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!

 

On “Way” and “Process” and Other Stuff

Hi Folks,

This is a personal aside. It isn’t part of the regular series, which comes out every ten days. There’s some humor here, so I hope you’ll enjoy it. If you take it seriously… well, that’s a function of your perception of yourself, not my intent.

Here’s the thing: People keep talking about me having found “my way” to be a writer. Then most often they congratulate me, as if I’d been out in the Superstitions digging test holes for the past 40 years and finally, just last week, found my “way.”

For reasons I’ll discuss a little later in this post, the congratulations are neither warranted nor necessary. The first couple of times this happened, I even told the person something like, “Thanks, but congratulations are not necessary.” But it didn’t matter, see, ’cause the congrats weren’t sincere anyway. They were merely the prelude to the dressing down I was about to receive.

So right after the congrats, that’s when the insanity starts. My assailants usually begin by saying that although they’re happy for me (a lie), my “way” won’t necessarily work for anyone else (a lie) and pretty much everybody has to find their own “way” (a lie) so “Please stop giving me advice!”

What? Really? You want that someone who is successful at doing what you’re not successful at doing but allegedly want to be successful at doing should stop passing along time-honored lessons learned that he received from other highly successful people in the same field in which you currently attempting an ongoing endeavor?

Shrug. Okay. No problem.

Seriously, I don’t care. I’m not saying that because you hurt my feelings (you can’t) or offended me (again, you can’t unless you use a firearm or a knife or a really large stick). I’m saying I don’t care because I obviously wasted my time (and I don’t want to waste anymore) passing along those lessons to someone whom I thought wanted to learn about her chosen craft.

Totally my fault. I was wrong. I should have known better. Most wannabe writers are far too steeped in myths about writing to extricate themselves. You go on back to your twenty-third draft. I have a story to write and publish.

Sigh. I really do want to help, so sometimes I do say more. That’s an unfortunate side effect of “I have the knowledge to help” multiplied by “I’m stupid enough to try one more time.” And if I do say absolutely anything else about it at all, well, everything goes downhill from there.

I have to say folks, I am constantly incredulated (a victim, perhaps, of a medical condition called persistent incredulositis that I just made up) that this sort of thing happens so often. I honestly don’t understand why so many people take offense when I offer them writing advice. I mean, if you don’t want to accept it, don’t. After all, it’s worth precisely what you paid for it. If you don’t agree with it or if you don’t even want to try it for yourself, ignore it.

Oops. There I go giving you advice again. I can just hear it. “You can’t tell me what to do! I don’t have to ignore your advice unless I want to! You’re not the boss of me!” Perhaps I should have written, “Ignore it, or not, whatever you want to do.” Seriously, I couldn’t begin to care less. Here’s why.

In the first place, the advice I pass along is fact, not opinion. It isn’t something I made up. It’s what I’ve learned from other, very successful sources. Yet upon receiving such advice (after they asked) the pretentious avant-garde set leaps to their feet, points at me, and begins jumping up and down screaming,

“That’s YOUR way! You can’t force that on me! I have a right to my OWN way! I have to spend time contemplating my CREATIVE PROCESS and mulling over my CHOICES as a PERSON and I have the right to call myself a writer even if I don’t do it YOUR way which is, you know, to actually write stuff, and you have absolutely NO right to define “writer” for me because my definition is up to me and I’m never gonna do what you tell me to do no matter what you say, Hater!”

Then they slap their hands over their ears and jump up and down and run around in circles while screaming “La la la la la!” to shut out my voice. Wow. And we’re not even married.

Okay. Thing is, I didn’t find “my” way, okay? So please stop saying that. Now, people are different. If you personally feel you have to contemplate your “creative process” or find your particular “way” or any of that, great. Knock yourself out. But don’t include me in all that. Again, I didn’t find “my” way. What I found was Bradbury’s way and Heinlein’s way and the way of every long-term, highly productive professional fiction writer who ever lived: I write.

I don’t spend so much as a second contemplating my creative process, and I absolutely do not “give myself permission” to do anything, ever. I hasten to add, if you feel you have to go through all those machinations, that’s fine with me. I just write.

Oh, and I don’t accept advice on writing fiction from folks who are less productive than I. If you’re a priest and you want to describe what it’s like to be on your side of a confessional, that’s wonderful. If you’re a surgeon and you can fill me in on what it’s like to slice through those layers from the skin to the heart, that’s great. But if you’re a writer and you are less successful and productive than I, well, that would just be silly. It would be kind’a sort’a like accepting advice on driving a sixteen-wheeler across the country from a person who has only driven her Prius around the block once a day for the last thirty years.

Finally, I don’t offer advice on what I don’t know to be true. I just don’t. I also don’t claim to be what I’m not, although certainly what anyone else chooses to do in that regard is strictly up to them. I mean, if I called myself a mechanic or plumber or firefighter or lawyer or doctor or grocery store clerk, I would feel compelled to actually fix engines or plumb pipes or fight fires or practice law or practice medicine or spray water on vegetables. But I’m not any of those things.

