The Journal, Tuesday, October 23

Hey Folks,

On this day in 1983, two suicide bombers in truck bombs attacked the Marine barracks near the airport in Beirut, Lebanon. The attack killed 220 Marines and 21 other service personnel. This was the deadliest attack against US Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945. At the same time, another truck bomb attacked a building housing French paratroopers, killing 58. We will not forget.

Now to writing….

First, a thought to ponder: When we look back at something we’ve written and think it’s good, our first thought is usually “But writers are the worst judges of their own work.”

Yet when we look back and think something we wrote is no good at all, the thought that writers are the worst judges of their own work suddenly flees the scene. What’s that all about?

Keep learning, believe in yourself and write. Everything you write is “the best” for someone.

Topic: Cycling Revisited, Again

In my Journal post yesterday(, I included a topic on Writing Into the Dark. Mostly it was to downplay the notion that WITD simply means writing without an outline.

The much more important aspect of WITD is that when you learn to trust your subconscious (yourself) you will neither want nor need an outline.

And I’m writing this post today to set aside another possible misunderstanding, especially with NaNoWriMo looming (I guess) on November 1. NaNoers are often encouraged to write a sloppy first draft with an eye toward “fixing” it later.

For me, that makes about as much sense as hauling a wheelbarrow load of dirt halfway to the hole where you intend to deposit it. Then you dump it, and come back tomorrow to reload the wheelbarrow and take it the rest of the way. Silly.

The purpose of today’s topic is to let you know that WITD is in no way a recommendation that you should write a sloppy “first draft.” In fact, NaNoers would be much better off writing into the dark and then cycling, as described below.

Those who write an outline first, then write the novel (or whatever) most often write a “first draft” and then follow up with several more “drafts.” Usually until they’ve polished enough of their original voice off the work that they then feel it is ready for submission or publication.

Hogwash. It’s all hogwash, plain and simple.

And so is the idea that writing into the dark necessitates the need to write an ugly, “rough” first draft.

Conversely, when you write off into the dark, you’ver written in your own unique, original voice. So if you’re pursuing “originality,” you’ve got it. And you don’t want to screw it up.

WITD is not stream-of-consciouness writing. You shouldn’t ignore punctuation or capitalization or misspellings or wrong-word uses. If you notice them, fix them. Duh. Then write the next sentence.

So when your characters lead you to the end of your short story, novella or novel, how do you know you don’t need to go back through and rewrite the whole thing?

Easy. You use a technique called “cycling.” It comes in two forms.

Form 1 — As You’re Writing

Say you’re in chapter 28. And suddenly soft-spoken Aunt Marge, a kind, little-old-lady type, pulls a .32 caliber revolver from the folds of her robe and shoots dead a drug dealer who just broke down the front door of her home.

Where in the world did she get that gun?

She surprised you with it as much as she surprised her would-be assailant. Not to worry. She’s simply letting you see a little more of her story.

So you cycle back a few sentences or paragraphs or chapters to the appropriate place and watch as she, maybe for the first time ever, takes her deceased husband’s .32 caliber revolver out of the nightstand and slip it into the pocket of her robe.

Never mind that you also have no idea where she got the attitude to use it. After all, there are many things about Aunt Marge you don’t know. Even in “real” life.

Form 2 — After You’ve Written

When I’ve written a session (usually 800 to 1200 words), I take a break. Sometimes it last a few minutes as I walk up to the house to get another glass of water. Sometimes, if I have other things to do, it lasts a half-hour or an hour or longer.

But regardless of how long the break lasts, when I get back to the WIP, I start by reading over what I wrote during the previous session.

Now this part is all-important: I read for pleasure. I read as a reader, not as a writer. So I’m reading with my subconscious mind.

As I read, I rest my fingers on the keyboard. And just as when I was writing (also with my subconscious mind engaged), I allow my characters to add to the setting, dialogue and other scene details if there’s anything they want to add.

