To Be or Not To Be

Howdy folks,

This is yet another in the “out of the series” series of mid-term posts that might answer a few questions for some of you.

Recently a friend and fellow writer asked me for a recommendation of someone who could read his work. He explained that he wasn’t looking for an edit or even a proofread, but simply wanted someone to read it with an eye toward whether he should continue writing or shuck the whole thing as a horrible experiment gone wrong.

Okay, he wasn’t nearly that melodramatic, but you get the point. And you’ve probably asked a similar question at one time or another yourself. I know I did, many many many years ago.

We all want validation of our work, but you know that old saw about writing being a solitary endeavor? It’s true. And it should be true. If you’re submitting your work for critique to people who are no more experienced than you are, and if you’re listening to their recommendations, you’re writing by committee. And nothing—absolutely nothing EVER—good has come out of writing by committee. Just to get that out of the way early.

We used to get validation from a publisher. Many of you are still chasing traditional publishers and/or agents despite the fact that traditional publishing is currently issuing the worst contracts in the history of publishing. (Note: Don’t take my word for it. Ask your chosen agent or traditional publisher how soon, per their contract, all rights revert to the author after initial print publication of the book. The answer is simple: Never (or long enough that it might as well be never).

But even back in the bad old days when traditional publishers treated writers somewhat fairly and ruled the roost, what one publisher absolutely hated, another publisher loved. So your “validation” didn’t come necessarily as a result of your skill as a writer. It came as a result of having submitted your work to the right publisher.

Today is no different. Today we get our validation straight from the reader. If you write stuff that’s good, readers will like it, buy it, and tell other readers. If you don’t, well, leave it out there. Eventually the readers who like what you’ve written will surface for air.

Yeah, I know. That isn’t really what my friend was asking. He was asking whether I or someone I would recommend could read his work and then tell him, honestly and point blank, whether to keep his day job. Okay, first, if you have a day job and you’re writing around it, keep your day job. You might sell ten thousand copies of your novel this month and only six copies next month. Yes, it works like that.

Okay, this is “yeah I know,” part deaux. What my friend REALLY wanted to know is whether his work was worthwhile. And you know what? Nobody else can tell you that.

This isn’t a copout. Seriously, only YOU can prevent forest fires and only YOU can decide whether you should continue writing (and learning) and writing some more. Only you. Nobody else.

The Truth is, the only lasting worth that can ever be attached to writing (both the act and the product) is up to the writer himself or herself.

Basically, ask yourself this:

  1. Do you enjoy writing?
  2. Is writing a joyful thing for you?
  3. Is the pure unadulterated (or maybe adulterated, I don’t know) joy you derive from writing and stretching the truth and telling stories worth the time it takes to continue?

Only YOU know the answer. Just like you know that’s actually only one question. If the answer is yes, then write.

If the answer is no or nope or huhuh or nuhuh or hell no or areyoukiddin’me or anything else like that, then ohdeargawd by all means please find something to do that you actually enjoy doing and, you know, go do that.

There’s one other thing you can ask yourself, and for me personally this is a biggie. Is your goal to write, or is your goal to be published and make money?

If your goal is to write, then it’s all right to have those other goals too (publication and money). But if you think you’re gonna slap together a few short stories or even a few novels and find yourself rolling in it… well, you might be rolling in it, but it won’t be money.

I write what I want to read. As I write my short stories and novels, I’m constantly amazed at some of the things the characters say and some of the places they take me and some of the situations they get into. Not to mention how they get out of those situations. It’s an incredible experience, and I am awed by it.

Fortunately, I also find it a massive amount of fun. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a writer. I’d do something I enjoy.

‘Til next time,

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

Defining “A Huge Amount of Time”

Hi Folks,

Well, here we are with another post that isn’t part of the usual series. Still, even with these that are not part of the normal series, I try to pass along what I’ve learned as a writer.

This post is the result of an email I received in response to a recent short story of the week. The respondent (also a writer) writes,

[H]ow do you manage to get all these  stories edited?  Congratulations on your many stories…wow, one a week- sort of takes a huge amount of time.

I didn’t respond to him as thoroughly as I wanted to or probably should have, but I’ve grown a bit gun shy recently.

