The Journal: When a Novel Becomes Work

In today’s Journal

* A Note to New Subscribers
* Topic: When a Novel Becomes Work
* Today
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

A Note to New Subscribers

First, welcome. I’m glad you’re here. Second, a bit about what you can expect from the Journal.

I’m an open book, and a blunt, straightforward one. As most of my long-time subscribers know and have somehow survived, I don’t have (or employ) many filters when it comes to talking about writing. To me, storytelling is too important—THAT you write, not WHAT you write—to pull many punches.

And I post here almost every day. That plus my candor means occasionally I’m going to say something you don’t like, either about writing or, occasionally, about other topics.

I like to think writers find my Journal as refreshing a source of information as I found Dean Wesley Smith’s blog several years ago. Like he did back then, I try to share the ups and downs of my own writing journey “in public” in the hope that it might help some of you cut the learning curve.

That’s it. Enjoy, and know I’m always open to comments and questions, either in the comments section on the website or via email at

Topic: When a Novel Becomes Work (a process post)

Yesterday, my novel became work, a little.

Every novel writes differently. If you don’t know that, it’s because you haven’t written enough of them to notice yet.

In fact, many beginning writers get addled and stop writing because of the fear of it presenting differently. Their second or third or eighth novel writes differently, and they see that as being “stuck.”

And instead of figuring out how to get through it and move ahead, many of them set the novel aside permanently and start something new or give up writing altogether.

If you do either of those or if you have a similar reaction that stops you from writing, your critical mind has won.

This is where you need to fall back on the solid ground of Heinlein’s Rules, especially rules 1–3: You must write, you must finish what you write, and you must not rewrite. Those “rules” (really, business habits for writers) have gotten me through almost 6 years as a professional writer. I swear by them.

But to the current conundrum—

I’ve mentioned before that I believe my current novel will be the genesis of a major new series. That thought plus my end of the month self-imposed deadline caused me to assign undue importance to it. And any time you make what you’re writing “important,” the story will grind to a halt.

I was both rushing to get through the story the characters were giving me AND being excited about the coming new series, which levied even more importance on this story.

All of that put my subconscious on high alert and maybe made me more highly susceptible to my critical voice, and eventually the story ground to a halt.

When my subconscious occasionally tugged at my sleeve to point out something that might be a little off while I was writing, I ignored it and pressed forward. And I took the story (notice “I” took the story) in a direction the characters didn’t want it to go.

And eventually, my subconscious storyteller shut down, its little arms crossed over its chest, and refused to give me anymore of the story. Hey, it happens. But fortunately, because I’ve written so many novellas and novels, I recognized it for what it was.

So yesterday, after I posted my semi-grouchy Journal post (grin), I opened the novel, scrolled all the way to the front, and started reading it (for pleasure, as a reader). The whole 29,000 words. As I read, I allowed my fingers to rest on the keyboard so my characters could jump in anytime they liked (this is called “cycling”).

Note that I didn’t consciously “look for” things to “fix,” etc. That would be conscious, critical-mind input, and that would truly make writing the novel work. I just read the story and gave my characters free rein.

And wow, did they ever get busy!

I added nearly a thousand words by the time I was only about 10,000 words into the story (see Day 12 below).

I’m pacing myself so that when I reach the place where the story went off the tracks, I will have built up a head of steam. So I’ll do more of the same today and probably tomorrow, getting back into the flow and excitement of the story, and then it will take off again.

How do I know it will take off again? Because I’ve been through this process before. Not on every novel (thank God), but on a few. So I’m firmly on track to doing what I know will work for this particular story.

And that’s the secret: Every novel writes differently, so trust the process, trust what you know and your own ability as a storyteller, and get on with it.

Note: As always, there’s no rewriting going on. Everything I’m doing is from the creative subconscious. Every word on the page is coming through the POV character and is accompanied by his opinions.

And I am loving the process.

Today I’m posting this early again, mostly to get it out there and because I told a couple of folks I would. I hope it helps.

So again, I’ll report fiction numbers tomorrow.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Just How Deadly are Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 Disease?” at

See “Card Sharp Silver… Day 3” at

See “Write Tight” at A very good primer. Usually everything he talks about here is avoidable if every word you write comes through your POV character.

See “You can only write NOW” at

See “This Daring Brit’s Long-Lost WWII Diary…” at Research and story ideas.

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… XXXX
Nonfiction words today…………… 970 (Journal)

Writing of The Othgygnrkthers (tentative title, novel)

Day 10… 1622 words. Total words to date…… 28128
Day 11… 1263 words. Total words to date…… 29391
Day 12… 0992 words. Total words to date…… 30383
Day 13… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 42704
Total fiction words for the year………… 179339
Total nonfiction words for the month… 19100
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 73580
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 252979

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 3
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 48
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 202
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Journal: When a Novel Becomes Work”

  1. Hi Harvey,

    I thought this post was super helpful. Especially for those of us at the beginning of our writing journey.

    • Thanks, Rob. I’ll be sharing more on the process of writing this novel. The minutiae interested me so I assumed it might interest others as well. Glad it helped.

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