Writing into the Dark: Chapter Five

(Every day I will put another chapter here of this book. Patreon supporters, you will get the full book sent to you when it is all done.)


WRITING INTO THE DARK

Chapter Five

How to Get Started

One of the established facts of novel writing is that almost no writer can hold the plot of an entire novel in their mind. We just can’t.

So even if you are outlining ahead, you are spending most of your time just focusing in on one area of the book, one scene, one chapter.

I have a reminder on my wall above my computer.

Write Scenes

That sign was meant to keep me from trying to think about an entire book, or too far ahead in a book.

The sign under the first sign is:

Trust the Process

Can’t believe how many times I repeat that to myself when feeling uncertain.

Trust the process. Just trust the damn process.

It’s like a signal to my subconscious to come out and play.

But that’s all fine and good, but how to get started with the actual writing? That seems to be the scary question we all face with every book or story.

 

Some Accepted Ways

In writing book after writing book on this topic, the same basic answers come up about getting started.

They all say that you need one or more of the following:

— An idea

— A cool setting

— Cool character

— Great first line

Okay, those sometimes help. For me, a cool title helps as well.

But if I had to wait around for a cool idea or a cool first line like Billy Crystal in that movie Throw Mamma From the Train, I would be dead.

So sure, all those things help. But then what?

How do you really get started?

For the answer to that, let me back up to the basics of every opening in any story or chapter.

You must have a character in a setting.

Readers read for characters and all characters must be in something besides a white room.

So to get started, stick a character in a setting. Cool character or not. Cool setting or not.

Just a character in a setting.

Period.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it.

Nope. Far, far from it.

 

The Depth Workshop

The most important and successful workshop I do through WMG Publishing Online workshops is the Depth Online Workshop.

Here is how to think of depth in writing openings.

Imagine a lake. All beginning writers just try to get their readers to go out across the top of the lake. But the surface of that lake is the line that allows a reader to leave your story. If the reader gets above that surface line, they put the book down.

A simple image.

A story with depth is one that the writer takes the reader and drags the reader under the surface and down the steep slope to the bottom of the lake. And then the writer has the reader follow the story along the bottom of the lake.

From the bottom of that lake, it is a long ways to the surface and the writer can do all sorts of things without fear the reader will surface and leave the story.

So the worst thing you can do it just let your readers water ski across the top of the water. You want your readers deep in your story, with no chance they will leave.

That is called depth.

And it takes me six weeks and five assignments and a ton of examples to show writers how to do that in that Depth Online Workshop.

So back to the question on how to start a story.

Take a reader quickly down into depth.

Those who have taken the online workshop know how that’s done.

For everyone else, let me just say this:

Depth is caused by having a character be firmly in a setting with opinions and all five senses and emotions about the setting.

None of this can be from a writer perspective.

It all must be inside a character’s head.

 

An Example

A few months back I wanted to write another Thunder Mountain series time travel novel. I always start those novels with new characters, but I had no character, no idea of a character, nothing. I just had a title: Lake Roosevelt.

Roosevelt Lake is a lake in the center of Idaho with a town under it. All the Thunder Mountain books had been around that lake in one form or another, so I figured it was time to call one of the books by the lake name. Thus the title.

So I sat down, typed in the title, and grabbed a character name out of a phone book from some far away city and typed in that as the first two words of the story.

And since I live on the Oregon Coast I figured why not just set the opening here. That thought flashed across my mind from somewhere unknown.

So I started typing. I had the character enjoying the fantastic beauty of the Oregon Coast and going into a small café on a small Oregon Coast town.

Café had great smells, of course. Great tastes, the ocean air, the sounds of the waves, and the warmth of the late summer day. I had all five senses and I layered them in really thick, giving my character’s opinions of the setting with hints of what she was doing there.

Character.

Setting.

Then I ended the chapter and did the same thing with a male character in chapter two who was following the first character.

Character.

Setting.

And it went from there.

I stuck two characters in two chapters in rich, thick setting that they had opinions about.

Did I know where the book was heading? Nope, other than I figured at some point they would make it back to Idaho.

Did I know the characters? Nope, just learning about them as I typed.

Just as a reader would learn about them as the reader reads the book.

 

How to Get Started Writing Into the Dark

Take any character and put the character in a setting.

Any character.

Any setting.

Then climb into the character’s head and park your butt there and don’t allow yourself to type one word that doesn’t come from the character’s opinion or sensory feelings or emotions.

Stay parked inside that character’s head.

And let the character (and the reader) experience the story.

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Writing in Public: Year 2, Month 9, Day 12


Year 2, Month 9, Day 12 of this Writing in Public challenge.

Day five of writing the novel HEAVEN PAINTED AS A FREE MEAL: A Ghost of a Chance Novel

Got the Writing into the Dark book off to WMG Publishing after putting in the corrections that Kris found that I agreed with. So all good there. I’m going to continue putting up a chapter a night here until I have it all up. I’ll leave it up for a week or so and then pull them all down.