What I did tell him is that I send the stories to a first reader and then publish them. I told him I follow Heinlein’s Rules and that I follow a process called Writing Into the Dark. I said like Bradbury, I believe “plot” is what the characters leave behind as they run through the story. And finally I said I write about 1000 words per hour so writing a short story per week really doesn’t take up all that much time.

Then I got to thinking, I kind of enjoy writing these little interim posts, the ones that appear between the posts in the normal ten-day rotation, so why not write one about this and expand on my answer to him? After all, if even one writer out there gets an aha moment from it, that will be great for that one writer.

For the majority, who will think this is all hooey or that Heinlein’s Rules can’t possibly work for anyone but SF writers or whatever, well, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to help them anyway. They’ll have to just keep doing what they’re doing, and that’s fine with me.

But for that one guy, that one woman, for whom the little light might come on, here’s what I should have written in response to the gentleman’s email:

I don’t have the stories edited, per se. I do have a first reader (and copy editor) read over them and look for inconsistencies, wrong words (e.g. waist vs. waste), etc. but nothing else. The cost of the copy edit, like the cost of the cover and the time involved in writing the story, is an investment. Whatever that total cost is, that’s all I’m ever going to put into it. Yet the story will earn income for me and my heirs from the time I publish it until 70 years after I die.

If it costs you $150 (time writing plus cover plus edit) to publish a story, and you make only $15 per year on that story from all sales venues, that’s a ten percent Return On Investment. Not too shabby. And if you’re smart you publish every short story on its own plus in a five-story collection plus in a ten-story collection. So for every story I write, I have three streams of revenue.

So here’s what I do. Per Heinlein’s Rules,

  1. You must write. (I write.)
  2. You must finish what you write. (I finish what I write.)
  3. You must not rewrite except to editorial order, and then only if you agree. (I don’t rewrite.)
  4. You must put your work on the market. (I publish what I write so readers can buy it.)
  5. You must keep your work on the market. (I keep it published so more writers can buy it.)

Writing a short story per week isn’t a problem for me because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Does it take some time? Yes. About one hour per 1000 words plus an hour to design a cover and publish it. But what else am I gonna do? I’m a writer. Writers write.

Would you say to a mechanic, “Man, you put in one carburetor per week? That must sort of take a huge amount of time.” If he’s a mechanic, what else is he gonna do?

As I also told my respondent, writing a story per week isn’t a problem. The problem is having to stop working on the current novel to write the story. Over the first 15 days of March 2015, I wrote 30,852 new words of fiction. That’s only a little over 2000 words per day, so right at 2 hours per day.

From January 1, 2015 through March 15, 2015 (so 74 days), I’ve written 172,354 words of new fiction. Still, that’s only 2329 words per day. That’s less than 3 hours per day. I’m currently working on two novels. For those of you who have read the Wes Crowley series (Leaving Amarillo, Longing for Mexico, and South to Mexico), I’m currently writing a prequel to Leaving Amarillo and a sequel to South to Mexico. It’s absolutely the greatest fun I’ve ever had.

I mentioned earlier I write about 1000 words per hour. If that seems like a lot, divide it by 60. You’ll find that 1000 words per hour is only 17 words per minute. Can you write 17 words in a minute?

Now, my respondent was impressed that I write a short story per week. He said it “sort of takes a huge amount of time.” But I’m a writer. Why do folks—and especially other writers—find it unusual that I want to (or can) Just Do My Job (write) three or four or five hours per day? Is that really “a huge amount of time”? Not if you’re a writer.

Life is all about priorities, and we each set our own. I mean, if you have other things in your life that are more important to you than writing, then spending three hours per day writing probably would seem like a lot of time to you. But to me, walking along the beach for three hours would seem a horrible waste of time. Watching TV for more than about an hour per day would be excruciating.

I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else than writing, because I’m a writer and writing is my priority.

Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I love to write. It’s all I do.” I can relate. At one point during his career, Bradbury was writing a short story every day.

More than one time during his long career, Harlan Ellison set up a small desk and a chair and typewriter in the display window of a department store and wrote stories “live.” As he rolled a completed sheet of paper out of the typewriter, he’d tape it to the window so people outside could read the story as he was writing it.

Writers write. That’s all. Writers write.

If you want to be a prolific writer (if you want to make your living as a writer) you don’t have to write  garbage, and you don’t have to be a “hack” writer. You just have to put the hours in the chair.

