download a PDF file of the story.)

Talk with you again soon.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1250 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1250

Writing of Nick 3 (novel, tentative title)

Day 1…… 3422 words. Total words to date…… 3422
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 3722
Total fiction words for the year………… 318453
Total nonfiction words for the month… 5710
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 123526
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 441729

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