Today was the writer’s lunch and it was great fun. Writer friends down from Portland. And the discussion for a good half hour was trying to get me to understand something. Now that I completely do (thanks, gang) I’m going to have a blast. Stay tuned.

Then I went back to the WMG offices and worked on formatting Smith’s Monthly. Then around 6:30 I walked to meet Kris at a restaurant to have dinner.

Then home to do the online workshop assignments.

And in case you didn’t notice, May online workshops are taking sign-ups right now. Any questions on them, feel free to ask.

After getting the workshop assignments done and out and things set there, I finished up the Writing into the Dark book and got it turned in. Then I took a quick nap and then headed to watch some television.

Back in here around 1 a.m. and went to work getting a bunch of small stuff done. Including setting some schedule for the coming week.

Then around 2:30 a.m. I went to do a session on the novel. Got 1,100 words done, took a break, and remembered a few other things I needed to get cleaned up for the coming week, including an interview that will be in a magazine.

So I called it a night on the book and spent the last two hours getting things done I was behind on. Got just under 1,000 words of nonfiction on the interview. Amazing how stuff can add up when you keep putting it off.

So now I have a tight deadline on the novel, which will be fun to hit. Watch this coming week. This book is due a week from now.

Topic of the Night: Chapter of Writing into the Dark above.

——————

Writing of the novel Heaven Painted as a Free Meal

Day 1… 2,550 words… Total so far on the book… 2,550 words
Day 2… 2,750 words… Total so far on the book… 5,300 words
Day 3… 2,150 words… Total so far on the book… 7,450 words
Day 4… 1,300 words… Total so far on the book… 8,750 words
Day 5… 1,100 words… Total so far on the book… 9,850 words

——————

Totals For Year 2, Month 9, Day 10

— Daily Fiction: 1,100 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 19,950 words  

— Nonfiction: 1,000 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 15,900 words

— Blog Posts: 600 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 6,500 words

— E-mail: 29 e-mails. Approx. 1,200 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 249 e-mails. Approx. 7,700 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers

For projects finished in the first year and links to the posts, click on the Writing in Public tab above.

For projects finished this month and where you can read them, click continue reading below.

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more in March and getting it all caught up. And for those who have been along from the start, hold on, almost ready to get this all off the ground. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

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Writing into the Dark: Chapter Four

(Every day I will put another chapter here of this book. Patreon supporters, you will get the full book sent to you when it is all done.)


WRITING INTO THE DARK

Chapter Four

What Do You Need to Get Started

For this chapter, I’m going to go over a list of what you need to get started writing into the dark on a novel.

Some of these points are pretty basic, some are more difficult.

But a simple list and explanation seemed to be the best way to get you at least mentally ready. All of these points will come up at different points throughout this book.

Be warned. Your critical voice will not like any of these. And if you find yourself disagreeing completely, you might not be ready yet to write off into the dark successfully.

You might be. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

First… You Need a Love of Story.

If you are still in the that silly early stage of beginning writing where you think you need to read everything critically, you might not be ready yet to tackle a book into the dark.

By reading critically, you are feeding that critical voice with every sentence you read. And, of course, most stuff you read isn’t good enough. That’s the nature of the critical voice.

A writer like Cussler or Patterson or Nora Roberts or Grisham can entertain millions of readers with every book and you and your overhyped critical voice will think they can’t write at all. That’s critical voice turned on far too high and your ego far, far out of control.

You must get back to reading for enjoyment, for the sheer love of a good story told well.

You won’t like all books, but your dislike will be for taste, not critical voice. And that’s fine.

So if you haven’t read a book and not seen a word of the book lately, then writing into the dark might not be such a good idea until you can get back to really loving to read for the sheer pleasure.

When you can read a book and not see a word of type, then you are ready.

And if you automatically copyedit everything you read, go get help. And I mean real help, professional help, because you have lost all ability to see a story and are trapped by the little black marks on paper. You can’t even begin to be a writer from that mindset, let alone a creative writer, let alone write into the dark.

But if you enjoy story, love to read, and can’t see the words when reading because you are lost in the story the writer is telling, you will be fine moving forward and into the dark with your writing.

 

Second… Early Preconceptions Cleared

All those preconceptions of the need to consciously put in foreshadowing or plot arches or character threads or rising and falling tension. You know, all that English class crap you were taught by people good at deconstruction but shitty at creative work.

You must have most of that cleared out, or at least under control in your mind. It is why I talked about it early on in this book.

Studying books, studying plot threads, studying rising and falling tension is one thing for writers to do after they read a book and like it.

But you can’t come at a book, ready to write a book, with the idea you are going to put that all in.

You have to know that the desire to consciously put in all the literary crap is your critical voice, the thing that is out to stop you cold.

For writing into the dark, the critical voice needs to be ushered into a closet and the door slammed until the book is done.

Your creative voice will put all the stuff that needs to be there in the book, and make you look really, really smart to English classes later. And as I discovered, you won’t even know you put that stuff in there for those deconstructionists to find.

