What I’ve Learned & What I Teach

In today’s Journal

* Some Old New Posts
* What I’ve Learned & What I Teach
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Some Old New Posts

I have a folder on my desktop labeled “Journal Topics.” When I have an idea for a topic but don’t have time to put it into the Journal right then, I make a note of it.

Then, from time to time, I browse that folder and delete or add-to those topics. But I need to clear out that folder, so in coming days I’ll be posting some old new topics. Here’s the first one:

What I’ve Learned & What I Teach

The main thing I learned from Dean Wesley Smith about writing fiction is this: The best way to learn how to write is to sit down at your keyboard, trust yourself and your characters, and put new words on the page.

That’s what writers do. Do the best you can the first time through, and when you’re finished, spell check it and publish it. Then move on to the next story.

  • You don’t need an outline.
  • You don’t need to revise or rewrite, even once.
  • You don’t need Plottr or Grammarly or any other machine, and
  • You DON’T need input from some critique group.

You really don’t even need anyone, including me, to instruct you. What I write in the Journal is only to help you cut the learning curve. But if you don’t practice putting new words on the page, it won’t matter.

What I Teach

1. If you don’t have a good grounding in grammar and syntax, get one. Find a grammar text you can stomach (my favorite was the HarBrace College Handbook) and read it through.

When you come to something you don’t understand, ask someone who actually knows. Me, for example. I do not recommend asking an English teacher. They learn English so they can teach it. I learned it so I can write fiction with it. There are vast differences.

I also highly recommend snagging a copy of my own Writing Better Fiction while it’s still on sale for $9.

In addition to an in-depth exploration of every fiction-writing craft topic, WBF contains a chapter-long grammar refresher and notes on punctuation for writers. As such, it’s probably the only book you’ll ever need for learning the craft of writing fiction.

But you want to get it soon. It’s currently $14.99 everywhere else and only $9 if you buy direct by clicking here (or the link above). On May 1, the direct price will increase to $13.

Punctuation for Writers, second edition is also still available. It’s easy to understand and includes a grammar refresher, which probably is all most of you need.

2. The only writing-craft specifics you really need starting out are the following. If you do these things, your writing will be elevated over 90% of the dreck out there:

A. Keep your opening sentence/paragraph short and crisp. And contrary to popular BS opinion among baby writers and those who make money selling “how-to” books, you do not have to “work” at this. If you’re open and trusting with your characters, they will hand you the hook and the opening on a platter.

B. Every word of the story must come through the physical and emotional senses and opinions of the POV character.

C. Use all five of the POV character’s physical senses and at least one emotional sense in every major scene.

D. Start a new paragraph each time a different character speaks.

E. Whenever possible, use brief descriptive narratives instead of dialogue tags (dialogue tags are he said, she said) and whenever possible, put them ahead of the dialogue.

F. Let the POV character describe each setting as s/he sees fit. If the POV character describes it, it is never “too much.”

G. NEVER insert your own description because you think the scene “needs” it. That is author intrusion, always a bad thing. Again, every word of the story comes through the POV character.

H. Unless you’re writing a story in which characters can communicate mentally, never allow your narrator to write “to himself,” “to myself,” “to herself,” or “to themselves.” If a character is thinking, to whom else might he she or they think?

I. “Nod” always involves the head and always means “yes,” so “she nodded her head” or “she nodded her head yes” is silly and redundant. And when it comes to movements of the head, “shook” always means “no.”

J. If you want to “revise,” do so while remaining in the creative subconscious. In other words, allow your characters to do so (cycling).

To do this—after you’ve written a session, had a short break, and returned to the manuscript—put your fingers on the keyboard, then AS A READER, read over what you wrote during your previous session.

Read for entertainment, not “looking for” anything. As you read, if the characters are moved to touch the story, let them. When you get back to the white space, just write the next sentence, then the next and the next.

K. If you get stuck in a story, trust your characters and Just Write the Next Sentence, then the next and the next until they lead you through to the end. Don’t spoil the story by frantically reaching for “what happens next.” It doesn’t matter. It isn’t important. What’s important will unfold in the story as you continue through it with the characters.

L. And finally, if you are a writer, an entertainer, then THAT you write matters a great deal. As it should. It’s what you do.

But WHAT you write doesn’t matter in the slightest. The results of your efforts will entertain someone for a few minutes or a few hours. It’s no more important than that. And if you’re smart, you won’t think about it even that long. You’ll already be onto the next story.

Now then, even without me handing you the above items, I’m confident you would have found them eventually.

Because all you really need to be a successful fiction writer is the confidence and belief in yourself to trust your characters. After all, they, not you, are living the story.

After that, you simply type the first sentence of the story, then the next and the next and the next until the characters lead you through to the end of the story.

Then if you honestly try to adhere to Heinlein’s Rules, as a fiction writer you’ll be golden.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest


The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1080

Writing of Blackwell Ops 24: Buck Jackson Returns (tentative title)

Day 1…… 3724 words. To date…… 3724
Day 2…… 3706 words. To date…… 7430
Day 3…… 2110 words. To date…… 9540

Fiction for April…………………….….… 45801
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 271593
Fiction since October 1………………… 574649
Nonfiction for April……………………… 14160
Nonfiction for 2024……………………… 142880
2024 consumable words……………… 415573

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 7
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 89
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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