Often there’s nothing. But even when I add to the manuscript during this “cycling” session, it’s always something from the characters, never from my conscious, critical mind.

I don’t look at sentence structure, how many times I used “that,” or any other such thing. I just read through what I wrote in the previous session and allow my characters to come through my fingers if they have anything to add.

Then, when I’ve read through to the blank space (I’ll bet you guessed it) I Write the Next Sentence. Then the next. Then the next.

And that’s writing into the dark with cycling. When I come to the end of the story, I’ve written one clean “first draft” (the only draft).

Disclaimer: Actually, honestly, I write three drafts.

When I’ve finished the first draft as described above, I run my spell-check program and correct anything that needs to be corrected. (Especially in fiction, spell-check is often wrong.) On a novel, this might take as long as ten minutes or so. That’s the second draft. (grin)

Then I send that second draft (often within minutes) via email to my first reader.

He reads for pleasure, and points out any typos, wrong-word usages, and inconsistencies. Then he sends it back to me.

I look over his comments and make any changes that I feel are necessary. That usually takes less than a half-hour. That’s the third draft. And that’s the one I publish.

Nice day here today, humid, with the early morning temps hovering around 60°. Unless my characters throw me another curve ball, I’ll finish the novel today.

To the Hovel at 6. Got right at a thousand words in the first session, then back up to the house for a bit.

Back to the Hovel at 9 and another thousand words. I think the novel is finished.

I’ll take another break now, then cycle through what I’ve written today, do a spell check, and that will be that.

Wrapped up just before noon.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Great Discussions” at

See “The Party Crashers: Demise and the Mortis Triplets – Algor, Livor, and Rigor” at

See “Free Fiction Monday: Fumes” at

Pretty interesting blog over at Tony Writes Pulp. See

Fiction Words: 2058
Nonfiction Words: 1200 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 3258

Writing of Coincidence (formerly Nick 3)
Brought forward from September………… 21695

Day 10… 1736 words. Total words to date…… 23431
Day 11… 1468 words. Total words to date…… 24899
Day 12… 2796 words. Total words to date…… 27695
Day 13… 1719 words. Total words to date…… 29414
Day 14… 2677 words. Total words to date…… 32091
Day 15… 2682 words. Total words to date…… 34773
Day 16… 1533 words. Total words to date…… 36306
Day 17… 2118 words. Total words to date…… 38424
Day 18… 3337 words. Total words to date…… 41761
Day 19… 2058 words. Total words to date…… 43819 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 22124
Total fiction words for the year………… 358850
Total nonfiction words for the month… 12380
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 145476
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 504076

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 8
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 34
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 6
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193

Days of writing fiction……………………………………… 9

4 thoughts on “The Journal, Tuesday, October 23”

  1. Great post, Harvey. I’m still learning to allow myself to write into the dark, and reaping its rewards, and it’s always helpful to read about how others cycle.

    I’m currently reading Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald, which is not specifically about WITD or cycling, but a quote of his reminds me of writing in character and cycling – “You are the slave of your story, not its master. You don’t make decisions, you make discoveries.”

    I like that. It takes away some of my “I must outline and know everything first” anxiety. 🙂

    • Great quote, Tony, and I agree 100%. When I’m actually writing, I don’t even think of myself as “the writer.” I think of myself as an uncredited, anonymous character in the story: The Recorder.

      When you assume control of another human being (or a company, etc.) you also assume responsibility for that entity. I think that’s where all the “writing is drudgery” comments I hear come from.

      The writer who assumes control of the characters and sitations in his story also assumes responsibilty for them. And that’s a heady responsibility. If I have to decide every little thing (especially in advance) how could I possibly ever be surprised by or enjoy writing the story?

      That being said, re-learning to trust our own subconscious mind is not easy. Almost five years, half a boatload of novels and novellas and a full shipload of short stories later, I still sometimes have to tell my conscious mind to take a seat in the corner and stay there. (grin)

      When I find myself becoming critical of a character or setting or story situation, I generally get up and take a walk.

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