The Journal, Tuesday, October 8

In today’s Journal

* Silly Quote of the Day
* Topic: Stick to Your Guns
* Today
* Of Interest
* A couple of notes
* The Numbers

Silly Quote of the Day

“No, you don’t need to outline, but you really need to stop and ask yourself questions before you write one word:” PJ Parrish in “What’s Your Point? Figuring Out What Goes Into Each Chapter” at

Really? “You don’t need to outline, but [you need to outline.]” Seriously? Committed much? (grin)

Topic: Stick to Your Guns

In my book Punctuation for Writers, there’s a whole section on using the italic font to differentiate unspoken thought from straight narrative.

I included the section in a book on punctuation because, I reasoned, the italic attribute acts on readers the same way punctuation acts on readers: it subliminally directs the reading of the story.

I was wrong. Much later, I learned from readers that the italic attribute isn’t as subliminal as I thought it was. To some readers, it’s blatant. For them, it’s distracting. And one rule of writing trumps all the others: A writer should never knowingly do anything that might pull the reader out of the story.

So I stuck to my guns, teaching what I knew to be true. But when what I knew changed, so did my stance. Today I would never advocate using italics to indicate unspoken thought.

The point is, we can only teach what we know to be true at our current level of experience. We can only teach the “best practices” that work for us.

There was a time, long before I wrote my first novel, when I advocated outlining and “figuring out” everything about a story before I wrote a single word, as Ms. Parrish recommends.

Today, I know better. Today, I am a staunch advocate against outlining.

I was reminded of this and my previous stance on italics when I read the quote in Quote of the Day above. To put it in context, here’s the full paragraph from which I took the quote:

“I’ve found writers often struggle with this. It’s as if they just start writing, trying to figure out what the heck is happening, then they just run out of gas. End of chapter. But that’s not how it should go. No, you don’t need to outline, but you really need to stop and ask yourself questions before you write one word: How do you divide up your story into chapters? Where do you break them? How long should each chapter be? How many chapters long should your book be? And maybe the hardest thing to figure out: What is the purpose of each chapter?”

As I read the part after “before you write one word,” I could actually hear the author hyperventilating. I could almost smell the fear. And then came the kicker, waffling as it was:

Yeah. You don’t need to outline, but [you need to outline].

Ms. Parrish (who is actually two people) completely misses the point of writing without an outline. She’s obviously an advocate for outlining, so why waffle on the issue? Why not just say “You need to outline”?

The fact is, we who write into the dark don’t “try to figure out” anything. We relax and trust the characters to tell the story that the characters are living.

We who have learned to trust their subconscious and write into the dark don’t sweat the details, because the characters provide those details. In fact, we actively strive AGAINST trying to figure out anything. The scenes and chapters open, develop, and close under direction of the characters if only we stay out of our own way and let the story unfold.

And again, why shouldn’t it? The characters are actually living it.

Let’s compare two analogies, one for writing into the dark, and one for outlining. Say the story is a film:

Writing Into the Dark

The characters are the actors. They’re trusted and free to improvise as the situation dictates. They ply their trade. The POV character is both an actor and the director (it’s his vision). The writer is only the person behind the camera, nothing more. S/he doesn’t “decide” anything, but only records the story as it unfolds. This isn’t work. It’s fun, and the writer enjoys watching the actors blossom and the story unfold.


The characters are the actors, but the writer is the producer (read God), director, AND the person behind the camera. He tells the actors where to stand, how to move, what to say, how to act and react. The characters, of course, are miffed. They do what they’re told, but only grudgingly, and they offer nothing more. The are allowed to offer up nothing original, nothing unique, because the writer/producer/director has insisted that’s not their place.

Okay, so which film would you rather watch?

Of course, as many have said (and continue to say), there is no wrong way. It might surprise you to learn that I agree. There is only what’s Right For You at your current skill level and your current level of faith in your own abilities. All of that is strictly up to you.

If you have to outline, if you have to control every aspect of the story and turn writing into “work” so you feel it has some intrinsic value, go for it.

If you’d rather leap into the story and run through it with your characters, experiencing the story first-hand and making writing the fun that it can be, that’s great too.

But if you’re teaching others, for goodness’ sake, stick to your guns. Don’t waffle.

Today I’ll be watching baseball and maybe write a little. (grin)

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “How to Improve Your Amazon Book Descriptions” by Penny Sansevieri at Old topic, good advice.

See “Importance of Goals” at I recommend reading the comments too.

See “Amazon Intellectual Property Accelerator” at

A couple of notes on the last entry above:

One, remember that your IP is protected by copyright the moment it’s in fixed form. You license Amazon or whomever to sell your stories or novels, but the IP remains yours.

Two, remember that you don’t have to register trademarks to protect them. As DWS says, trademark law exists only to make money for lawyers. The truth is, first (and continued) use in business always wins in court whether or not the trademark is registered.

For example, I’ve been using StoneThread Publishing, a unique and therefore very strong trademark, for a couple of decades. I haven’t registered it, but in any court setting, based on my first-and-continued use, I would win any disputes even if someone came along this year and tried to register StoneThread Publishing with the trademark office. Just sayin’.

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 0
Nonfiction words today…………… 1050

Total fiction words for the month……… 1338
Total fiction words for the year………… 381569
Total nonfiction words for the month… 3750
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 266440
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 648009

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

2 thoughts on “The Journal, Tuesday, October 8”

  1. Rly great post, thanks! 🙂 I always enjoy when a post is about WID, it’s the topic in writing I am most interested in. Maybe because it debunks so many myths.

    I have again a question about critical voice, Harvey, and hope you can clearify that for me:

    How do I get better if I don’t allow myself to critique my own work? I mean I have to see where I am struggling in order to improve or am I mistaken?

    Kind regards

    • GREAT question, Finn.

      “How do I get better if I don’t critique my own work?”

      That question itself comes from the critical mind. If you’re going back and critiquing (critical voice), you aren’t putting new words on the page and the critical voice wins.

      So how do you get better? Read the masters that you enjoy, take classes, learn new techniques, and practice (write).

      Where you believe you are “struggling,” another reader will love what you’ve written. Remember that yours is only one opinion.

      Use Heinlein’s Rules to push aside that critical voice. Write (no matter what your critical voice says), finish what you write (no matter what your critical voice says), Don’t rewrite (no matter what your critical voice says), Publish (no matter what your critical voice says) and you’ll be golden. Then move on to the next story, again no matter what your critical voice says.

      Some will love what you’ve written no matter what you think of it. Just as when you write something you think is perfect, some readers won’t like it.

      The key is to keep learning, keep writing (practicing) and keep having fun.

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