What you do have to do is stop rewriting and polishing your original voice off everything you write. Follow Heinlein’s Rules. And instead of being the great Writer God On High directing the little characters, step down off your pedestal and run through the story WITH them. Enjoy.

I promise, it will be the most fun you’ve ever had.

Harvey

PS: If you’d like to learn some of these techniques and you live in or near Tucson, I’m teaching what will probably be the final presentation of Writing the Character Driven Story in Tucson on Saturday, March 28. We’ll begin at 9 a.m. and go all day. If you want in, email me pronto and I’ll send the rest of the info. I have only a couple of slots left.

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

On Being Selfish

Hey Folks,

This is another “extra” post, not part of the regular 10-day cycle.

If I could assume the attitude of any other writer, it would be that of Ray Bradbury. There are a lot of quotations about him and from him, but the one biggie I always associate with him is, “I love to write. It’s all I do.”

It’s very easy for me to allow myself to slip into living in the past. Had I found Heinlein’s Rules and WITD (Writing Into the Dark, such a simple, freeing technique) when I was in high school, I probably would never have done anything else in my life. What a wonderful life that would have been.

But as Charlie Task keeps reminding me, all I can do is make the most of the present. It is what it is.

Still, there are some things for which I’m grateful. Chief among them is that I’m very glad I don’t still carry around the illusion of immortality that comes with youth.

A friend recently reminded me that fifteen years ago last month (February), I was recuperating from The Ross Procedure, an operation during which my aortic and pulmonic valves were replaced. If you like medical stuff and science, look it up. It’s interesting.

Of course, me being who I am, the surgery, which should have taken 4.5 hours, took 7.5 instead. And afterward I coded. I laugh and tell people I died three times that day. Twice my heart was stopped and my body temp lowered to facilitate the operation. The third time probably my spirit stepped out for a look around. Or maybe a sip of Jameson’s.

That is when I learned I wasn’t immortal, and it brought with it a lesson on the value of time. And that lesson is why I’m glad I don’t still carry around the illusion of immortality. I know how important priorities are, and there is zero ambiguity in my life regarding my priorities.

Well, for whatever reason, I didn’t find Heinlein’s Rules and WITD in my early youth. But you would think Fate would have allowed me to stumble across them in February 2000, right? That would have been perfect, finding those gems at the same time I learned the true value of time.

Just think. That would have been fifteen more years that I would have been turning out my own work rather than trying to teach others how to write. Let’s see. At six novels per year (minimum) and one short story per week, that would have been 90 novels and 780 short stories. Not a bad body of work.

But it is what it is.

I didn’t find Heinlein’s Business Rules for Writers or the WITD technique until February 2014, a year ago as I write this. I didn’t start using them until mid-April 2014, and even then I was still glued to the notion that I could help other writers.

I started sawing on the umbilical cord in August, and finally, finally, I cut them adrift in October. Between late October and the end of December, I wrote three novels. That’s in addition to writing at least one short story per week since April 15. As you read this, that challege will end in six weeks. Maybe. I might keep the streak alive.

If I keep my one-story-per-week streak going at least until then, I will have written 59 short stories in that 52 weeks. Plus the three novels. Plus a novella. And I published all of those stories individually and in 13 collections.

I’m not bragging here. I’m just saying, like everybody else who has to put up with living in a mortal shell, I don’t get a redo. But that’s all right, because now I know the value of time and that life is a matter of priorities. And of course, like everyone else, I set my own priorities.

Is that selfish of me? Sure. Absolutely. But it is what it is.

Now, at long last, I can say, “I love to write. It’s all I do.” If you’re a writer, I wish the same for you.

Harvey

If you’d care to learn about Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark yourself, visit the Audio Lectures tab on my website and look at Lecture 12.

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

A Few Guidelines for Writers

Hi Folks,

The guidelines below are truisms, facts, not opinions. They will work for hobby writers, part-time writers and professional writers. If you are not a writer or if you believe you have to “suffer” for your art or any of that, they won’t work for you. Note: I’m all about intentions and facts, not perceptions. If you disagree with any or all of this post, please don’t email me. I’ll just smile, shrug and say, “Okay.”

