In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Tossing Around Some Numbers
* Of Interest
Quote of the Day
“Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” William Cowper
Topic: Tossing Around Some Numbers
I wasn’t going to post a Journal entry today, but a conversation with a student this morning spurred some thoughts.
The fiction-writing myths are deeply ingrained in our society. They’re inadvertently taught in junior high, high school, and college English and Literature classes by teachers and professors who are only teaching what they themselves were taught.
They’re also routinely presented in most films and in serial episodes that have anything whatsoever to do with fiction writers. As I said, they’re deeply ingrained.
One familiar trope is the writers’ group in a quiet, small town who invites a famous novelist to speak to the group. I’ve seen that in more than one American film and in episodes of different detective dramas on BritBox and Acorn (the television network, not the political action group).
In those shows, the novelist is ALWAYS a snob, ALWAYS suffers for his or her art, ALWAYS takes years to finish a single novel, and pretty much always has leather patches on the elbows of his or her wool jacket. Ugh.
Which brings me to the numbers: I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that probably 99.99% of all aspiring and actual fiction writers are deeply and probably inexorably mired in the myths. (It took me awhile to get that “inexorably” part.)
And literally thousands more future writers are being indoctrinated with them every day. The indoctrination is largely inadvertent, but some of it is purposeful. For example, those who make a large part of their income selling how-to books that promote the myths would be stupid to tell prospective buyers of their books that it’s all a bunch of hooey.
Stage 1 through 3 writers tend to write blogs and populate “boards” and leave comments in which they promote the myths. Most often they simply regurgitate what they were told, but they treat each utterance as if it’s an original thought instead of something that’s been around since the late 1940s.
The watchphrase for those folks is “Whatever works,” and you will never hear them admit that it DOESN’T work. Even when they’ve spent months or longer only constructing an outline. Even when they promote themselves as “prolific” for turning out a novel or two novels every year.
But who can argue with them? I’ve tried in the past, and I freely admit I’m not up to the task. As I wrote above, it took me awhile to get that “inexorably” part.
That’s why, unless I’m asked directly, I very seldom talk about the myths or WITD anywhere outside of this Journal, which is fine. Frankly, who needs the grief? As Mark Twain once quipped, “It’s easier to fool people than it is to convince them they’ve been fooled.” Absolutely true, especially when you’re appealing to their fears.
None of this is a secret. In that time-honored story about the emperor’s new robes, the emperor knew he was naked, folks. His pride just wouldn’t let him admit he’d been sold a load of bovine excrement. His motto too was probably “whatever works.”
But back to that 99.99%: First, let me disarm my detractors by admitting that not all of that percentage construct a formal outline. Many of them will be quick to tell you they don’t outline at all. Instead, they’ll say, they erect “signposts” or “stops along the way” or “mind-maps” or (ahem) outlines by absolutely any other name.
But it’s the same thing. All of them use some way to plan in advance what will happen in any novel they construct. And absolutely all of them revise, invite external criticism, and rewrite. It’s what they’ve been taught and it’s what they do. Hey, whatever works.
Personally, I still believe that urge to plan and know in advance what’s going to happen is a kneejerk response to an unreasoning fear, but I won’t argue the point. Because why they do it doesn’t really matter, does it? Dragging feet are dragging feet no matter the reason.
There is, of course, a bottom line: Once you are able to trust yourself and your characters completely, you will have joined a tiny, even minuscule community of writers. Those writers comprise the other .001% (or less).
But that community includes some of the most prolific fiction writers of all time, living and dead. They work (engage the critical mind) to learn various aspects of writing. But they NEVER work at writing.
They trust themselves and are confident in what they know. As a result, every word, sentence, and paragraph they put on the page is sheer joy. In my book, that’s not a bad aspiration.
I’ll leave you with this thought: The only reason the ability to WITD is important at all is to make writing fun. It isn’t something you can achieve by working at it. You can only achieve it by practicing Letting Go.
Talk with you again soon.
See “October 1st” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/october-1st/.
See “Six Things Writers Need To Stop Worrying About” at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2019/07/five-things-writers-need-to-stop.html.
See “Seven Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference” at https://killzoneblog.com/2022/09/seven-reasons-to-attend-a-writers-conference.html. Grain of salt, but conferences are a great place to exercise your critical mind and learn.
See “Inside Penguin Random House’s play to reach avid readers on TikTok’s BookTok” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/inside-penguin-random-houses-play-to-reach-avid-readers-on-tiktoks-booktok/. See PG’s take.
The Journal…………………………………… 900 words
Writing of Carmen Morales (novel, tentative title)
Day 10… 3375 words. Total words to date…… 31839
Day 11… 3350 words. Total words to date…… 35189
Total fiction words for September……… 38466
Total fiction words for the year………… 104897
Total nonfiction words for September… 22800
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 151030
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 255927
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 67
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: In this Journal, I discuss various aspects of the writing craft. I advocate trusting the characters to tell the story that they, not the writer, are living. This is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun way to tell a story.
2 thoughts on “Tossing Around Some Numbers”
What I find funny about the ‘whatever works’ thing is that if you mention you don’t outline, revise or invite outside criticism, then they automatically assume you’re writing is terrible and has no merit. That you’re doing it wrong.
‘Whatever works’ goes out the window as soon as it steps on the myths.
And the man said, “Ain’t that the truth.”
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