In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* I didn’t plan
* The numbers
Quote of the Day
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman
I didn’t plan to be back today with a Journal entry, but a comment on yesterday’s post… well, it’s as if I wrote “blue” and the commenter read “xvhbzrr.”
It doesn’t really matter except that it also vividly illustrates exactly the attitude I was talking about in yesterday’s post.
You can read the comment that prompted my response at https://hestanbrough.com/the-journal-tuesday-september-17/#comments.
Here’s my response:
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.
Back to that bit about “having” to rely on outlining if things go awry and the story stalls: Uh, No.
If the story stalls and you decide to outline, you’re no longer “pantsing” (God I hate that term) and you aren’t a practitioner of WITD. You’re succumbing to the same old critical voice fear. And if that’s what you need to do, that’s fine. As I wrote here recently, some writers “get” WITD and some just don’t. But I would rather not hear the excuses.
Also, the notion that “…no one really teaches anyone at the beginner level any techniques whatsoever how to pants a[n] entire book.” Duh. I’m right here. DWS is right where he’s been for the past several years. We both teach writers how to WITD fiction stories of any length. All any writer has to do is listen and then try it.
And finally, “Outlining makes most writing skills at certain levels easier to teach, like structure.” Again, No. The conscious mind makes learning those skills easier. That’s its role. Learn with the conscious mind, but apply what you’ve learned with the subconscious mind.
You can easily learn Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula (Google it) or any number of other structural methods WITH YOUR CONSCIOUS MIND. The secret of WITD is to then let those structures pour through your fingertips as you Just Write from your creative subconscious. Again, it requires trusting in yourself and what you know (like the structures you just learned). You don’t have to “think” about them as you write. Do you have to “think” about where to put every period or how to construct a sentence?
WITD is not difficult once you learn to trust in yourself and your own abilities. It doesn’t require striving or trying or any conscious thought whatsoever. It only requires trusting in yourself and letting go of a bunch of nonsense propagated by non-writers.
Folks, I’m more than happy to help anyone who wants to learn the freedom of quieting the critical voice and writing into the dark.
You can sign up for mentoring OR you can just send me questions via email. No problem.
Talk with you again when I have something useful to say. I’m headed back to my WIP. (grin)
Oh, in the meantime, if you aren’t following DWS’ blog, I recommend checking out “The Math” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/the-math/. Apparently some traditionally published author is whining that he or she “didn’t know” what would happen if s/he published traditionally. Sigh.
Fiction words today…………………… XXXX (too early to report)
Nonfiction words today…………… 800
Total fiction words for the month……… 2245
Total fiction words for the year………… 376898
Total nonfiction words for the month… 10480
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 257190
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 634088
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, Wednesday, September 18”
I have to disagree with nearly all of this. I’m probably the poster child for all those problems because I could not find the answers and not from lack of research. There are so few people talking about the HOW as it relates to not outlining that you have to stumble across it. For instance, if I typed in pantsing, which is the most common term, I would never found Dean’s or your site because neither of you use the term. As it was, I only stumbled across Dean’s site by accident–he was getting dissed on one of the message boards!
Structure itself was a big issue for me, as well as subplots. You can tell me all I needed to was trust my subconscious, but I would have thrown up my hands and walked away as being unhelpful. I made the rounds everywhere, looking for something concrete that I could use. All I got was do an outline or three act structure or plot points. I think a lot of writers fall into that area. They realize they have this problem, but it’s so challenging that they go to outlining. I ended up outlining myself at one point because I could not figure out what else I could do. I still struggle with structure and have been doing additional branching out to understand how to solve some of the issues.
There’s definitely some craft topics that I wish I’d been able to learn twenty, thirty years ago…and my first encounter with them was in my story.