To the Important Stuff

A writer is a person who writes, who puts new words on the page. It’s a person who loves to tell stories in written communication. There’s nothing elevated about it, nothing special except that you get to spend your life making up stuff for a living. If that definition fits you, or if you WANT that definition to fit you, here are a few guidelines that might help.

  • Your conscious critical mind exists to protect you. Like the benevolent android in Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands,” it’s sole function is to keep you from being harmed… even by rejection. That’s why it’s so much easier to spend all your time rewriting and polishing instead of moving forward and writing the next story. No risk of rejection as long as you’re rewriting.
  • Your subconscious creative mind is the source of all your inspiration, all your story ideas, and all your stories. If you get out of your own way and trust your subconscious, you will write in your own original voice. Then your only challenge is to NOT go back and rewrite and polish until you’ve erased your voice and made your story sound like everything else in the slush pile.
  • Everything in life is a matter of priorities. My critical mind often will use that to attempt to “save me” from writing. When I’m about to write, suddenly doing something else (anything else) becomes a priority. And I shake my index finger at my critical mind. No! BAD critical mind! Get back in your corner and leave me alone! My creative mind has stories to write! I wanna run and play with my fictional friends now. You get the idea.
  • Productivity is what I’m all about as a writer. The more work I put out there, the more I practice my writing, the better it becomes. Also the more books and stories I have to feed off of each other and the more income I receive from my writing. Period. This is the same reason every time I get five new stories I slap them into a collection in both ebook and paper. When I get ten, I put them in another collection. That gives me three streams of passive revenue from every story I write. Can you say Ka-ching?
  • Productivity can be reduced to mathematics, and math is a concrete, finite thing. Here’s the equation: P = PW/h(H). Or Productivity equals publishable words you can write per hour times the number of hours you spend in the chair putting new words on the page. If you want to increase your productivity, you have to increase one of those two factors.
  • Words per hour… Truly, this is a biggie. I write about 1000 publishable words per hour. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But if you’re writing 1000 words per hour, that’s only 17 words per minute. Think about that. Writing 1000 words per hour gives you a LOT of time for staring off into space. If you’re getting less than 700 or 800 words per hour, you might want to check in with yourself and figure out what you’re doing during that hour. You can safely bet it’s linked to your critical mind. Seriously. Don’t tell me or anyone else about it if you don’t want to (it’s nobody’s business but your own anyway), but if you’re serious about being a professional writer, Fix It. If you aren’t, of course, no biggie.

A little more on that… a lot of us took typing in high school. My best rate was 60 mostly error-free words per minute. Extrapolated out, that’s 3600 words per hour. Do I expect to be able to write 3600 words per hour? Of course not. But it kind’a makes that 1000 words per hour seem really do-able. You can look back and punch in your own figures.

Oh, as an addendum, N-E-V-E-R write “crap” intentionally. That you “should” write crap the first time through is just the dumbest advice ever. Do the best you can on the first time through, spell check it, then have a first reader check it for consistency and errors (no writing advice!). Then publish it. Then write the next story. (Again, if you disagree, please don’t email me. Just go ahead and do what you want.)

If you’re wondering about how to price print books, here’s the gist:

Don’t devalue your work. Just don’t. I did that for years. No more.

Set your list price so you make at least $2 on Extended Distribution, the royalty you receive after everybody (Baker & Taylor, Ingram, the other smaller distributors, bookstores) takes their cut. No matter which printer you use (I use CreateSpace) there’s a nifty free royalty calculator at https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/#content6:royaltyCalculator. I strongly recommend you bookmark it or whatever you call it.

On all vendors (Amazon, B&N, et al) the print price and the ebook price are linked. At the worst, you won’t sell many print books but the price of your print book will drive readers to buy your ebooks.

Okay, there y’go. Writing is fun. You just have to get out of your own way.

‘Til next time, happy writing, or whatever you do for fun.

Okay, starting on March 11 I’m going to put up my Microsoft Word for Writers series of posts. If you are mystified by all the bells and whistles on Microsoft Word, stay tuned. If you know someone who is, ask them to subscribe. After all, it’s free unless you decide to drop a little something in the tip jar. 🙂

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

 

A Note on the Creative Process

Hey Folks,

Back in mid-December 2014 a friend wrote in a private blog post that a non-writing creative project she was working on “would go faster if I didn’t keep redesigning it.”

For me, that sounded like her subconscious popping up to slap her around a little.

