The Journal: You Want to Read This

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Yesterday
* A great mentoring student
* Topic: How Specifically to Write Into the Dark
* My mentoring student also asked
* Because I know
* Today
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“To move past obstacles you need to move. The hardest obstacles to do that with are the ones you create yourself.” Colin Mobey

Yesterday, as promised, I read over the 3000 words I’d written on The Others. It was gibberish. I threw it out. I kept only the idea.

Sometime today I’ll write a new opening for that idea or for another one (character with a problem in a setting) and if it runs I’ll continue with it. If it doesn’t, I’ll write another one.

A great mentoring student emailed me with some problems he’s encountering while trying to write off into the dark. He’s giving it that old college try. (grin)

He’s “trying to stay in the head of the character,” by which he means he’s “focusing on small things like where should the character move to next in the setting, what would he/she do with her hands now, would he look up or down at this point etc.”

Finally, he wrote, “Do you have any advice to make this easier?”

And here we are. I decided to share here what I wrote in my lengthy response. Bear with me. This will be long, but you might find a gem or two here.

Topic: How to Write Into the Dark

I went through exactly the same thing when I first decided to give WITD an honest try. Plus I was skeptical.

In the back of my mind, I was going to prove Dean Wesley Smith wrong. How could he possibly ‘know’ WITD would work for me? After all, he was already a successful writer with over a hundred novels and several hundred short stories published. OF COURSE it would be easy for him to give up the myths and Just Write.

Then I found out he NEVER SOLD A SHORT STORY until he stopped rewriting. And that was almost by accident.

Back in the mid-‘70s, he was writing a story a week in a mutual challenge and sending it off to a publisher. (He and another writer, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, challenged each other. The first to fail to send off a short story to a publisher every week would have to buy the other a steak dinner.)

He was late one week, so he sat down and hammered out a short story, then mailed it off just before the deadline.

And the publisher bought it. Even though Dean hadn’t revised or rewritten it. (This is about the time he stumbled across Heinlein’s Rules in a tiny old book of essays in his bookstore.)

Still, he figured it must be a fluke, so he went back to writing stories earlier in the week so he would have time to revise and rewrite.

And his stories stopped selling.

He finally put two and two together and decided to do it Heinlein’s way: Write (rule 1). Don’t rewrite (rule 3). Send it off (rule 4).

And his stories started selling again. And very soon afterward, he sold his first novel to a New York publisher.

He soon became known as a “fast” writer because he could write a 60,000 word novel in 60 hours. (Because he wasn’t rewriting, duh.) And with New York understanding he could write “fast” the offers started to pour in.

All because he trusted Heinlein’s Rules.

Along with that, Nina Kiriki Hoffman advised him to “dare to be bad”; in other words, risk trusting his own creative subconscious. He took that dare, and he never looked back.

I did the same thing. I wrote my first short story in this new way on April 15, 2014. The title was “Consuela,” my very first WITD story (If you’d like to see it, email me at and I’ll send it to you.)

The point is, I’d chosen Dean as a mentor, and I knew the only way I could prove him wrong (or right) was to give WITD and Heinlein’s Rules an actual try. (He wasn’t advising me directly. I was gleaning things from his website and occasionally emailed him.)

So I did. The more I tried to WITD, the louder the critical voice became: (what happens next? what does the character do with his hands now? what would the character notice in the setting next? etc.) Sound familiar? (grin)

One day Dean told me to “Stop ‘trying.’ Just write the stupid story.” Then he said, “But if you can’t, that’s all right. Every writer is different.”

Well, I thought if WITD really works, then that “every writer is different” thing was just a way to give myself an out. The thing is, I didn’t WANT an out. I wanted to either prove WITD worked or didn’t work.

And I’m stubborn. His “every writer is different” sounded like challenge to me, like maybe I didn’t have what it takes to let go and just write off into the dark.

So I pushed that critical voice down each time it popped up because I was determined to give WITD a real try. (But I was still skeptical.)

Sometimes when my critical mind tried to stop me, I physically laughed, or snorted and shook my head, or physically said, “Go sit in your corner and leave me alone.” Sometimes I only shook my head, or only thought those things.

Then I put my fingers on the keyboard and continued typing. I wrote the next sentence, then the next, then the next. And it worked. So that’s what I recommend you do.

Within a couple of weeks, I was finishing stories, spell-checking them, and publishing them. And readers were BUYING them. (I was writing every day—a character with a problem in a setting—then running with the opening if it took off. If it didn’t, I trashed it and wrote a new opening, different character, different problem, different setting. If it ran, I went with it, etc. Lather, rinse, repeast.)

And frankly, I was surprised and amazed at the things my characters did and how much fun it was to just let them tell their own story. And that was an epiphany and my turning point.

I finally realized it wasn’t MY story at all. It was the CHARACTERS’ story. They, not I, were living it. I was only moving through the story WITH them. I was their invited guest, a reporter, writing down what they said and did as they moved through the story.

This is about the time I found the Bradbury quote: “Plot is only the footprints the characters leave as they run through the story.” That rang absolutely true with me.

The characters raced through the story, with me trying to keep up. I wrote down what they said and did.

Later, when I learned (with my conscious mind) to use the POV character’s five senses to ground the reader in the setting, I learned to take my time. I wrote what the POV character saw and smelled and heard and tasted and touched or felt emotionally. Sometimes I wouldn’t get that on the first pass, so I’d cycle back and add it. And my stories became richer.

But notice, all description is through the POV character’s senses, not mine. And it includes the POV character’s OPINION of the setting: the ‘stench’ or ‘sweet aroma’ of something in the setting; the ‘glaring’ or ‘soft’ lighting; the ‘raucous’ or ‘startling’ or ‘enjoyable’ sounds; etc.

