The Journal, Tuesday, September 17

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* I experienced a major epiphany
* The numbers

Quote of the Day

Again via The Passive Voice, “No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity.” Edith Wharton

This is the sort of thought that strikes me every time I hear a fiction writer refer to what he does as “hard work.” Such an appellation is nothing more than an attempt on two fronts to validate what the fiction writer does for a living.

On the first front, maybe saying writing is hard work keeps him from feeling guilty. After all, how can one feel guilty if one is doing “Hard Work”?

On the other front, I suppose it’s a way of yelling to the world, “What I do is Important!”

How presumptious, and how very silly.

Anyone who’s ever wielded the working end of a shovel for even a few hours knows that writing fiction is not “hard work,” or any kind of work for that matter.

And it’s probably difficult for anyone who’s served as a first responder or worked a shift in a hospital to consider creating something so trivial as a moment’s entertainment “important.”

A story is roughly as important as a song or a film or a sculpture or a still life in oil on canvas. In other words, it isn’t.

I mention this only to free-up those of us who are fortunate enough to be fiction writers. We don’t have to make every word perfect. We don’t have to write polished, grammatically correct sentences.

We only have to convey the stories our characters give us, breathe, eat and sleep.

I experienced a major epiphany this morning.

I realized that many writers and ALL would-be writers hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe, and—most importantly—flock to advice they’re comfortable with.

I was no exception, I’m sure, before I found Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark. Practicing those required a great leap of faith. And discovering for myself that they actually work made me hungry for knowledge.

Then came a transition period, during which I held my own feet to the fire publicly in this Journal. At the same time I began to seek out those who are much farther along the road than I. When I find them, I pay rapt attention to (and pass along) whatever they say. I also read their fiction and pay close attention to how they do what they do.

But until I made that leap of faith, I didn’t do those things. Like most everyone else, I stuck with advice with which I was comfortable. Non-threatening advice. Advice to do the same old things in the same old way and hope someday they’d work.

Mostly that advice bounces back and forth at writers’ conferences, in writers’ groups and in critique groups, basically the blind leading the blind. Meaning they all tell each other the same things they initially learned from non-writers. It’s a self-perpetuation machine. And again, I was no exception.

But once I found HR and WITD and learned that they actually work, I also learned the value of practice. My skills and knowledge quickly grew, and soon I became one of those writers from whom some others seek advice. How weird is that? And I gladly pay it forward in both mentoring and in free advice.

But it’s also been bugging me that so many writers who are not as far along the road and who know me will actually still give me advice that I tried and discarded a lifetime ago. (grin) Historically, it’s been difficult for me to smile, nod, and go on about my business.

Then my epiphany happened this morning and I figured it all out. I realized the epiphany is part and parcel of a new growth spurt. As is my recent slacking off on the Journal and my need to not write for awhile and my need to start separating myself from the end results of the advice I hand out. (“Some writers ‘get’ WITD and others just don’t.”) It’s all one big package, and this morning it all came together when I heard (read) yet another Stage Two writer advising others to do something that flat doesn’t work.

I’m glad for the epiphany, and I’m glad for all the stuff that led up to it. I wrote fiction today for the first time in a very long time (for me). I’m excited about writing again.

It hit me too that of the writers I admire (with the notable exception of DWS) either don’t hand out advice at all or they do so only rarely. Probably because they’re too busy writing.

Or maybe because they learned at some point, as I finally have, that most writers flock to advice they’re comfortable with and treat sage advice from seasoned writers who’ve been there and done that like so much nonsensical verbiage. (grin)

Talk with you later. ‘Til then, keep writing and learning.

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 2245
Nonfiction words today…………… 1030

Total fiction words for the month……… 2245
Total fiction words for the year………… 376898
Total nonfiction words for the month… 9680
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 256390
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 633288

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, September 17”

  1. Not every writer wants a publishing career either. A lot of writers just want a book to hold in their hands, or 2 or 5 and scratch that itch. That also many influence what advice they want. They’re only invested in getting to that goal–and may not even realize that is their goal–so they’re not interested in anything that doesn’t help them in it. Outlining makes most writing skills at certain levels easier to teach, like structure.

    Plus, WITD is another fear point. You have to jump and trust your process and trust that it will lead you in the right direction. One outliner told me he tried pantsing a novel. He only did it once because it terrified him. And, unfortunately, no one really teaches anyone at the beginner level any techniques whatsoever how to pants a entire book. You pretty much have to stumble into them and ignore the pressure from other writers saying, “You must outline.” Especially when the process goes awry and the story stops working. There is no advice for a pantser about how to troubleshoot this, other than “you have to outline.”

    • First, every post I’ve ever written is aimed at writers who at least believe they want to be professional fiction writers. Hobbyists and those who write memoir only for their family are fine, but those aren’t the writers I’m advising.

      Second, OF COURSE writing into the dark “terrified” your outliner. Of course it did. It terrifies thousands of outliners, maybe millions. Because like everyone else alive today, your outliner was taught to second-guess every single stinking thing he writes. He was taught to not trust his subconscious storyteller. He was taught that a writer can’t possibly turn out a good story without input from critique groups and without rewrites. Just like all the rest of us were taught. By non-writers. Duh.

      As for “…when the process goes awry and the story stops working. There is no advice for a pantser about how to troubleshoot this, other than ‘you have to outline.'”

      You’re kidding, right? If you truly TRUST your subconscious mind, the “process” CAN’T “go awry.” That’s the whole point of WITD. And if a story “stops working” or grinds to a halt, here’s the advice (I’ve been saying this for five years, and DWS and others have been saying it much longer):

      1. Trust your subconscious and write the next sentence.
      2. If no next sentence comes, read back a bit and you’ll find where the scene ended.
      3. Write the first sentence of the next scene and keep going. But TRUST in yourself is at the core.

      All of that being said, it doesn’t bother me professionally if a writer chooses to spend a few months outlining and then a few years writing a novel, all because he can’t bring himself to trust in his own abilities. It does bother me personally. For example, I could never be friends with that writer because I can’t handle being around people who are scared of their own shadow.

      But the point of my epiphany was how self-sabotaging so many writers are. They continually, literally take advice from non-writers on how to write fiction, and they IGNORE advice from actual long-term fiction writers who are successful in the field: writers like Heinlein and Asimov and King and Higgins and Child and DWS and Kris Rusch. It’s exactly like choosing to take legal advice from your plumber because the plumber says what you want to hear instead of getting advice from your brother who’s been a successful attorney for 20+ years. And that (and your comment) tells me I’m basically beating my head against the wall.

      But I can even shake off my desire to care about and try to help those folks. If someone else’s decision doesn’t affect my income or my production, what do I care? (On a side note, DWS was SO right five years ago when he advised me against trying to teach WITD.)

      I do get frustrated at second-stage (and even first-stage) writers who perpetuate the myths and hand out advice like candy. I get much more upset with them than with those writers who unwittingly accept that crappy advice.

      BUT… I’ve got mine. I took a chance and was richly rewarded with the freedom that comes with writing into the dark. If others are too timid to try it, that’s their problem. I’ll still help the few who ask, but that’s the extent of my commitment.

      To play with a Titanic analogy, I’m tired of trying to pull people into the lifeboat even as they fight me off. Those who are willing to scramble aboard are welcome. The others? Well, they’ll continue to toss excuses back and forth while the ship sinks in the background and the flotsam they’re clinging to becomes waterlogged. There’s nothing I can do for them.

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