Like me, she’s a proponent and practitioner of just writing off into the dark. That is, we Just Write, allowing the characters to lead us into and out of situations as they race through the story.

But sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes our critical conscious mind creeps in and tries to “save” us from making a mistake. It tells us to figure out what’s going to happen next and what direction the story is going to take and on and on and on.

Just yesterday  (as I write this) I was ready to throw in the towel on the third novel in the Wes Crowley series. I was tempted to either slap an end on it and call it a novella or just stop writing it until I Figured Out Where It Was Going. And therein lay the battle: if I’m trusting my subconscious, I don’t even WANT to know where it’s going. The great Ray Bradbury himself once said (I’m paraphrasing) that nothing literary was ever created as the result of thought. But sometimes I slip. Remember, I’ve only been at this Writing Into the Dark stuff a little less than a year.

So anyway, I don’t WANT to know where my story’s going when I’m writing. When I have no clue where the story’s going, it and I are 8 or 10 years old, fresh and alive and laughing and racing through the woods naked and it’s FUN.

But when I have the story all planned out or when I otherwise keep forcing it, the the story is trudging through the woods before me at the point of my Almighty Writer’s sword, its hands cuffed behind its back, a prisoner of my conscious, critical mind. And oh yes, it WILL damned sure do what I tell it to do or else.

Sigh… folks, despite all the crap you hear pouring out of the mouths of teachers and critiquers and agents and other non-writers, the truth is, Writing is supposed to be fun, not drudgery. But when it’s all planned out as in the paragraph above, I might just as well stop, force the story to dig its own grave, and then run it through with that Almighty Writer’s sword to bring the misery to an end for both of us, because THAT is when writing is drudgery.

Now I’m gonna get back to writing my novel. 🙂 And my story of the week. 🙂 And a bunch of other stuff.

Update: As this posts, I finished the novel (and the series) and an unrelated novella and a few more short stories. 🙂 My streak continues of writing at least one new short story per week.

‘Til next time, happy, drudgery-free writing!

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into
Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

Length of Various Fiction Forms

Hey Folks,

Recently I’ve been asked more than once the length of the various forms of fiction. Yawwwn. Stretch. Sigh. Okay, this is one of those “wrapped around the wheel” things that’s great for personal use if you don’t obsess over it. The answer is, it depends on whom you ask.

For example, although some major magazines (Asimov’s springs to mind) publish both novelettes and novellas, most definitions online consider those two terms interchangeable. But you asked me, so here’s my take in a handy-dandy put-it-on-your-metal-filing-cabinet-under-a-magnet list.

Pssst! Seriously, if you still have a filing cabinet, especially one of the old metal ones, there’s a new thing out: computers. Check into it. ‘Course, you can’t stick stuff to it with a magnet (don’t try; you’ll screw up your screen) but still. I’m just sayin’.

Note that every form on this list denotes a complete story, meaning by definition it has a setting, character(s), conflict(s) and resolution:

  • 6 to 99 words — Flash Fiction (“For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”)
  • 100 to 1,999 — Short Short Story (Short Short)
  • 2,000 to 6,999 — Short Story
  • 7,000 to 9,999 — Long Short Story (or Novelette)
  • 10,000 to 19,999 — Novella
  • 20,000 to 39,999 — Short Novel
  • 40,000 to 69,999 — Novel
  • 70,000 + — Long Novel

Just in case you have it in mind to ask something like,

“Wull, what about the vignette there, moron? You left out the vignette. Whaddayou, stoopid or somethin’?”

“No, I ain’t stoopid. Maybe you’re stoopid an’ yer projectin’ all your stoopid on me. J’ever thinka that?”

Sorry, got carried away there. Actually, my omission of the vignette from the list was intentional. Also called a “slice of life,” the vignette typically is fiction told from a single POV, but it has no predetermined word range. It is defined by its lack of a resolution (and in some cases, its lack of a conflict that needs to be resolved). So there.

Again, these are just my definitions for my own use, submitted for your amusement. If I were publishing a magazine, probably these are the lengths I would use to determine which label to slap on which accepted submission. But I’m not.

Trust me, I’ll never go back into THAT particular brand of insanity. I have plenty to do just publishing my own stuff plus the works of Eric Stringer, Nick Porter, and Gervasio Arrancado.

