The Journal: Writing Into the Dark: Part 2

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Writing Into the Dark: Part 2
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“It’s all a matter of process vs. product. I like the writing. I like telling a story. I like being stuck and not knowing where I’m going. I love that process. If you want to write more, practice, and care about the process [vs. the individual story]. Having fun telling the story is what matters. Don’t worry about the end product. Readers will buy it or not, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you enjoy the process, you’ll sit in the chair a lot more.” Dean Wesley Smith, cleaned up a little and paraphrased from one of his videos.

And yes, it’s the same for me. Maybe even more so.

Topic: Writing Into the Dark: Part 2

Okay. So if you follow Heinlein’s Rules and write into the dark, there’s no revision, no rewriting, no running the manuscript past critique groups, no editorial process, and so on. Right?

Well, not quite. The main key to all this is not to involve your conscious, critical mind in what should be the sole domain of your creative subconscious.

Yep, the Conscious, Critical Mind Has a Purpose (but it isn’t fiction)

When it’s time to make serious, conscious, critical decisions—truly “important” decisions—yes, of course you make those with your serious, conscious, critical mind. But those decisions have nothing to do with writing, where the greatest possible danger is a paper cut (and not even that with ebooks).

I’m talking about REALLY serious, conscious, critical decisions, like whether to cross a road in the path of oncoming traffic. Or whether to hold an apple in your teeth while your buddy tries to dislodge it with a bullet fired from a .41 caliber revolver. (Show of hands: Anyone? No? Just me?) Or whether to remain at your desk or dive out the window of your home office when the door explodes into the room on fire.

THAT’S when you invoke the serious, conscious, critical mind, for decisions like those.

Fiction doesn’t matter. It’s not important. As my Brit friends say, it’s “only a bit of fun.”

You CREATE from the CREATE-ive subconscous. See the parallel? And that should be fun. You’re allowing your inner child to run and play. That’s all you’re doing.

Fiction isn’t even real. It’s a story. It’s nothing more important than a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for the reader. Nothing more. It isn’t important enough to give it over to your serious, stodgy, arms-crossed, grouchy, conscious, critical mind. So lock the old geezer away.

Writing fiction is playtime. It’s a time to invoke your creative subconscious, to let your inner child out to run through a story with your characters. And the ONLY goal of that kid is to have fun.

So how do you know when your critical mind is slipping in?

Any time you want to “look for” anything, that’s your conscious, critical mind. Any time you want to “decide” anything, the same. And any time you encounter a negative thought about your writing (“this story isn’t good enough to submit to a magazine” or “, same thing.

In those cases, your conscious, critical mind is trying to stop you from writing or submitting. It’s trying to protect you from criticism and rejection. But the fear of criticism and rejection are UNREASONING fears.

Repeat after me: There are no actual consequences to failing as a writer, so you might as well not worry about criticism and rejection and have fun writing the next story. If you “fail,” nothing bad will happen. The earth will keep turning, and you’ll simply go on with your life. Besides, if you “fail” according to one reader (even yourself), you will have achieved something great in the eyes of some other reader.

Note: If you ARE still mired in the myths and stuck in the critical mind, I recommend reading Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction), available at Amazon and at any other ebook retailer.

In WITD there is no revision, no rewriting, no critique workshopping, and very limited editing.

Revision and rewriting are both functions of the conscious mind. In both cases you’re consciously “looking for” things you want to change and then changing them.

But why would you do that? Why would you allow your stodgy old critical mind to second-guess your fun-loving, story-telling creative subconscious? Doing that sends a message to your creative subconscious that you don’t trust it. There’s no better way to make that inner child cross its little arms and refuse to come out and play.

And as for running your manuscript past a critique group, if you’re striving to keep your own conscious, critical mind out of your creative work, why would you allow someone else to poke their serious, harrumphing, critical nose in?

Even if you luck out and get a critiquer who isn’t trying to make your work look as if he wrote it, what he offers up is still the opinion of only one reader. And what makes you think his opinion is any more valid or important than the opinion of any other reader?

