In today’s Journal
* Why I Talk About WITD So Often in the Journal
* Abandoning the Experiment
* Of Interest
Why I Teach WITD So Often in the Journal
Bob Calverley, a long-time reader and writing friend, commented on yesterday’s post. You may read his comment before you continue below to read my response, but the response also stands alone. My apology in advance for this lengthy post:
First, overall, I can guarantee this Journal will never exceed in value the price of a subscription. But that’s all right. It’s my thoughts on writing, nothing more. I have been personally steeped in the myths myself, and I have been free of them (with Heinlein’s Rules, WITD, and cycling) since early 2014.
So who better to talk about those techniques? In the 62 years before I found them, I wrote a few short stories and spent three years preparing the plot (outlining) for a novel. I never wrote it.
In the 8 years since I learned to trust my characters, I’ve written 67 novels, 8 novellas, and well over 200 short stories. (Everyone reading this may, of course, draw their own conclusions.)
So again, who better to compare the two? And to my knowledge, I’m the only advocate of Heinlein’s Rules, WITD, and cycling who talks about them regularly. That’s why I talk so much and so often about them.
I certainly don’t do it for personal gain. After all, whether you write into the dark or remain mired in the myths doesn’t matter to me in any real way. When asked, I even give away copies of the two books I’ve written on the topics. That’s how much I want to spread the word. And this Journal is free, and all the archives in this Journal—a master’s class in writing fiction—are free.
On the other hand, literally thousands of advocates talk endlessly about the importance of setting the plot in advance of writing, then revising, getting critiques, rewriting, etc. And oddly enough, many of them have written books on the topics and make a pretty good living selling them.
I wonder, how is it that nobody ever seems to get tired of hearing them? But they’re glad you don’t. Because as long as writers remain mired in the myths, they’ll continue to buy books on plotting, building characters, world-building, writing settings and scenes, revising and rewriting, etc. ad nauseam.
But to your specific points…
1. WITD is about allowing fictional characters to tell the story that they, not the fiction writer, are living. I never, ever, not even one time suggested that WITD is suitable for nonfiction, especially reportage, and especially in the context of dialogue. Nor would I.
I have been misquoted and things I’ve said have been quoted verbatim but purposely taken out of context to serve the journalist’s own ends. That’s why I no longer write blurbs for others’ books or speak to journalists. (And just in case any proponents of today’s “advocacy journalism” are looking in, that goes double for you.)
You wrote a personal admission: “[S]ometimes, I make mistakes when I’m writing fiction. So I find that I have to fix things in my fictional stories. That makes me a slow writer.” I see that as a request for help even if it wasn’t.
As I write into the dark, I have trouble keeping up with my characters as they race through the story too. The difference is, I cycle back (remain in the creative subconscious mind) to let the characters “fix things” instead of reading purposefully with my conscious, critical mind, looking for things to fix (revise or rewrite). Trusting my characters so that I don’t have to hover over every manuscript revising and rewriting is what makes me seem a “fast” writer.
And to your, “I wish I could write faster,” I can only say, you could. Trust your characters. Let them tell the story that they, not you, are living. You don’t know in advance where it’s going, but they do. Don’t talk to me or anyone else about it. Just try it on your own and see what happens.
This is actually a great example of why I keep talking about WITD and cycling and striving to come at it in different ways. What a person doesn’t get when it’s delivered in one way, s/he’ll often get when it’s delivered in another way.
2. I also have never said there is a “vast conspiracy” or any conspiracy of English (or literature) teachers, et al who are purposely perpetuating the myths. Most of them don’t even know that pre-plotting (fiction), revising, rewriting, seeking external critiques, etc. ARE fear-based myths. They’re just teaching what they’ve been taught.
Nor do most of them know about WITD, and if you tell them, they’ll almost immediately come back with “Oh, but I’m talking about quality writing” or some such bovine excrement. Because of the myths of writing to which they’ve been exposed their entire lives, they believe “writing fast” (another myth) equals sloppy work.
The myths about writing literally permeate society.