Anyway, if your definitions are different, that’s fine. No need to correspond for the sake of argument. I really don’t care. 🙂 These are not things any writer should worry about before writing or during the process or even after the writing process for that matter. Just Write.

Harvey

Let’s Go Streaking

Hi Folks,

First, Happy New Year! I hope it’s perfect for you. If you’re a writer, there’s no better time than right now to go streaking. (grin)

No wait… I mean, you know, there’s no better time to begin a new streak.

Nah, I’m not talking about taking off all your clothes and racing around in public. Seriously, nobody wants to see that. I’m talking about eating an elephant.

Remember the old (very wise) joke? Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.

When you set a goal and that goal is huge (say you want to write a novel in the next six months), it can seem overwhelming, like eating an elephant. So you have to break it down into manageable bites. That would be smaller goals.

First, I recommend figuring out how many publishable words of fiction you write per hour. (Most pro writers seem to write around 700 to 1000 words per hours.)

Now, how many words do you think your novel will be? Let’s say 60,000.

How many weekdays are there in six months? (To make it easy, let’s give each month 4 weeks. So that would be 24 weeks in six months, and 120 weekdays. Okay, now divide your elephant into bite-size pieces. If your novel will be 60,000 words, you’ll want to write at least 500 words per day. That’s it. Weekends off, and you’re working at your “job” (can you really call sitting at a computer making stuff up work?) only about a half-hour per day. Hmmm…. okay, so maybe you could write TWO novels in that six months. 🙂 But I digress. This is supposed to be about streaks.

Okay, you know now what you have to do if you want to write that 60,000 word novel in six months. So now you make those bites a goal. And it’s not only a goal, but a goal that re-sets itself:

Goal: I will write at least 2500 words of fiction per week. There you go. Now you have a goal that resets every week. See how many weeks you an go without breaking your streak, writing 2500 words per day of new, publisable fiction. Want to break it down further?

Goal: I will write at least 500 words of fiction per day, five days per week. Bam! Just like that, you have a goal that resets every time you get out of bed. In other words, you have the potential for a streak! See how many weekdays you can go without breaking your streak.

I’m telling you, Streaks Have Power. Once you start a streak, the longer it lasts, the harder it is to break.

But if you do miss a day, then what? Do you have to make it up by writing an extra 500 words the next day? No. I mean, that would keep you on track for the larger weekly goal, but no, you don’t have to. Because the goal re-sets every day. If you miss a day, you can just skip it and start over on the next day.

Likewise for the next level up: If one week you write only 2350 words instead of 2500, do you have to make up the missing words the following week? Well, I’m anal, so I would, but no, you don’t have to. You gave it your best shot, so forget it. This goal, too, resets at the beginning of each week.

The point is, follow Heinlein’s Rules and Just Write. Keep moving your fiction forward. Write the scene, write the next sentence and keep moving your fiction forward.

It’s all up to you. If you’re a writer, you have to write.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

An Essential Tip: Just Write the Scene

A long while back, I posted that if you’re writing and you get bogged down, you should just write the next sentence, then write the next sentence, and so on. Soon you’ll be back in the flow of your story and you can forge ahead. There’s one proviso—that “next sentence” should come directly from your subconscious (creative) mind. In other words, you shouldn’t force it and think about it and make it read just so. You should literally JUST write the next logical sentence.

Well, sometimes when I get stuck, my fingers are poised on the keyboard, all ready to write the next sentence and— the next sentence doesn’t come. Oh crap! What now?

Sometimes you aren’t stuck. Sometimes you’re in the wrong place. Sometimes you’re trying to make something happen (conscious, critical mind) that isn’t part of the story. Remember, the real story is coming out of your subconscious mind, your creative mind.

A few days ago I found myself in exactly that situation. I had written a long (over 1800 words) but very terse opening scene. At the end of that scene, I tried to write a transition and then another scene. (“Tried” is the operative word here. When you “try,” that’s your critical mind. Ugh.) Nothing doing. There was no next sentence.

So I sat back for a moment, released all the conscious, critical mind “try” stuff that I was trying to force on the story. Then I leaned forward, put my fingers on the keyboard, and wrote the first thing that came to mind. A new scene sprang onto the page. When I felt I might bog down again, I just wrote the next sentence, wrote the next sentence. This time it worked fine. I was back in sync, allowing my subconscious creative mind to tell the story it wanted to tell. My fingers barely stopped moving for another 1892 words. Then they slammed to a stop.

