Why I Don’t Follow or Advance the Myths

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Thought of the Day
* Reminder
* Why I Don’t Follow or Advance the Myths
* Around Three Decades Ago
* Along Came A Spider
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“As long as a book would write itself, I was a faithful and interested amanuensis, and my industry did not flag; but the minute that the book tried to shift to my head… I put it away and dropped it out of my mind.” Mark Twain

“Failure is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are alive and growing.” Buzz Aldrin

“My life unfolds like any other, and it is a dichotomy. I have everything I need. And I have everything I deserve. I am settled.” Soleada Garcia in Blackwell Ops 18: Soleada Garcia: Settled

Thought of the Day

If following the step-by-step myths works, then why isn’t everyone who follows them successful? Why do so few who follow them actually finish and publish work? Why do so many simply give up and go find something else (probably something fun) to do?


Bradbury Challenge participants, remember to get your story info in to me sometime today or tonight, before the Journal goes live on Monday.

Anyone else who wants to jump in, feel free. A challenge is a great way to get your writing going again.

Why I Don’t Follow or Advance the Myths

Although I don’t personally enjoy James Patterson’s novels, nobody can argue the guy isn’t a masterful marketer.

Of course, he made his bones in marketing and advertising while working at J. Walter Thompson, perhaps the premier ad agency in the United States.

He started as a junior copywriter, but “he rose to become the C.E.O. of the agency’s North American branch and held that position until 1996, when he left to pursue writing full time.”

For the record, my dislike of his books has nothing to do with personal taste. They are even written in one of my favorite genres, but the stories don’t pull me in. In short, they lack depth.

But even Patterson eventually turned away from the myths. Or rather, he stopped writing novels, as so many who follow the myths do.

He still comes up with the characters, but he doesn’t write the stories. He only writes the outline. Then he hires other writers (or I dunno, maybe they pay him) to write the novels for him.

At least part of the reason is having their name appear, much smaller, of course, on the cover of the novel with the name James Patterson.

I have no way of knowing why Patterson stopped writing his own novels, but I do have a reasonable theory. More on that shortly.

Around Three Decades Ago

I was a successful essayist, poet and nonfiction book writer. I gauged that success based on sales of my essays to university and other literary magazines and on nominations (including one for the Pulitzer Prize), being short listed for major awards, and winning awards for my poetry. My nonfiction books on writing have always sold well.

Then I set out to write my first novel. I followed the tried and true method of outlining. That was the way to go. All the pundits said so.

It took me almost three years to outline most of the novel. It would have been around 100,000 words, and when I finished it, I was certain an agent would snatch it up and strongly advocate for it among the “Big Five” traditional publishers, all of whom at the time were based in New York. (Today, most or all of them are owned by massive companies headquartered elsewhere.)

Remember, there was no independent publishing back then, aside from the “little literary” magazines.

I had no doubt there would be a bidding war for my masterpiece. The advance would be a life-changing amount in the high six figures. I would retire from teaching as an adjunct instructor in the local junior college and travel the world.

Only none of that happened. Because I didn’t write the actual novel.


Because I had already written it, albeit in outline form. I knew every flat, colorless character, every major twist and turn, and worst of all, the ending.

So when I finally sat down to write it, I was bored to tears. Putting even one word on the page, one sentence, one paragraph, was sheer drudgery. I’d rather dig ditches with a shovel. At least I’d get fresh air.

And a realization came over me: I would rather have bamboo strips inserted under my fingernails and toenails than write even the “first draft” of that story. Especially if I had to adhere to that boring outline.

For three decades or so, I abandoned the idea of writing any novel. After all, an outline was seemingly required, and writing an outline is hard work. And then I would know the whole story, so why write it?

Hey, I don’t even watch new movies, much less invest the time to read a new novel, when I know the major twists and the ending in advance. I can’t think of anything more boring.

Apparently James Patterson had the same realization, although somehow (um, through marketing?) he was a wildly successful novelist by then.