Linda, that’s fine. Feel free to disagree all you like, though to be fair I’d like to know what specifically you disagree with. I have to admit, though, I find it humorous when others disagree with me. Of course they do. But I’M the one who’s being disagreeable by daring to pass along something that goes against all the common wisdom out there. 🙂
You wrote, You can tell me all I needed to was trust my subconscious, but I would have thrown up my hands and walked away as being unhelpful. I made the rounds everywhere, looking for something concrete that I could use.
In my blog and in my Journal I can only pass along what I know works, so that’s what I do. It would be easy to mimic everyone else and advise others to outline, rewrite, etc. ad nauseam, but I wouldn’t bother. If you don’t like what I say, there are literally thousands of bloggers and others out there spouting the same old information that’s been passed back and forth for the past few decades. (Yes, outlining and rewriting is a relatively new phenomenon.)
You’re right. And MOST writers throw up their hands and walk away. Because they CAN’T bring themselves to trust their subconscious. They can’t bring themselves to believe in themselves and trust what they know. They look for “something concrete” because the conscious mind deals in things that are concrete. The subconscious mind deals in abstracts, but it draws on what you already learned with your conscious mind.
For the record, I’m not saying (At All) that you don’t have to LEARN structure, subplots, etc. (things that are concrete), and learning is done with the conscious mind. I’ve always advised writers LOUDLY to invest the necessary money and time to learn (again, with the conscious mind) every aspect of the writing craft.
But in the actual writing, yes, I advise to TRUST what you’ve learned and TRUST your subconscious mind (your storyteller). So the only thing I can figure your disagreeing with is to trust your own ability.
Then again, to each his/her own. If you want to outline or feel the need to outline, go for it. If you want (or feel the need) to “think” your way through an entire novel, do it. It honestly doesn’t matter to me in the slightest.
The necessity to learn the craft is not a myth. It’s a reality. But that you can’t TRUST what you’ve learned and create a great short story or novel strictly from your subconscious mind is definitely a myth. Thousands of writers have done so for hundreds of years.
Once you learn a technique (with your conscious mind), that technique seeps into your subconscious and becomes part of what and who you are. It’s there in your subconscious for you to use. And you constantly train your own mind. You can train your subconscious to use everything you know, but you can only train it in that direction if you trust it.
If you constantly outline and insist on doing rewrite after rewrite, your subconscious will throw up its hands and give up. Why should your characters bother to tell you their authentic story in your unique, original voice if they know you’re only going to change it all after the fact?
But you aren’t alone. I think I’m safe in saying that most writers flock to the same safe, tired old advice they’ve heard all their lives. It’s comfortable to them because it’s what they’ve always heard. Most will pay rapt attention to a one-novel traditionally published author who’s dispensing advice and “diss” an author like DWS, who’s been writing and selling successfully for four decades. Know why they diss him? Because he goes against the grain. He tells you to take a risk and go against the flow.
Again, do whatever you want. It honestly doesn’t matter to me. I’m only responding to this (and let it through in the first place) because a little light might come on for one other writer out there somewhere. But having been on both sides of the fence (both doing it the hard way and WITD), I will continue to advocate WITD because it works. And it works for anyone who overcomes the fear and actually tries it.
Finally, in every case, what a reader likes or doesn’t like should be left to the individual reader. A work that’s never published can never be disliked by any reader, but it can’t be liked by any reader either.
I will personally (for me) never outline again because if I already know the story, I’d be bored writing it.
I will personally (for me) never rewrite because readers have told me they enjoy my unique voice and I don’t want to polish it off.
And I will never (just for me) take advice from all the novices out there vs. taking advice from successful authors who dared to take a risk and learned that it works. I’m a professional fiction writer, so I take advice only from other professional fiction writers who are farther along the path than I am. To me, that makes sense. You can’t improve by standing still, and you can’t learn advanced professional fiction techniques from amateur or novice authors.
As I wrote in my original post (the one you disagreed with) I will help any writer who wants to learn, whether WITD or specific writing techniques. I will help through a paid mentorship or by answering questions, free. How can I be more open and accessible than that?
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