The Journal, Sunday, July 29

Hey Folks,

A lot in “Of Interest” today. Some of it’s spot on, and some of it, not so much.

With the abundance of writing advice out there, I’ve taken to carrying a shaker of salt with me as I read, so I can take a grain as necessary.

I receive James Scott Bell’s infrequent newsletter. In today’s edition, he notes that his stand-alone thriller, Don’t Leave Me, is on sale for 99 cents. But the tagline is what prompted me to add this entry: “When they came for him it was time to run. When they came for his brother it was time to fight.” Is that great, or what?

It’s a great story idea too. If a hundred writers wrote a story (however long) based on that premise, the result would be a hundred different stories. Hmmm.

Topic: Be Careful of Cycling

Yeah, I know. The title of this topic is probably surprising to some of you. But I promise, it’s no more suprising to you than to me.

And if you’ve read my previous posts on cycling and have put the practice into use and found it a good technique, please keep doing what you’re doing. I recommend you skip the rest of this topic.

If you haven’t heard of cycling, or if you’ve decided against it for some reason, read on.

In its intended, purest form, cycling is an excellent exercise whether you write off into the dark (colloquially called a “pantser” [ugh]) or plot everything down to skin and bones and blood (“plotter” or “outliner”). In fact, Sue Coletta, whom I admire as a writer, is a plotter but she “see[s] no reason to end with a sloppy first draft.” She cycles as she writes.

Basically, there are two ways to practice cycling:

1. You write a scene or chapter (say 500 to 1200 words), then take a short break. When you return to the work you “cycle back” and read through it AS A READER. But you allow yourself to “fix” any little problems (typos, misspellings, wrong words, inconsistencies) you encounter. In my case, that includes adding necessary details I somehow omitted as I was writing. (Per Stephen King, I’m a “putter-inner”.)

2. You write (with the necessary breaks) until you’re through for the day. The next day, when you return to the WIP, you read back over what you wrote the day before and do the same thing.

This is not “editing as you go.” The difference is that cycling is done in creative voice (the subconscious), whereas editing is done critically, with the conscious mind engaged.

The problem comes in when, as you’re cycling, you start paying conscious, critical attention instead of just reading for pleasure. This is what’s been happening to me recently, and IN EVERY CASE it harms the work.

Sometimes as I read I start thinking What if this happens earlier instead of here? or Do I need to bring in some guys with guns to jump start the action? or a million other things.

Usually when that happens I recognize it for what it is. Then I get up and take a walk or do something else to break away for awhile.

When I come back, I sit down, read the last few sentences, then write whatever next sentence comes to me and I’m off and writing.

But sometimes I don’t recognize it in time to break away. And when I don’t, every single time, the story is ruined and bogs down. The story becomes listless and boring, and then I realize what’s happened.

Most often, in that case, the only way I can satisfy the urge to be excited in the midst of a story again is to start a new story. Fortunately, I never lack for ideas. But sometimes Heinlein’s Rule 2 haunts me.

And this from a guy who’s written off into the dark almost every day since mid-October of 2014.

I’m never happier as a human being than when I’m “just writing,” running through the trenches of a story trying to keep up with the characters.

And I’m never sadder or more nauseated as a writer than when I suddenly realize I’ve allowed my own conscious mind to wreck what was otherwise a good story.

And readers know. Believe me. They can tell when a writer has bogged down and kept slogging away anyway.

This has happened even to the inestimably talented Lee Child. In one of his Jack Reacher series novels, the writing was so boring I almost put the book down and gave up. The writing itself was still excellent, but the story was hopelessly bogged down.

The first hundred pages or so was excellent as always, but that was followed by around 250 pages of boring, sluggish narrative and dialogue that was obviously the result of him forcing his way through the book as he wrote it. If he hadn’t had a deadline, I seriously doubt the book ever would have seen the light of day.

He pulled it out in the end (the last 50 pages or so), but if it had been his first novel, I seriously doubt his contract would have been renewed.

So caution when you cycle. Keep it pure. Read over what you’ve written and allow yourself to add or subtract and to fix little problems that pop up. But don’t allow your conscious mind to intervene.

I do still strongly advocate writing off into the dark. I do still strongly advocate cycling, but only in its pure, intended form.

Of Interest

See “No, you probably don’t have a book in you” at What an overinflated assbag. The feudal system, in which the poor (writers) do all the work for a pittance to ensure the livelihoods of the elite (publishers, agents) is alive and well in traditional publishing. Be sure to read The Passive Guy’s comments at the bottom.

See “Not Rewriting. A Great Image of Proof” at

See “Harlan Ellison Wrote in Public” at If you pay attention to the comments, watch for misinformation.

See James Scott Bell’s “Huckleberry Finn’s Transformation” at It’s all about what Bell calls “the mirror moment.”

See “Secrets of Writing Bestselling Crime Thrillers With Sue Coletta” at I was a little disappointed, frankly. Sue’s posts on her website are much more informative than this.

Talk with you again soon.