Of course, you won’t find a lot of that opinion in my first short story, “Consuela.” That came in later, after I learned to ground the reader in the setting by adding depth to my stories and my descriptions.

And I learned over time that I really AM the worst judge of my own work, both when I think its good and when I think it’s bad. Judging my work isn’t my place. My job is to write the story for the characters. The readers’ job is to judge it, to enjoy it or not.

So what do I think you should do? I think you should do exactly what I did.

1. Stop “trying” to be in the character’s head. Stop making it complicated. Let go and Just Write what the characters say and do. And write what the POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels, phycially or emotionally.

2. Realize it’s the characters’ story, not yours. Realize you’re an invited guest. The characters need your fingers on your keyboard in order to tell their story. Run through the story WITH the characters (as opposed to “directing” them from on high in an authorial ivory tower).

3. Realize the story isn’t important. It doesn’t matter, so it’s nothing that has to be “perfect.” It’s only a story, one of dozens or hundreds. It’s only a few minutes’ (or hours’ in the case of a novel) entertainment for the eventual readers.

4. Don’t worry or think about where the character should move or what he should do next. Just watch and write down what he does.

5. Don’t “imagine” anything. Just follow the characters around. Follow them through the story, and above all else

6. Don’t worry about what will happen next or where the story’s going. It’s none of your business until something happens. Then write it down.

It isn’t YOUR story. In YOUR story you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and you’re sitting down to write for an hour before your wife and babies get up and you have to go off to work.

In YOUR story you’ll go to work each day, then come home and do whatever you do and deal with whatever you have to deal with as your life unfolds.

In YOUR story, on weekends and days off, you’ll enjoy your family and friends and, sometimes, you’ll drop in on your character’s lives to see what’s going on in THEIR story.

Do this, and soon you’ll be ANXIOUS to drop in on your characters and their story. You’ll be curious and you’ll want to SEE (not “figure out”) what happens next in that fantasy or science fiction or mystery or action-adventure world in which your characters are living.

What happens next? You can’t possibly know until you drop into the story and run through it with your characters, because it’s THEIR story. You can’t possibly know what will happen next until it does. And then you write it down.

All of that being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this: Writing off into the dark isn’t for everybody. As Dean told me long ago, Every writer is different.

WITD is dependent first and foremost on your desire and ability to let go of all the safety nets (outlining, revising, critique groups, rewriting) you learned ages ago in high school and/or college.

The desire to let go is required because if you don’t want to let go, you won’t, and the ability to let go is required because in order to let go you have to overcome your fear of your manuscript not being “perfect” and your notion that you can prejudge what another reader will like. You have to overcome your fear that somebody out there might not like your work.

I recommend turning that fear around: instead of being afraid someone won’t like your work, think of how many people will never get a chance to like it if you don’t write it and publish it.

Once you’ve overcome those fears, you will write and publish in your own unique, original voice, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many readers will love your stories.

My mentoring student also asked, “What other areas do you help with in mentoring?”

If you wonder too, please see “The Journal: This is Important” at Scroll down to “Level A” and read down from there.

Because I know not all of you read the Journal every day, I’m going to make a dual announcement. Today, I’ll let you know that in a few days, Dean’s going to launch a new Kickstarter project called Cave Creek.

The proceeds of the Kickstarter, if it’s successful, will go to help WMG Publishing pay the writers whose work is accepted for Dean’s Cave Creek anthology and to enable him to put together (he hopes) three anthologies.

I’m asking you to support that Kickstarter, even if for only a $1 or $5 donation (as I will and as will other hopeful participating writers).

The support will not only help in the long run, but it will help with the algorithms to help promote the Kickstarter itself. I’ll announce this again in a few days when the Kickstarter launches.

Today I started off with the lengthy email to my mentoring student, much of which became the topic above. Then I browsed awhile for the excellent items in “Of Interest” below, then attended the Shared Worlds class. It’s going to be a great day.

I watched the most recent videos (twice) on the Shared Worlds class, and man am I stoked! Now for a break, then back to the Hovel to write for the day.

Prompted by a quote from Harlan Ellison, I wrote an opening for a story called The Visitors. The concept is already far too big to be a short story or novella, and it might run to be a new SF series. (grin)

Here’s the quote, which I’m using for an epigram: “[A]fter a decimating war … food, weapons, shelter and women become valuable chattel.” Harlan Ellison

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “How to Write Believable, Realistic, and Responsible Violence” at A really GREAT post.

See “The 16 Best Writing Apps to Boost Your Writing in 2020” at Note: I do NOT recommend Grammarly. They get too much wrong.

See “A New Writer’s Tool: Glossary Generator” at

See “Oops” at

See “I Think This Is Cool!” at

See “Bad advice” at And my comment, of course. (grin)

See “To Move Past Obstacles You Need to Move” at

The Numbers

Fiction words today…………………… 3863
Nonfiction words today…………… 2350 (Journal)

Writing of The Visitors (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… 3863 words. Total words to date…… 3863

Total fiction words for the month……… 6873
Total fiction words for the year………… 143568
Total nonfiction words for the month… 57800
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 60260
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 203828

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: You Want to Read This”

  1. I love that you threw your idea out and started over. I guess because to me it made it seem easy to do and unimportant. (In a good way)

    One thing I’m having good results with is taping a calendar to the wall and keeping the days in my story straight. Sort of like the reverse outline, it lets me see at a glance what day of the week the characters are in.

    Great story about DWS. And love the quote from Ray Bradbury.

    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts to your student with us too. Once again I’m inspired.

    • Thanks, Diane. Great idea about the calendar. I keep all that in my reverse outline, but a calendar might be a better idea for timelines and datelines.

Comments are closed.