I suspect his reasoning went something like this (this is my theory, nothing more):

  • I’m already making big bucks, and
  • There are dozens of writers who would like to ride on my coattails, so
  • Why should I bust my hump writing novels for which I already know the major twists and ending?
  • Why not write and enjoy the story as an outline, then
  • Pass it on to someone else to fill in the blanks.

Of course, your theory might vary, and that’s fine.

Along Came A Spider

Oh, sorry. Not a spider. That’s Patterson. I meant to write Along Came Writing Into the Dark.

I stumbled on Dean Wesley Smith’s site in early 2014. Back then it was much like the Journal is today: informative vs. promotional.

Outlining and following the other myths didn’t work. I’d proven that to myself.

So I took a deep breath and tried the concept Dean was pushing. Oddly (and encouragingly) he was getting no personal benefit from informing others about what he called “writing into the dark.”

Despite my skepticism, it worked. I wrote my first-ever novel, Leaving Amarillo, in 28 or 29 days. Then I wrote (to date) 83 more.

And I finally DID write that novel I had outlined, but only from the concept, not from the outline. I had long-since trashed the outline.

The novel is titled The Day the Earth Shuddered and Went Dark. I finished it in around thirty days and published it on October 1, 2016. It was my 19th novel.

If you currently plan ahead or outline and it “works” for you, go for it with my personal blessing.

But if you often find yourself stuck or bored with the story or abandoning the novel, consider writing it without an outline. The technique is the most freeing thing I’ve personally ever found. That’s why I pass it along or pay it forward.

Writing Into the Dark isn’t only freeing, it’s exhilarating. And if you’re a fiction writer, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

Of Interest

Peak Fake: A Scam Website Impersonating Macmillan Publishers Read this and PG’s comments

Bestselling Author Troy Lambert Tells All

Editing Observations THIS. Read this.

Editing and Reading Observations… Part Two This is pretty good too.

Editing and Reading Observations… Part 3 Frankly, this one is light on substance and heavy on promotion

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1270

Writing of Blackwell Ops 19: Sam Thurston

Day 1…… 2843 words. To date…… 2843

Fiction for January……………………. 75589
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 75589
Fiction since October 1…………… 378634
Nonfiction for January……………… 20460
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 20460
2024 consumable words…………… 96049

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 2
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 84
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 238
Short story collections…………………… 31

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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.

6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Follow or Advance the Myths”

  1. In the fanfiction community the myths hold sway too, and boy are they entrenched deep. Overall it is a very positive place but if people (just like in original fiction writing) deviate from what is ‘common sense’ (as one person told me a few years back) they get told they won’t get many reads (or hits, which seems to be the ‘currency’ to many fanfiction writers, giving them motivation instead of actually enjoying writing).
    I find many fanfiction writers also believe, if they want to ‘turn pro’ they need to allow editors to touch their work, write to market, get a story developmental editor (whatever that is) and this scares a lot away from writing original stories (but many simply do just enjoy writing fanfic more).
    No matter where you turn, the myths are there. Whether in professional circles or in hobbyist ones.

    • “No matter where you turn, the myths are there. Whether in professional circles or in hobbyist ones.”

      Yep. That’s the frustration I bear. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face and offer a chain-breaking technique that costs absolutely nothing and will enable writers to write both More and Better stories, and they just turn away, arms folded over their chest, like you’re trying to put one over on them. Sigh.

      • Not to mention, as they do it, many act high and superior because they are ‘real’ artists for struggling and ‘bleeding’ for their craft.
        If that’s what being an artist truly means, I’d rather just have fun and be a ‘hack’. No sense in doing something if you’re not getting any enjoyment from it in my opinion, especially when no one is forcing you to write those pages in the first place.

  2. Great blog as always, Harvey. Thanks for the continued encouragement. Your theory about Patterson is interesting. In a way he sort of has the dream job; all creating, very little actual typing. 😄 If only I could make money just making up characters and writing outlines. Kidding. I’d rather write into the dark.

    • Me too. If I couldn’t just dive off and run through the story with the characters, I’d find something else fun to do.

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