Can’t fool me twice, at least not in the same story. I got up, moved around, got a glass of water and came back to the story. I put my fingers on the keyboard, wrote the first thing that came to mind, and again a new scene flew across the page. Yep, just like that. This scene was only 581 words. This time I already knew what the next scene would be, so I added a section divider (for me that’s a series of three centered, spaced asterisks) and started the next scene: that one isn’t finished yet, and it’s just under 1,000 words.

I probably will finish this story a little later today (as I write this post, October 23, 2014). First historical western I’ve written since I was a kid. These days my primary interest is in writing psychological suspense (like horror, but no slash and gash). My secondary is science fiction. My third is magic realism. Historical westerns aren’t anywhere on my list of priorities, but this is the story that wanted to be written, so this is the story I’m writing. Cool, eh?

UPDATE: If you’re signed up for my story-a-week blog over on Harvey Stanbrough & Friends you probably read it back on October 23. It was titled Adobe Walls. If you enjoy westerns, I’ve since written a second western short story based on my novels: Last Raid on Amarillo. For a few more days you can read it free at the blog.

When you get stuck in your writing, Let Go and just write the next sentence. If it won’t come, write the next scene:

  1. To begin a scene, write whatever comes.
  2. To get through the scene, write the next sentence, then write the next sentence, then write the next sentence. Don’t think about where it’s all going or even about the second or third sentence: Just write the next sentence.
  3. When you’re writing a scene, don’t worry about how it connects to other scenes. Just focus on that scene.
  4. When the scene ends, write whatever comes for the next scene (or for another scene), then write the next sentence, etc.
  5. Your character(s) will lead you to where you need to be.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

A Bit More on Goals

First, a public service announcement, especially for avid readers: if you’re going to be in or near Green Valley on December 6, I hope you’ll stop by to see me and a lot of other local and regional authors at the annual Meet the Authors Book Fair. That’s next Saturday, December 6, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Desert Hills Lutheran Church at 2150 South Camino Del Sol in Green Valley.

I’ll have my new novel, Leaving Amarillo, as well as thirteen collections of short fiction and my two popular nonfiction books on writing. Stop by!

Some points about the Meet the Authors Book Fair:

  • Admission is free
  • WiFi is available
  • There will be author readings in a small adjacent room

Again, the venue is located at 2150 South Camino Del Sol in Green Valley.

Here’s a Google Map of the location.

Hope to see you there!

Okay, last time up I talked about goals.

When I first set my goal to write a short story per week for a year (back in mid-April) I was about half-terrified. I didn’t realize yet that the world wouldn’t end if I missed, and I hadn’t even considered yet that the goal would merely re-set, meaning even if I missed a week, so what? I still had to write a new story for the current week.

Once I learned to trust my subconscious to tell the story (what Dean Wesley Smith calls writing into the dark) and once I realized nothing bad would happen if I missed a week, the goal gently shifted from a severe, “whaddayou, nuts?” kind of challenge all the way down to FUN.

That’s right, fun.

I no longer doubt that I’ll write a short story per week for a year. Once I let go of the fear, I was free to just run outside and play with all my little fictional friends. And that is SO much better than all the crap I occasionally hear about writing being “drudgery” and all that. 🙂

So I still have the ongoing “challenge” of writing a short story every week for a year, but I also have set a goal of writing at least four hours per day (fiction… not counting any nonfiction, not counting emails or blog posts) at least five days per week. Can I do that? Yep. Easily. As I’ve said many times in this series and elsewhere, it’s all a matter of priorities. Now that I’m not editing and formatting and creating (beautiful) covers for Other People’s Stuff, my days are my own.

For those of you who automatically think writing four hours per day is a monstrous and probably un-doable goal, tell me: if you have a day job (or if you’re retired, back when you had a day job), are (or were) you able to go to your job and do it at least four hours per day, five days per week? Of course. In fact, you probably spent 8 or 9 or 12 hours per day at least five days per week.

