The Journal: WITD Is Not the Only Way

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Thank You
* Topic: WITD Is Not the Only Way
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“The really great writers are people like Emily Brontë who sit in a room and write out of their limited experience and unlimited imagination.” James A. Michener

“For more than a decade, writers have asked me what they can do to sell their existing books. I always tell them to write the next book. Some writers don’t have time for promotion. Others don’t have the constitution for it. … The one thing that will sell your next book is the ending of the current book.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“The real key to all fiction is an emotionally satisfying ending, one that ends, and does not leave things hanging.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“Just blowing compressed air against the skin over an artery can cause a CAGE []. My coroner cross-shift had a sudden death case where a guy in a tire shop used compressed air to clean himself off and it killed him dead on the spot.” Garry Rodgers in a response to a comment on his post.

Thank You

Thanks to everyone for the comments and emails. It’s nice to know the posts about writing into the dark are welcome and even eagerly anticipated by some.

As I mention in the disclaimer at the end of the Journal, as far as I know, this blog is the only place where any professional writer talks publicly and regularly about creating with the creative subconscious (WITD).

So yes, I’ll keep talking about writing into the dark and, of course, other topics. Stay tuned.

If I may, I also recommend Dean Wesley Smith’s book Writing Into the Dark and two of my own nonfiction books:

Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction) and

Writing the Character-Driven Story

But as I also mention in the disclaimer, I don’t claim that WITD is the only way to write fiction.

Topic: WITD Is Not the Only Way

Some folks prefer the safety of the known quantity. If that’s you, that’s perfectly fine, and there are plenty of places where you can find that. Just please know that which source you choose doesn’t really matter. Because it’s all the same old regurgitated writing advice you’ve heard at various levels in school and ever since. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m only stating a fact. Pretty much every book and piece of writing advice in the world at large mimics every other book and piece of writing advice.

There are a few notable exceptions. Nonfiction books by Stephen King or Lawrence Block or Dean Wesley Smith or me or a few others do not mimic the same old myths about fiction writing that are contained in all the others.

But if you don’t mind seeing the same (bad) advice over and over again, you’ll be fine. On any given day you can find literally thousands of sources that will teach you what they call the “right” way to write. And in this case, “right” means “popular” and “fashionable.”

The “right” way apparently consists primarily of mistrusting yourself and depending on your conscious, critical mind instead instead of your creative subconscious. Oh, and suffering for your art as you “endure” the “sheer drudgery” of writing. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

But seriously, all snide joking aside, if I wrote the way those folks say a fiction writer should write, writing would be sheer drudgery. And therefore not fun. And therefore, I wouldn’t do it. But I digress.

Those sources teach that you must know where the story is going and how it will end before you ever write a word of it. They teach that you should know every major plot twist and turn in each part of a 3- or 5- or 7-point structure before you begin writing. To that end, you are encouraged to develop an outline.

Some will say you should “create” an outline, but that’s impossible. You cannot “create” anything with the conscious, critical mind. You can scheme, devise, plot, plan and come-up with an outline, but you can’t create one. Which is to say you can’t create something that you have to move through consciously, methodically, critically, point by point and step by step. To create, you must unleash the creative subconscious and let it flow.

Those sources also teach that you should know intimately both your characters (through “character sketches”) and the world they live in (through “world building”). The latter may include maps, time frames, diagrams and floor plans if necessary.

And they teach that you shouldn’t (negative) trust your creative subconscious. That even if you write “organically” or engage in “discovery” writing or only use “sign-posts” rather than an outline, you should go back and “correct” the story during revision and rewriting, and you should certainly make an “editing pass” or two or three or a dozen. Sigh.

These sources aren’t just books. They’re also online and in-person classes and writing groups and writing “boards” (whatever those are) and writers themselves (mostly beginners) and plenty of nonwriters too.

They will tell you that if you want to be a writer you must focus on Words and Sentences and Paragraphs and Scenes and Acts and Plot and so on ad nauseam.

Everything but Story. How very odd.

On the other hand, you have a guy like Stephen King, who in my opinion is the only Stage 5 storyteller writing today, who calls himself his characters’ stenographer.

In other words, he doesn’t make-up or concoct or devise anything. He checks-in on his characters, then writes down what happens and what they say and do. Easy-peasy. He calls himself their stenographer. Of as I call it, their recorder.

Or you have a guy like Lee Child, who over a genial lunch agreed with his New York editor that yes, a particular scene in a Reacher book probably would work better if he moved it to a different place. Then he dabbed at his lips with his napkin and said, “But it didn’t happen that way.” The scene remained where it was.

In other words, Child checked-in on his characters and wrote the story the way it happened. Period. He would never think of allowing his conscious, critical mind to correct his creative subconscious.

Both Child and King simply wrote into the dark, as do untold numbers of other professional fiction writers. Neither of them allowed his ego to get in the way. Neither of them decided he knew better than the characters what happened in the story. After all, the characters, not the writers, were actually living the story.

So over to you, young writer. Whom do you believe? Do you choose to believe all the young writers (and non-writers) out there who know almost nothing about writing but are more than happy to share their inexperience and regurgitated knowledge? Or would you rather trust the knowledge and experience of long-term professional writers like Stephen King and Lee Child?

Either way, of course, it’s completely up to you. Nobody else will even know until they read your work. If you actively think your way through writing a novel, if you consciously “figure out” plot points and what happens next, you will bore the reader. Not because the reader knows what you did, but because if you can think your way through the story, so can the reader.

So control nothing. Just check-in on your characters and write what happens as they live their story. Trust yourself, trust your creative subconscious, and trust your characters. As Robert Frost wrote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Endings” at Great post.

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.