It isn’t. So just say no to inviting others to critique your work. Write your story, publish it, and then forget it. Move on and write the next story. Let each reader judge for him or herself whether s/he likes the story you’ve published.

And what about editing? Seriously? No editing at all?

A good first reader is worth his or her weight in gold. Your first reader should simply read the story for pleasure. (The best first readers are folks who are avid readers but who are not also fiction writers.) If something pops out at him or her as s/he’s reading, s/he should point it out. That’s it.

A good copyeditor also is worth his or her weight in gold. Whether you need a copyeditor is a decision you’ll have to make on your own. I don’t use a copyeditor myself, but I have a very good first reader, and otherwise I just don’t worry about it. I copyedit for a few other folks, but I teach as I go so I’m more expensive than most. If you’re on a budget, you might consider hiring a local student who is gifted in the English language to copyedit for you.

But otherwise, no, no editing. And absolutely no “developmental” editors. How can someone else “develop” a story that came directly from your mind? Just no.

Now, cycling vs. revision

Back to that “revision” thing for a moment. You’ll remember that in yesterday’s installment I said with WITD your goal is to write one clean draft and be done. Well, that’s true.

So how do you write a clean draft if you don’t revise?

The answer is simple. You DO revise, but you revise while in the CREATIVE voice, not from the conscious, critical mind. And since the revision is done in the creative voice, we don’t call it revision. The technique seems to evoke an cyclical mental motion, so we call it “cycling” instead.

I write about 1000 words per session, and (conveniently) about that much per scene. When I finish a session, I take a break. I might only get up and walk a few feet away and back, or I might walk up to the house to refill my drink or whatever.

Regardless of the length of the break, when I come back to the desk, I “cycle back” to the beginning of the prior session and begin reading. Now, I’m not “looking for” anything. I’m just reading like any reader would, for the story.

As I read, I allow my fingers to rest on the keyboard, and I allow myself (my characters) to “touch” the story as I read through it.

Again, I’m not actively “looking for” anything. I’m not making any decisions. I’m just reading and letting my characters move my fingers if they find it necessary to do so.

Important: If the conscious, critical mind starts to horn in while I’m cycling, I immediately stop, save the document, get up and walk away for awhile. When I come back, I start reading where I left off and continue right up to the white space.

Then I write the next sentence and I’m off and running for another 1000 words or so. I repeat that cycle (hence, cycling) until the characters lead me through to the end of the story.

One other note on (and use for) cycling: The reader reads the story from Word One to the Last Word, A to Z, straight through.

But the writer doesn’t have to do that. If you’re writing along into the dark and suddenly Aunt June pulls a revolver from the pocket of her housecoat, you might panic just a bit. Why? Because you don’t remember her putting the revolver INTO her pocket, so how could she pull it out?

So right then you “cycle back” to when Aunt June heard a strange noise in the house. And you let the reader “see” Aunt June taking her deceased husband’s revolver from the nightstand drawer and slipping it into the pocket of her housecoat before exploring the source of the noise.

Then you go back to where you left off and continue writing. It’s just that easy. And for some, I guess, just that difficult. You have to let go and trust YOURSELF.

Okay, the floor is open for questions on either yesterday’s topic or today’s.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest


The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1590 words

Writing of WCGN 5: Tentative Title (novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for October……… XXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 623282
Total nonfiction words for October… 5700
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 171660
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 794942

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

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.

6 thoughts on “The Journal: Writing Into the Dark: Part 2”

  1. Thanks Harvey. Bought a copy of Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction) from Apple Bookstore. Looking forward to finish reading it tomorrow. All the best.

  2. I’m still wallowing in fear over here. Wrote some, had fun, immediately started thinking of how much faster I’d be if I outlined, came to a crashing halt on writing, and then came here to look for another life raft. Thanks for being out on the choppy seas I make for myself!

    • Kelley, Critical mind will leap in on you often at the beginning. You just have to decide to trust yourself and then be stubborn about it for awhile. Email me privately if I can help or if you have any questions. I’d be happy to help.

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