Writing fiction is my job now. (Yeah, that’s right. My “job” is sitting at a computer, making up stories. Score!) If I call myself a writer, shouldn’t I be able t0 “work” at my job four lousy hours per day? Kind’a puts things in a whole new perspective, doesn’t it? 🙂

So is writing your job too? If you answered yes, maybe you should set a goal or two. 🙂 If you need help in that regard, I’m more than happy to respond to emails or to comments left in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Back next time.

Harvey

A Few Resources and Goal Setting

Hey Folks,

A few strong resources—

If you’re serious about your work as a writer, check these out:

http://deanwesleysmith.com—The resource-rich website of Dean Wesley Smith, my own unintentional mentor and one of the most prolific writers in America. While you’re there, check out the Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing tabs. I also recommend checking out his Online Workshops tab and his Lecture Series tab. Also while you’re there, remember that this guy has published hundreds of novels and several hundred short stories. His wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, has done likewise. Seriously, would you rather “learn” from the peers in your critique group, or would you rather learn from someone who’s highly successful. (Hands raised, palms out: I don’t mean me. I’m not teaching anymore.)

Chuck Wendig’s blogAnother resource-rich website. Chuck regularly offers his books in bundles. I recently bought a bundle of seven for only $20, and they’re full of actual TRUE information about writing. Not the lying, worthless, even harmful stuff that’s in most how-to books for writers. I could name names but, you know, I’m a good guy. Besides, frankly, if you believe that stuff, you deserve the ensuing wasted years. WARNING: Chuck Wendig uses strong language with remarkable regularity. If you’re offended by such language, you might want to avoid this website.

Harvey Stanbrough’s Audio Lecture SeriesThis is for those of you who always meant to get to my seminars when I was teaching them live but didn’t for whatever reason. Well, that extended period of insanity is over, and I’m getting better, thanks. Now I offer the same excellent instruction online so “them as want it can take it and them as don’t can leave ‘er be.” No more need for excuses. 🙂 If you want honest, nuts-and-bolts instruction that you can apply to your writing immediately, you want these lectures. (I recommend starting with Narrative. It’s chock full of good stuff.) There’s no fluff in these lectures. It’s all meat. Or if you’re a vegetarian, it’s all peas and carrots. Okay, unprocessed peas and carrots. Sheesh. Whatever. Even if you been to my seminars, I strongly recommend my Writing Into the Dark lecture. Same link, scroll down to Lecture 12. More coming soon on Employing the Persona, Smart Self-Publishing, and maybe even Writing the Character-Driven Short Story. Maybe. I’m REALLY enjoying writing fiction. 🙂

Finally, on My Main Website, browse the right sidebar under Writers’ Resources. Seriously, there’s a lot of great stuff there. Go. Browse.

Goal Setting

Last time I defined the different types of writers. Only you know where you fit among those definitions. If you’re actually a writer (a person who writes, who regularly puts new words on the page) or a serious aspirant (that’s almost an oxymoron), set a goal for yourself. Then announce it to your friends and family.

If you do this, it will drive you to your writing computer and you’ll actually put new words on the page. In other words, you will actually BE a writer.

Can you revise or adjust goals once they’re set? Of course. Remember, they’re only artificial boundaries. We set goals to help ourselves achieve what we want to achieve. When setting your goals, bear in mind the term “realistic.” Make your goals realistic.

For example, I want to write a novel. Is a novel just a story that doesn’t end really soon? I don’t know. I haven’t written one yet and I haven’t studied enough yet to know that. But I’m taking a six-week online workshop beginning November 5 that will help me know that, so I will set a novel-per goal soon. UPDATE: By the time I got around to publishing this blog, I’d finished my first novel. It’s the one I talked about in the previous post. So woohoo! 🙂

In the meantime, I still also have the recurring goal I set back on April 16: to write and publish at least one new short story per week for a year. So this is both a recurring goal (the goal re-sets every week) and a long-term goal (one story per week for a year). I haven’t missed yet.

But what happens if I do miss one week? Nothing.

The world won’t end. My friends won’t all send me Dear John letters. Deming NM won’t dry up and blow into Texas. Well, maybe, but that’ll be because of its position alongside the journada del muerte, not because I missed writing one stupid short story. And for the overall year, I still will have written FIFTY-ONE short stories. Not too shabby for an old guy learning new tricks. In fact, that’s a pretty good year, don’t you think?

Okay, so what’s stopping you? If you’re a writer, Get On With It.

Harvey