But to actually give your creative voice permission to put that all in, you need to take all that sort of stuff out of your critical mind. Focus on only having fun telling a story.

Be prepared to just let the creative voice have its day.

Really hard to do.

Impossible to do if you are reading critically.

 

Third… You Need to Understand You Will Write Extra

When writing into the dark, the story will often come in parts, and sometimes the parts aren’t in a real order. That’s part of the fun. And later on in the book I’ll explain how to deal with all that.

Sometimes, like a reader, you experience the writing process from word one to the last word. But sometimes, like a cave explorer, you have to see what is up a certain cave until it dead ends into a rock wall. Since you are walking into the dark, a dim flashlight your best guide to see the step ahead, you don’t know until you find the dead end that you were on the wrong track.

That’s normal.

And sometimes what you find on that little side trip is valuable to the story and your subconscious took you up that path for a reason. Again, never let the critical voice in to second guess the subconscious. Just be prepared to accept writing some extra.

For me, in many books, I write very little extra. But for some reason, in my Thunder Mountain series, I tend to write a lot extra.

I have two reasons for that. One is that I am used to writing those bloated, longer books under contract that New York wanted me to write. And to get a story up to length, I would often have to just add in plot sidetracks.

I hated that, and with my own books, I won’t do that. A story is as long as a story needs to be.

Period.

But with Thunder Mountain, complex time travel westerns, I love the setting and the time period, so I have often put my characters on their horses and thought “Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to go off the trail and see what’s over there?”

(I like doing that in real life as well, but since I have stuck Kris in wilderness areas one too many times, I can now only do that when I am alone in the car.)

What happens in my novels then is that when I am done, my sidetracks are just things I put in for myself. No plot reason, and my subconscious says, “You had your fun, get that out of my story now.”

So in that series, I often write a bunch of side roads just for myself.

And I accept that and enjoy it.

Expect to write extra, for whatever reason, when writing into the dark.

 

Fourth… You are NOT Going to Rewrite the Book

That’s right.

Do not give yourself permission to fix anything later.

Do not give yourself permission to write sloppy.

You are writing a book. Period.

When you are done writing, you release to your first reader and proofreader and move on to the next story you want to tell.

I will explain later in this book some ways to help you produce clean copy as you go along. But you cannot allow your critical voice in any fashion to get anywhere near the book you are writing into the dark.

You can’t allow that critical voice to glare in the window, saliva dripping from the teeth, just waiting to get hold of the poor manuscript. That’s a quick way to make writing into the dark worthless.

And that includes permission from the critical voice to write sloppy or a second draft.

Otherwise there is no reason to write into the dark. You just might as well outline the poor, sad book and let the critical voice kill it that way.

Yeah, I know, I can hear the screaming now.

And why are you screaming???

Really ask yourself that question. Why are you objecting?

Critical voice, right?

All those English teachers taught you that rewriting is the only way to create real art. Those teachers who couldn’t write a creative sentence if forced at gunpoint. Those same ones.

And you bought into that myth.

So answer one simple question: Why you do not believe that you, the creative writer, can write a book from the creative side of your brain without that critical voice pissing all over it?

As I said a moment ago, later in this book I will show you some methods on how to produce clean copy as you go so that when you get to the end, you release and start thinking about the next story.

But for most, this will be the hardest part of writing into the dark.

There is no point at all writing into the dark if you are going to give your critical voice permission to ruin what you did.

And that permission will kill all the enthusiasm of the creative side as well.

And the entire process will fail.

All because you bought into a myth and believe your creative brain just isn’t good enough.

Sad, really sad.

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Writing in Public: Year 2, Month 9, Day 11


Year 2, Month 9, Day 11 of this Writing in Public challenge.

Day off of writing the novel HEAVEN PAINTED AS A FREE MEAL: A Ghost of a Chance Novel

Decided to just finish up the Writing into the Dark book today, so took time off the novel.

And I got the book done.

All the chapters will be here over the next week in their rough form, but on Monday the entire book will be turned in to WMG Publishing for copyediting. It should be out in early May.

It was a pretty good Saturday. I got to the snail mail a little after three, went to the grocery store to get some lunch from the deli there, then went to WMG offices to work.

I managed some on the formatting of Smith’s Monthly, then went into one of the warehouses to sort comics and books and such. Great fun.

Got home around 6:30 p.m. and did a little e-mail before heading to take a nap with the white cat.

Dinner, news, and dishes and I was in here working on the Writing into the Dark book.

Between 9 p.m. and midnight, I got a chapter done, part of another, and took two naps. It’s Saturday night. I’m old. What else do I have to do? (grin)

Watched some television until around 2 a.m., then got back in here and got the book done around 5:30 a.m.

So one book done and in on time. Now tomorrow back to the novel. I need to make a push on it to hit the next deadline.

So 4,800 nonfiction words done. I’ll take it.

Topic of the Night: Chapter of Writing into the Dark above.

——————

Writing of the novel Heaven Painted as a Free Meal

Day 1… 2,550 words… Total so far on the book… 2,550 words
Day 2… 2,750 words… Total so far on the book… 5,300 words
Day 3… 2,150 words… Total so far on the book… 7,450 words
Day 4… 1,300 words… Total so far on the book… 8,750 words

——————

Totals For Year 2, Month 9, Day 10

— Daily Fiction: 00 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 18,850 words  

— Nonfiction: 4,800 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 14,900 words

— Blog Posts: 500 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 5,900 words

— E-mail: 12 e-mails. Approx. 300 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 220 e-mails. Approx. 6,500 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers

For projects finished in the first year and links to the posts, click on the Writing in Public tab above.

For projects finished this month and where you can read them, click continue reading below.

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more in March and getting it all caught up. And for those who have been along from the start, hold on, almost ready to get this all off the ground. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

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Writing into the Dark: Chapter Three

(Every day I will put another chapter here of this book. Patreon supporters, you will get the full book sent to you when it is all done.)


WRITING INTO THE DARK

Chapter Three

The Joy of Uncertainty

I am trying in these first few chapters to establish some basics that I hope will help you drive forward while writing into the dark.

The biggest factor once you get past the critical voice is uncertainty.

Uncertainty, when not controlled and used to push forward, causes problems.

Lots of problems.

When a writer lets uncertainty be a bad thing, it’s like tossing open a window and inviting into your writing office all the fears and critical voice you can find. And once in, those fears and critical voice will slow you down and stop you.

Remember, that’s their job.

Uncertainty, if looked at correctly and embraced, is a positive aspect of writing into the dark.

So let me battle in this chapter to help you keep that window closed to critical voice and fear. What I want to do is help you understand that uncertainty is a welcome feeling when writing into the dark.

 

The Boredom Factor

From a reader’s perspective, when I get to a spot in a book I know exactly how the book will end, I put the book down.

If Kris asks me what went wrong in the book, I say “The book was on rails.”

She’ll nod because she understands.

The writer had placed the plot of the book firmly on a set of rails and the ending was as clear as knowing that the next stop on a train ride was the city ahead. No uncertainty in the plot at all, and as a reader, I could see the ending of the book ahead.

So I got bored and put the book down.

Most readers are like me. Not all, but most.

When a reader realizes that they know how the book will end, they stop. It might not be a conscious thought. It might be just putting the book down to go get a cup of tea and never returning to the book.

The dreaded critique from a reader: “I knew what was going to happen.”

How do you guarantee that statement will never, ever be made about one of your books?

Simple. Write into the dark.

Duh.

If you do not have one idea of where the book is going that you are writing, there is no chance in hell your reader will ever know.

Books on rails are books that were outlined. The writer knew exactly where the book was going, what the end was, so the writer’s subconscious put in all the clues to tell the reader where the book was going, and everything in the book, every detail points to the ending like signs with arrows.

Books on rails are seldom original, either. Books outlined by the critical voice just can’t be. The critical voice isn’t your creative voice. Your critical voice can only dig up old ideas and old plots and parrot them back to readers already familiar with the plot.

So you are writing into the dark to stay original and you don’t know where the plot is going.

How does that make you feel as a writer?

Uncertain, of course.

But if you want your book to be original and fresh and have no reader really know where it is going, you need to embrace that uncertainty feeling.

 

Where Do I Go Next?

I can hear the doubts, the questions.

If you don’t know where the book is going, how do you know what to write next?

In the next numbers of chapters, that’s going to be a major topic. I’m going to give you a bunch of ways of figuring that out.

But right here, early in the book, let me tell you the simple answer.

Write the next sentence.

And then write the next sentence.

I am not kidding.

It really is that simple.

What rule anywhere tells you that you need to know what is happening fifty pages away. No rule.

Just write the next sentence that follows logically through the character from the previous sentence.

And repeat until you find the end of the story.

With every step of that path, with every sentence, uncertainty will be dogging you.

That’s a good thing.

But at the same time, don’t let the uncertainty be a fear-excuse to stop you writing.

Just write one more sentence. You can do it.

Then write one more sentence.

Repeat.

You know the drill.

It really does work.

 

Uncertainty as a Sporting Event

For those of you who know me, know some of my past, you know I have been, and sometimes still am, an adrenaline junkie.

Professional hotdog skiing, professional golf, professional poker, jumping out of airplanes, rafting rivers, starting businesses, three wives, and so on and so on. Never a dull moment in my life, and I lived it that way purposely.

I sort of wonder at people with bucket lists. If there’s been something I wanted to do, I just went and did it. I got nothing to put in some stupid bucket.

So here I sit getting adrenaline out of writing. I have fired into my own monthly magazine, I am building a new writing career at the age of sixty-four, and a new business as well.

So is it any wonder that the uncertainty of writing into the dark makes writing fun for me?

Adrenaline is everywhere, with everything I do, including all the learning I get from talking with writers on my blog.

I find the fear of not being able to come up with something to write great fun.

And you know, it’s not often that sitting alone in a room and making stuff up can give you an adrenaline rush. (Queue all the porn jokes right here…)

 

I Just Don’t Know What Is Next

What happens when you can’t even think of the next word to write, let alone the next sentence?

Your subconscious just won’t let a word be written and you won’t let your critical voice into the picture.

What do you do?

Again, in later chapters, I’m going to talk a lot more about all this sort of thing, how to get going again, and so on, but here early in the book, I want to give you a basic writer trick you can use when that happens.

Sleep on it.

But before you call it a night, start off by taking a short break. Sometimes just five minutes will get you back to the next sentence.

And do not focus on how you need to end the chapter, or some plot thing. Just focus on trying to figure out what the character would do next.

What is the next sentence?

If you get back to the computer, do some methods I will outline later in the book, and the next sentence still doesn’t come, then go take a nap.

Or go to bed.

The key to this is that as you stand up from the computer, tell yourself you’ll have it figured out in the morning, or when you wake up.

Sometimes a five or ten minute nap will be enough for me to fire onward after being stuck.

However, the real problem with getting stuck like this is the uncertainty. Getting stuck, which will happen numbers of times in any novel or story, allows in all the doubts, the questioning of the very idea of writing into the dark.

It is getting stuck that causes so many writers to say, “I can’t write into the dark. I always get stuck and then I have to outline.”

Letting in your critical voice at that point is the worst thing a writer can do.

A writer must learn to trust the creative voice.

Sometimes that creative voice needs a little time, a short nap, a night’s sleep, to get untangled, but it will get untangled if you keep the fear and critical voice away.

It is at that stuck point that you need to really embrace and enjoy the uncertainty.

Getting stuck is part of writing into the dark. It is part of the process, a natural part of the process of a creative voice building a story.

Embrace the uncertainty of being stuck, trust your creative voice, give it a few moments rest, and then come back and write the next sentence.

What almost always happens for me after these rest points is that the book will power forward faster than I can type.

My creative voice has got it figured out and is off and running.

When a book does that, it’s great fun.

Enjoy the adrenaline rush.

Remember that being stuck is normal.

And that this writing into the dark process is uncertain.

But one great side of writing into the dark: Your readers will never know the ending of one of your books.

 

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Writing in Public: Year 2, Month 9, Day 10


Year 2, Month 9, Day 10 of this Writing in Public challenge.

Day four of writing the novel HEAVEN PAINTED AS A FREE MEAL: A Ghost of a Chance Novel

Just keeping on with both books yet again today. As I said yesterday, the deadline for the Writing into the Dark is Monday, so at some point I may just go at that book and finish it. Maybe tomorrow. But today doing both felt fine.

Headed off around 3 p.m. to banks, snail mail, and then to WMG Publishing offices.

I worked there on formatting Smith’s Monthly for a couple of hours. In the Smith’s Monthly issue I am formatting and getting ready to send out, I am starting a new novel serial.

An Easy Shot: A Golf Thriller.

Allyson did the cover for it. It’s going to be a 10 issue serial. So sometimes next spring the book will be out in book form and complete. But you can read it in Smith’s Monthly.

I initially published a different version of the book under a pen name and another title some time ago. Kind of fun when I looked back at it and realized it still sort of held up. So now I’m repairing some stuff and getting it out in Smith’s Monthly as a serial novel.

Tonight after a nap and some news, I got three chapters done on the Writing into the Dark book. I have five more chapters to finish in 2 days. I should be able to do that and get the book turned in before Monday morning. Then I’m really, really going to have to power on Heaven Painted as a Free Meal.

I managed only one session on the novel and got 1,300 words done.

So a decent day on both books. 3,200 words on one book, 1,300 on the other.

Topic of the Night: Uncertainty in the chapter above.

——————

Writing of the novel Heaven Painted as a Free Meal

Day 1… 2,550 words… Total so far on the book… 2,550 words
Day 2… 2,750 words… Total so far on the book… 5,300 words
Day 3… 2,150 words… Total so far on the book… 7,450 words
Day 4… 1,300 words… Total so far on the book… 8,750 words

——————

Totals For Year 2, Month 9, Day 10

— Daily Fiction: 1,300 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 18,850 words  

— Nonfiction: 3,200 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 10,100 words

— Blog Posts: 500 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 5,400 words

— E-mail: 13 e-mails. Approx. 400 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 208 e-mails. Approx. 6,200 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers

For projects finished in the first year and links to the posts, click on the Writing in Public tab above.

For projects finished this month and where you can read them, click continue reading below.

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more in March and getting it all caught up. And for those who have been along from the start, hold on, almost ready to get this all off the ground. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

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Writing into the Dark: Chapter Two

(Every day I will put another chapter here of this book. Patreon supporters, you will get the full book sent to you when it is all done.)


WRITING INTO THE DARK

Chapter Two

The Critical Voice Problem

 

Let me give you a secret about writing.

Ready?

The only purpose of the critical voice in creative writing is to stop you.

That’s the secret and when you finally take that secret in, you will be on the way to really getting to your real writing ability.

Critical voice in humans is there to protect us.

In writing, it wants to stop you from making a fool of yourself, or from putting out a bad product. (Thus the intense desire to keep rewriting over and over.)

When your critical voice completely succeeds, you are no longer writing and sending out anything for others to read. After all, if someone else reads what you have written, it might be dangerous.

Made up danger, of course, but to the writer letting the critical voice win, writing feels like very real danger.

In real life outside of writing, your critical voice is a protective mechanism.

In the late 1960s, I found myself standing on the top of a rock cliff near Sun Valley, Idaho with two other skiers. We were looking at jumping off the cliff and there was a cameraman off to one side to take pictures.

My critical voice was screaming that we needed to check under the snow at the bottom for big rocks.

One of the other guys was suggesting the same thing.

Fear and critical voice had stopped us cold.

The third guy just shouted to the photographer to see if he was ready, then the guy backed up ten steps and skated at the cliff and went off into the air, ski tips down, arms spread, flying like a bird, laughing all the way.

The picture of him in the air off that cliff was in Ski Magazine. And he didn’t hurt himself.

I skied around. So did the other guy.

The one guy in the picture went on to make a living in Hot Dogging, soon called Freestyle Skiing. He was fearless.

I let my critical voice combine with pure fear to stop me cold.

The best way many people see this concept clearly is in the bad horror movies when a woman in high heels goes into an old mansion where there is a killer. The woman in the high heels needs a better-developed critical voice.

No doubt about that.

(Or the writers need a new plot.)

But unlike going into an old mansion, or jumping off a cliff on skis, there is no danger in writing.

The fearless writers contain their critical voices and write what they love, what moves them.

As I said in the lecture on Writing into the Dark, my critical voice with writing is a tiny little thing whimpering off in a corner of my mind. When it tries to stand up, I throw bricks at it until it goes back to its corner and leaves me the hell alone.

 

Work Versus Play

Writing from the critical voice is work. Plain and simple.

It’s why so many beginning writers describe writing a book in metaphors that make them sound like they have just won a major world war all by themselves.

If I hadn’t defeated my critical voice, I would have long ago moved on to doing something far more fun than writing from critical voice.

Writing without critical voice turned on, just writing to tell myself a story, is like reading. The process is wonderful and I enjoy the journey.

So what happens when a writer says out loud, “I’m going to write this next novel into the dark? No outline.”

That is like giving your critical voice an energy drink or two. That critical voice will find a thousand ways to come at you.

I bet some of you while reading this have already had the critical voice yammering at you about how dangerous this would be.

Remember, the goal of the critical voice is to stop you.

Just remember my friend having his picture in Ski Magazine and me carefully and fearfully skiing around that cliff and you get the idea.

Through this book I’m going to detail numbers of ways critical voice and fear will work to stop you and how to get around it. But at this point I want to deal with one of the major ways that critical voice will come at you almost instantly when you even think of writing into the dark.

 

Wasted My Time

This is a huge killer, and I constantly hear this from new writers. Not only about writing into the dark, but about so many other aspects of writing.

Truth: When you are writing new words, you are never wasting your time.

Never.

Here comes a dirty word. Better cover your ears.

Practice.

There, I said it.

Imagine walking up to some poor kid who is practicing a musical instrument and telling that kid he is wasting his time by practicing. He needs to only play concerts or nothing at all.

Can’t imagine that?

Yet when your critical voice tells you that you might be wasting your time, that’s exactly what you are saying to yourself.

You are saying your writing must always be special, that it can’t be done to practice.

Yeah, believing every word you write is always special will freeze you down into making writing work and then fairly quickly stop you completely.

And again, that’s what the critical voice wants.

Critical voice does not want you writing or taking any chances. Period.

And writing into the dark? Wow, what a chance that would be. Far too much of a chance to take because your writing is “special.” Your writing must always be perfect and maybe you had better add in just one more rewrite to be sure.

And maybe one more rewrite after that because rewriting isn’t wasting time.

That italics part, folks, was a sarcastic attempt to show you just how stupid those thoughts are. If you believe all of that was advice, you are beyond my help.

Truth: The biggest waste of time in writing is rewriting. Period.

But that’s the topic of another book down the road.

Again, we’re dealing with the sneaky critical voice always looking for ways to stop you. And rewriting is a great way.

 

Afraid to Try

If you are afraid to try a new genre, afraid to try a new method of writing, afraid to try to get your work out to markets or show it to your friends, critical voice is in control and winning.

Period.

Heinlein’s Business Rules from 1947 are really interesting when looked at from defeating critical voice viewpoint.

Rule #1: You must write.

To do that, just that simple thing, you must overcome critical voice in many aspects.

Rule #2: You must finish what you write.

Critical voice will keep you from finishing with a thousand tricks. If a story or novel isn’t done, it can’t be shown and thus cause you (imaginary) harm.

Rule #3: You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial demand.

Critical voice uses the myth of rewriting to make sure nothing will ever be “good enough” and ready to show anyone.

Rule #4: You must put your work on the market.

Critical voice can think of a thousand ways to make you afraid of the repercussions of mailing or indie publishing your work.

Rule #5: You must keep your work on the market until it sells.

Critical voice does wonders when you get rejections from an editor, and can stop you from putting the work back out. And if publishing indie, some imaginary expected sales figure not hit, or some bad review will cause beginning writers to pull down work.

Heinlein’s Rules of Business were to help writers get past critical voice. The rules really are that simple.

And because of critical voice, those five simple rules are almost impossible to follow for most writers.

Of course, your critical voice will instantly start coming up with ways how those rules don’t apply to you.

Of course they don’t.

Your critical voice knows best.

It knows how to stop you cold, keep you from writing.

That’s its job, after all.

 

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Writing in Public: Year 2, Month 9, Day 9


Year 2, Month 9, Day 9 of this Writing in Public challenge.

Day three of writing the novel HEAVEN PAINTED AS A FREE MEAL: A Ghost of a Chance Novel

Just keeping on with both books yet again today. The deadline for the Writing into the Dark is Monday, so at some point I may just go at that book and finish it. But at the moment doing both feels fine.

Managed to get some e-mail done after getting up around 2 p.m. and off to WMG Publishing and the mail by 3:30 p.m. Then met a couple other professional writers to do some walking for exercise. Did that for about 45 minutes, then back to WMG Publishing offices.

I worked there on varied stuff until 6:30 p.m., then home to finish up the e-mail. Then around 7:30 went for a nap with the white cat, who wanted nothing to do with that. Then dinner, news, dishes, and back in here around 9 p.m. to work on the nonfiction book.

I got two chapters done on it in two sessions. Just over 2,000 words. I’m sort of following the lecture. Not all the time, but sort of.

Then off to watch some television, then back in here around 2 a.m. to work on the novel.

Cover of the Smith’s Monthly for Heaven Painted as a Free Meal. Nifty, huh?

I managed in two sessions with a short break to get 2,150 words done.

So a decent day on both books.

Topic of the Night: Critical Voice in the chapter above.

——————

Writing of the novel Heaven Painted as a Free Meal

Day 1… 2,550 words… Total so far on the book… 2,550 words
Day 2… 2,750 words… Total so far on the book… 5,300 words
Day 3… 2,150 words… Total so far on the book… 7,450 words

——————

Totals For Year 2, Month 9, Day 9

— Daily Fiction: 2,150 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 17,550 words  

— Nonfiction: 2,000 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 6,900 words

— Blog Posts: 400 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 4,900 words

— E-mail: 17 e-mails. Approx. 400 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 195 e-mails. Approx. 5,800 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers

For projects finished in the first year and links to the posts, click on the Writing in Public tab above.

For projects finished this month and where you can read them, click continue reading below.

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more in March and getting it all caught up. And for those who have been along from the start, hold on, almost ready to get this all off the ground. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

Oo4th_patreon_name


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Writing into the Dark: Chapter 1

(Every day I will put another chapter here of this book. Patreon supporters, you will get the full book sent to you when it is all done.)


WRITING INTO THE DARK

Chapter One

Some Background

The reason there are very few articles or books about writing into the dark is because the process gets such horrid bad press. Just the idea of writing without planning ahead on a project as long as a novel makes most English professors shudder and shake their head and turn away in disgust.

And beginning writers mostly just can’t imagine doing that. It just seems impossible.

Yet, many long-term professional writers write this way. And many of the books those same English professors study were written completely into the dark.

So why do all of us, as we are growing up, buy into the idea that novels must be outlined to the last little detail to work?

First, the problem comes from the fact that we all started out as readers.

To readers, writers know it all. They know enough to make that plot twist work, that foreshadowing inserted at just the right place, the gun planted when it needs to be planted to be fired later, and so on.

To readers, writers are really smart to be able to do all that.

Then we get into school and all the English teachers build on that belief system by taking apart books and talking about the deep meaning and what the writer was doing. And that makes writers seem even smarter and the process of writing a novel even more daunting.

So the desire to outline is logical, totally logical after all that.

In fact, it seems like outlining is the only way to do a complex novel.

But interestingly enough, that very process of outlining often kills the very complex structure the writer is hoping to achieve.

A Humbling Experience

Two of the most humbling experiences in my life occurred the two times I went into a graduate-level English class at a university as a professional writer. (Do not do this if you can avoid it.)

The English professor, doing his job, had the students the first time, read and discuss two of my short stories BEFORE I GOT THERE.

So two of my stories were deconstructed by fifteen graduate English department students.

So I arrive, talk some about what it is like to be a freelance fiction writer, then the professor turns the discussion to my two stories they had read. And I started to get questions about how did I know to put in the second hidden meaning of the story, or the foreshadowing of an upcoming event, or… or… or…

They all knew far, far more about those two stories than I did.

Honestly, I could barely remember the stories, and I had no idea I had even put in all that extra stuff they were all so impressed by.

And the reason I couldn’t remember is that my subconscious, my creative brain put all that in. My critical, conscious brain had nothing at all to do with it.

I had just let my creative brain tell a story.

Nothing more.

The problem was that for weeks after that first time into that class, I couldn’t get all that crap back out of my head. I found myself wondering about second meanings, about subplots, about foreshadowing all those other English class terms. Froze me down completely until I got past it.

Let me be clear here. My critical brain is not smart enough to put all that stuff in. Luckily for me, my creative brain seems to be smart enough if I get my critical brain out of the way and let it.

But getting that stupid critical brain out of the way is the key problem.

 

Breaking Out of the Taught Problem

All of us go into writing novels with all the training of thinking we need to know all that stuff about subplots, foreshadowing, sub-meanings, and so on. Thinking about it, I find it amazing that with the training we get, any novel gets written at all.

Or that any writer even gets started writing.

And outlining seems to be the logical process when faced with all that. In fact, outlining would be the only way to let the critical brain even pretend to be smart.

When I started writing solidly, novels seemed flat impossible. I could manage a short story in an afternoon, but anything beyond that was a concrete wall of paralyzing fear.

So how did I break out of the problem of everything I had been taught?

I used to own a bookstore. One fine slow afternoon, I was sitting in the front room of my bookstore and I looked around at all the books in the room. And I had a realization that in hindsight sounds damn silly.

I realized that people, regular people, wrote all those books.

And what all those regular people did was just sit down and tell a story.

They were entertainers.

That simple.

It was no magic process that only really special English-department-anointed people could do. And if all those regular people with all those books covering the walls of my bookstore could do it, then I could do it as well.

So I looked at how I felt writing short stories.

At that point I just wrote a story and stopped when the story was over. Nothing more fancy. I figured I could do that with a novel as well.

So after that realization, over the next few years I started five or six novels and got stuck at the 1/3 point where I could no longer fight the critical voice into submission. I had no tools to fight the critical voice at that point in time, to be honest.

So two years after that realization, mad at myself for not finishing a novel and making novels into something “important” instead of just fun entertaining stories, I sat down at my trusty typewriter and only thought about writing ten pages a day.

I had no outline, nothing. My focus was on finishing ten pages.

Period.

Thirty days later I had finished an 80,000 word novel.

My first written novel.

The next day, I started into a second novel, doing ten pages a day again.

I powered my way through the need, the belief, the fear of doing a novel the way it “should” be done.

And never ever had that fear again. I had other fears, sure, but not that one.

Every long-term novel writer has some story of getting past the need for major outlines, for major planning. A lot of younger professionals are still banging out outlines and following them.

Again, no right way.

But eventually, if you are going to be around for a long time and writing, you need to feed the reader part of your brain and just write for fun.

Otherwise, knowing the ending of a novel, having it all figured out ahead of time is just too dull and boring and way too much work.

 

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Writing into the Dark: Year 2, Month 9, Day 8


Year 2, Month 9, Day 8 of this Writing in Public challenge.

Day two of writing the novel HEAVEN PAINTED AS A FREE MEAL: A Ghost of a Chance Novel

Just keeping on with both books today.

Got out of here to run errands around 3:30 p.m., hit the snail mail, a bank, then a grocery store before heading back to WMG Publishing offices.

I ended up doing a cover for the next Smith’s Monthly and Allyson did a cover for the new serial novel that will be in Smith’s Monthly starting with #18, which should be headed out this next week. Seventeen is out and the paper copies are going out, so we’re getting this back on track. It will take a month or two to get fully back on track with the dates.

I managed to get home around 7 p.m., took a nap, dinner, dishes, and then in here to write a chapter of the Writing into the Dark book. The first chapter is sort of short that is up tonight, but the second chapter, which is done as well is much longer and will be here tomorrow night.

Then Kris and I headed to watch The Voice. Got back in here around 1 a.m.

Instead of the normal sounds of the ocean surf through my office window, it was the slamming of heavy equipment, the beep-beep-beep of trucks and equipment backing up. A couple times my tee cup was shaking the slamming was so intense.

Seems construction on the highway down below is better all night long. Now at 5 a.m. is has stopped.

Managed to get 2,750 words done in two sessions with a break. Novel is starting nicely.

Topic of the night is the chapter of the writing book.

——————

Writing of the novel Heaven Painted as a Free Meal

Day 1… 2,550 words… Total so far on the book… 2,550 words
Day 2… 2,750 words… Total so far on the book… 5,300 words

——————

Totals For Year 2, Month 9, Day 8

— Daily Fiction: 2,750 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 15,400 words  

— Nonfiction: 1,200 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 4,900 words

— Blog Posts: 400 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 4,500 words

— E-mail: 14 e-mails. Approx. 300 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 178 e-mails. Approx. 5,400 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 1. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers

For projects finished in the first year and links to the posts, click on the Writing in Public tab above.

For projects finished this month and where you can read them, click continue reading below.

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more in March and getting it all caught up. And for those who have been along from the start, hold on, almost ready to get this all off the ground. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

Oo4th_patreon_name


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