Even in fictional television shows, (detective shows, sitcoms, etc.)—shows written by professional fiction writers—when they do a show that includes anything about a novel or novelist, the novel took years to write and writing it was a terrible strain on the author, blah blah blah.
Notably, there are a few shows that, even in script format, are written into the dark. Better Call Saul is one example. When asked about the surprising twists and turns of the plot, one of the two writers said they don’t plan anything, that they just go where the characters lead them.
3. You wrote, “I think you are a little too hard on writers who fall off or jump off the WITD wagon.”
Yeah, okay, I guess I have to agree with this one. As I so harshly wrote in yesterday’s post (and have written many times before) “[I]f you DO try the new technique and fail … you can easily return to what you were doing before you tried the new way, right? No harm, no foul.” (grin)
Yes, to be fair, I inserted the ellipsis in place of the omitted “or, more likely, decide you don’t look all that good in sweat beads” from my quote above. Guess I should have added another (grin) there.
But no matter. You’re right. I DO believe feeling threatened by WITD is rooted in fear, primarily fear of losing control of the story, of giving over control to the characters. I believe if you’re used to setting the plot in advance of writing, then consciously revising, seeking external critiques, consciously rewriting, etc., you will feel fear if you give WITD an honest try. And I believe all of that because I’ve been there.
But again, that sense of trepidation just means you’re on the right track. The fact that you suffer the effects of fear when you even think about writing into the dark kind of proves the concept frightens you.
Frankly, I was amazed that WITD worked when I decided to really try it back in 2014—I had set out to disprove it, after all—and I’m still amazed with every short story or novel I write. It’s just that freeing.
With this one little technique—learning to quiet your critical mind and trust yourself, your creative subconscious, or your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living—a whole new world opens up.
So why in the world would I NOT want to share that with others? And because the Journal is gaining new subscribers who have never heard of Heinlein’s Rules or Writing Into the Dark or cycling, I continue to talk about it.
But as I wrote earlier, I don’t preach WITD for personal gain. Can the writers who perpetuate the myths and write how-to books based on them say the same thing?
Whether you write into the dark or remain mired in the myths doesn’t matter to me in any real way. Learning to trust yourself, your creative subconscious, or your characters and write into the dark benefits only you.
Conversely, learning to trust in your own abilities isn’t something anyone else can do for you. You have to try it—really try it—for yourself. As always, it’s your choice.
Abandoning the Experiment
I’m abandoning my plan to postpone writing the Journal until the day’s end. Bob C helped me realize writing the Journal and passing along what I know is my actual job. It’s what my donors and patrons pay me to do, and I’m grateful.
As it has been since early 2014, fiction writing will be my reward for doing my job. It will be my escape from reality. Dropping in on old friends, especially those who have absolutely no interest in me personally, good or bad, but only want to tell their story, remains my greatest pleasure.
What time or times of the day I slip away to indulge is something I’ll have to figure out. But that’s all right. My goal is to write at least one novel per month, beginning with this month, for the rest of this year. Counting today, I still have 17 days left in this month, so easy peasy. I just have to decide what to write.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Queen Elizabeth II: A day-by-day guide from now to the funeral” at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-62861617.
See “The Villain’s Journey” at https://killzoneblog.com/2022/09/the-villains-journey.html. Learn, absorb, then let go, trust, and WITD.
See “The Words ‘I Wanted’ Do Not Belong in Book Reviews” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/the-words-i-wanted-do-not-belong-in-book-reviews/.
See “A New App For Serializing Backlist” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/a-new-app-for-serializing-backlist/.
See “Why Do We Do Kickstarters?” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/why-do-we-do-kickstarters/.
See “Not Just Another Post on POV” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/not-just-another-post-on-pov%ef%bf%bc/. Again, read, absorb, then let go, trust, and WITD.
The Journal…………………………………… 1460 words
Writing of (novel, tentative title)
Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX
Total fiction words for September……… 3277
Total fiction words for the year………… 69708
Total nonfiction words for September… 11510
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 139740
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 209448
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: Along with discussing various aspects of the writing craft, I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. WITD is not “the only way” to write, but it is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun.