The Journal, Tuesday, October 22

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Horrible Quote of the Day
* Today
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” Robert A. Heinlein

Horrible Quote of the Day

“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” Michael Crichton

Oh. My. God. I would literally shoot myself before I’d rewrite a book once, much less seven times. See the topic below.

Topic: Question Everything (or Bad Advice is Bad Advice Despite the Source or Mode of Delivery)

If you’ve been reading this Journal for more than a day or two, you know I hate clichés. I also don’t care for the people who create them, either as a distraction or in an attempt to hide their own inability or unwillingness to think things through. They have nothing useful to add so they spout a cliché, usually wrapped in a smug smile.

When I was a youngster in the USMC, every barracks had at least one “barracks lawyer.” If you haven’t heard the term, it’s derogatory. It means someone who dispenses legal advice that sounds good on the surface, but is wrong, and often dangerously wrong.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand, advice offered by barracks lawyers had been around forever and had become (you guessed it) a cliché. And if you followed it blindly, chances were good you’d find yourself in an altercation with a police officer, if not in jail awaiting your arraignment.

Fortunately, most of us knew better than to follow any advice from a barracks lawyer. Instead, we’d nod, say something like, “Hey, whatever works for you” (sound familiar?) and then either not get in trouble in the first place or consult an actual attorney if we did.

I wish I were still able to do that. The nod and smile thing, I mean.

But I’m not. Even when I don’t argue directly with the person who offers cliché as truth (because I know it will do no good), I often turn it into a topic for the Journal.

Today, the worldwide writing community is saturated to the point of being soggy with the equivalent of barracks lawyers: writers who propagate bad advice, almost always in the form of a cliché.

And those writers who propugate that bad advice always do so for the same two reasons:

1. it sounds good (so it makes them sound wise), and

2. it’s easier to pass along a cliché than it is to think through a technique or problem and offer something valuable.

Probably my least favorite cliché and the one that makes me groan the loudest is “Kill your darlings.”

Seriously, what does that even mean? As is usual when clichés are involved, different people have different interpretations. Therefore it shouldn’t be a cliché at all; the writer who considers muttering it should say what he means in the first place.

Another one is “Show, don’t tell.”

That one caused me to walk out of a seminar several years ago. The instructor was about 20 minutes into a 3-hour seminar when he advised us to “show, don’t tell.”

When I raised my hand and asked him to explain to us what that meant, he smiled smugly and actually had the chutzpah to say, “Well, it isn’t something that can be explained, but I know it when I see it.”

I said, “Ah,” stood up, gathered my stuff, and headed for the door.

He called after me, “There are no refunds.”

I looked back and grinned. “Hey, now there’s a surprise.”

I didn’t care. A hundred bucks was a small price to pay for such a valuable lesson.

To this day, that’s how I feel when I hear some writer spout a cliché. And that’s how I react. Prove to me you don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’m outta here.

Which leads me to the cliché that is the catalyst for today’s topic: “The time to stop revising is when you’re only making the story different, not better.”

Think about it. This is not only a cliché but a category mistake.

“Better” and “worse” are personal judgements. What’s better to one person will be worse to another. But “different” is a state of being. It simply means “not the same.”

I can’t help but wonder, how would a writer who actually believes that teach other writers to identify the line between “better” and “different”? Anyone?

Sadly, most writers who live in a world of clichéd advice probably are fated never to return. Instead they keep the myths going, batting them back and forth like kittens playing with a ball of yarn. And always as if they just came up with it.

Of course, the speaker often follows his or her mumbled cliché with “but do whatever you want” or “but whatever works for you.” Either of which alleviates the speaker from any responsibility for the lack of validity of the cliché.

So here’s the thing: with only one exception, passing along clichéd writing advice is just wrong.

Not that I believe those who utter clichés are harming other writers intentionally. I don’t. But even the most innocently offered advice can adversely affect the careers of far too many would-be writers.

Still, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own actions and our own career choices. Hence, responsibility resides with the person who listens to and heeds such advice. But seriously, following clichéd advice makes about as much sense as doing something in a particular way “because that’s how everybody does it.”

When I hear that, I always want to say, “Really? Everybody? So you’ve talked with everybody and that’s what they all say? Or are you just repeating a cliché?”

My intent here is not to be smug or even to be a smart-aleck. My intent is to recommend that when you see or hear clichéd advice you think your way past it. The human mind is a truly wonderful thing. It’s even capable of original thought, but only when we use it.

Writers who make the effort to follow their own path are in a minority. Chances are, they will be successful.

Oh, but I mentioned one exception, didn’t I? In the world of writing, there is only one cliché that is valid and holds true: Question Everything.

I wish that for you.

Today I’ll probably write. I’ll also either walk or at least think about walking routes. I like to plan before I go out.

I hiked several miles while we were camping, so in that way at least I’m back. Walking, in concert with the low-carb diet I started awhile back, should enable me to lose some excess weight.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “New Videos in Shared Worlds Class” at

Via The Passive Voice, see “The 30 Scariest Author Website Mistakes And How To Fix Them” at

Via CrimeReads, see “Learning to Write Mysteries the Mystic River Way” at

If you enjoy poetry, see Ellaraine Lockie’s award-winning “Stepping Over Arizona” at

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 0
Nonfiction words today…………… 1250

Total fiction words for the month……… 3237
Total fiction words for the year………… 383468
Total nonfiction words for the month… 12240
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 274930
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 659516

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