What I and Others Teach

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Investigating Unsubs
* What I and Others Teach
* The Novel
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” Reggie Leach, retired Canadian hockey player.

“Do you set yourself on fire when you write? When the flame gets low, how to you make it glow again?” James Scott Bell

Hmm. If you WITD, you’re just having fun, so the flame never gets low. Nor do you ever burn out. But no, I didn’t leave a comment. HS

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Jack London

Investigating Unsubs

Of three unsubscribes in the past ten days, one lives in the Phillipines, subscribed in late April, was sent 44 emails (so editions of the Journal) and opened only 3 of them. Another lives in the United States, subscribed in January, received 41 editions of the Journal and opened only 5.

(I’m not sure how that one received only 41 emails since January when the other received 44 since April. I can only assume MailChimp was lax with delivery.)

I have no clue why either of them unsubscribed. Unlike MailChimp, MailerLite doesn’t afford unsubs the opportunity to say why they’re leaving. So all that’s left is conjecture.

Maybe I was appearing in their in-boxes too often. Or maybe they glanced a few times and either didn’t like what I had to say or were expecting yet one more regurgitation of the myths. Or maybe they had an argument with their significant other and took it out on me.

The earliest of the three unsubs subscribed in mid-September and unsubscribed on October 1. He lives in South Africa and received only 16 editions of the Journal, but he opened 15 of them. Whatever his reason for leaving, at least he gave the Journal a real try. I appreciate that.

So my very brief bit of research told me nothing and only led to more conjecture. So I’m thinking in the future I won’t worry about why folks come or go. Nothing I can do about it anyway.

What I and Others Teach

That stuff about unsubs led me to compare what I teach with what most other writers and writing instructors teach. Really, up to a point, we all teach the same thing.

In construction (mechanics, things you can build) they and I definitely teach the same things, though I have to say I probably have the edge in teaching punctuation. Seriously.

I teach writers how to USE punctuation to direct the reading of their work rather than running to hide under a bed every time a comma comes into the room or that (as I heard one instructor say, “It’s all right if you don’t understand this stuff. Nobody does.”

Yeah, well, I do. And you can. I’ll never present punctuation as a vague set of rules to be obeyed Just Because.

Likewise, I teach how to ground the reader and how to write setting, transitional scenes and major scenes and description, how to use the POV character’s physical and emotional senses in all of the above, and what you the writer can and can’t do within the different points of view. And anything I left out about the craft of writing, I teach that too.

But other instructors and I diverge when it’s time to sit down and actually write. They (and by “they” I mean 99.99999999% and probably more) teach that you should consciously think about and apply all that stuff as you write.

They teach that you should plan-out the story and all its aspects. When they say you should “plot the story,” by which they mean plan the plot in advance, I want to scream, “How can you plan something that hasn’t happened yet? How can you plan what can logically exist only after the characters have run through the story?”

But I digress. As I was saying, they teach that you should pre-plan all aspects of the story, so characters through character sketches and character histories, world building, settings, weather patterns, etc.

So good. Do all of that. Because with all of that detailed, meticulous planning and barring minor mishaps like misspellings, surely the scenes and the story will come out perfectly the first time through, right?

No? Okay. So why do others not wonder about this?

But (they also teach) that despite all that planning, you still must also revise, then seek critical input (this on top of depending throughout on your own critical mind), then rewrite, etc.

Because you must make the story as perfect as possible. It’s just that important.

Nobody thinks to ask “Um, perfect for whom?” And the answer is for the critique group, for the beta readers, and finally, for the writer. Notice there’s no mention of making the story perfect for the reader. Why?

Because despite constantly giving lip service to the notion that you should always consider the reader, nobody over there does. Ever.

Yet the reader—and nobody else—is the person who decides, ultimately and unilaterally, whether the story is good or bad, excellent or horrible, digestible or indigestible. And then the next reader decides. Then the next reader, and the next, and the next.

On the other hand, I teach writing for yourself and for the reader. I teach letting go. I teach trusting the characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. I teach to trust THAT you’ve learned WHAT you’ve learned, relax, and have fun.

Seriously, in what world does “working hard” at something as silly and unimportant as telling a story make sense?

The harder you work, the more tightly you cling to planning and revising and rewriting, the better the chance you’ll construct an uninteresting blob that’s just like everything else out there.

The more you learn to let go and enjoy the story as you run through it with your characters and it unfolds all around you, the broader the path for your own unique creative voice to come out and the more original the story.

But the only thing that matters is what makes sense to you. Does it make sense? Have you been successful, or are you just swimming with the current?

In probably no other art form have so many gone the apparent Easy Route, expecting to simply follow the steps to success, then found the whole process ridiculously clunky and difficult, yet stubbornly defended it even when offered a cleaner, lighter, much easier path. As Homer would say, “Doh!”

The Novel

Still not off the ground. Yes, I’m experiencing interference from my critical mind. I’ll overcome it soon. Then I’ll have some serious writing to do if I want to finish my 70th novel in time for my 70th birthday.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Did magnetism shape the universe?” at https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25634070-800-did-magnetism-shape-the-universe-an-epic-experiment-suggests-it-did/.

See “12 Old Words That Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms” at https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/51150/12-old-words-survived-getting-fossilized-idioms.

See “Who Gave The Battery Such Power?” at https://www.noemamag.com/who-gave-the-battery-such-power/. Story ideas.

See “In-Person Workshops” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/in-person-workshops/.

See “The Sun-Times’ new chapter: Our digital content is now free for everyone” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/the-sun-times-new-chapter-our-digital-content-is-now-free-for-everyone/. I’ll check it out. If it isn’t as biased as most mainstream news (if it’s news and not propaganda) this can be a very good thing.

See “Kindle Scribe vs. ReMarkable 2 vs. Kobo Elipsa: Top E Ink Tablets Compared” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/kindle-scribe-vs-remarkable-2-vs-kobo-elipsa-top-e-ink-tablets-compared/. Because many of you are far more tech-savvy and advanced than I am.

See “When Should Writers Stand Their Ground Versus Defer to an Editor?” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/when-should-writers-stand-their-ground-versus-defer-to-an-editor/. Every editor’s opinion is only that: an opinion. Assuming you have your FACTS right, always. Always, always, always defend your work.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1270 words

Writing of The Stirchians (novel, tentative title)

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

Total fiction words for October……… 8202
Total fiction words for the year………… 128584
Total nonfiction words for October… 6240
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 159460
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 288044

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 68
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.