I’m a writer. I write.

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 Tip and Resources for Writers of Short Fiction

Hi Folks,

Dean Wesley Smith is the professional long-term fiction writer whom I consider my mentor. He’s made his living with his fiction for over 3o years and has well over 100 novels published through traditional publishers. This is back before traditional publishers lost their minds and made their contracts completely one-sided.

I emailed Dean about my most recent (at the time, back in November, 2014) short story, “Saving the Grenlow”:

“Seriously doubt I’m up to Asimovs or any of that yet, but I did just post (yesterday) my latest short story of the week, an SF piece a little under 3,000 words based on one of our assignments in the SF workshop. I think you might like it if you get time to drop by.”

His reponse?

“Wow, Sheila [Williams, editor] would be angry if she read that. How dare you pre-edit her magazine for her? And it clearly hasn’t sunk in yet for you that writers are the worst judges of their own work. You are going to need to learn that and stop devaluing your work with false judgements.”

So there you go. As some of you know, I don’t usually “devalue” my own work. That particular time, the groveling just snuck up on me, probably because I was talking with my mentor. But his “How dare you pre-edit her magazine for her?” really hit me. Duh. Don’t devalue your own work with false judgments. Seriously.

Topic of the Day: Traditional Publishing for Short Fiction

Don’t misread this. I would NEVER advocate going the traditional publishing route with novels, not the way traditional publishers’ contracts read right now. Don’t take my word for it. Check ’em out for yourself. And when you read the part that says your book belongs to the publishing company until it goes “out of print,” remember that “print” now includes ebooks, which literally NEVER go out of print. Be careful out there.

On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making a quick few hundred dollars on a short story BEFORE self-publishing it to Amazon and Smashwords, right?

If any of you would like to find traditional short story markets that pay professional rates, DWS and another person in a workshop with me suggested checking these sites:

Duotrope at http://duotrope.com

The Grinder at http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/

Also, look for some of the big annual short story anthologies, like the ‘Best Short stories of XYZ year” and some of the major genre annual anthologies. They’ll list the markets the stories came from, as well as a list of markets that were considered for inclusion.

The Pushcart Prize anthology also has great lists of nominated magazines, with addresses.

With short fiction, of course, you should always follow their guidelines. To not do so is an insult.

So there you have it. Believe in yourself. You believed in your story enough to write it, so submit it and see what happens. There’ll be plenty of time to self-publish to Smashwords and Amazon when rights revert to you after traditional publication. After you’ve pocketed that three hundre dollar check.

‘Til next time, happy 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!

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!

A Public Service Announcement… sort of

Yeah, sort of. If you’re a writer, you need resources, and the fact is, I’m a good one. I’ve recently revamped the Writers’ Resources listing in the right sidebar of my page.

That sidebar contains a list of copyeditors as well as various useful tools: several dictionaries for everything from slang to sex; language translators and conversion resources for measurements, mileage, money and more; invaluable information for would-be independent publishers; character naming conventions; free apps; free or inexpensive alternatives to Microsoft Word; and a great deal more.

Among the great deal more there are also miscellaneous resources, such as the newly added Historical Maps site where you can get free digital maps, two resources concerning gardening, two or three quotation sites, notes on police procedures, and links to various writers’ groups. Seriously, take a look.

I also point directly to the websites of Dean Wesley Smith and Steven Pressfield. If you haven’t visited Dean’s website, you are missing out on a TON of great information for writers and indie publishers (and you are an indie publisher if you’re a writer and you’re smart). If you haven’t yet read Pressfield’s Do the Work and The War of Art, well, just stop complaining about not finding time to write ’cause really, seriously, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Of course, there are also my very own instructional blog posts, which come out every ten days and which of course I hope you find useful. I don’t care for false modesty, so I’ll just say, without bragging, if you read my regular posts, you will learn a great deal about writing, and it will be good information, not the inane bullcookies you hear from people who hold themselves up as experts although they’ve never published anything. I mean, puh-lease.

One thing… Beginning with my next post, you’ll receive those on the 1st, 11th and 21st day of the month. Up until now they were going out on the 10th, 20th and 30th, but despite protracted, endlessly frustrating negotiations, my team thus far has been unable to get February to go along with the program re the posting on the 30th. So I’m making the switch.

Just in case you’re scratching your head and saying something like “Huh?” the problem is that February has only 28 days, except every four years when it begrudgingly adds a 29th day, apparently to tease us and show us it could get to 30 if only it wanted to, which of course it does not because, frankly, that’s just the way February is.

Okay, finally, I’ve also decided to take the plunge into donation land. I mean, I’m a professional writer. I make my living with my words, except the words in my instructional blog posts, which I give you because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Okay, but warm, fuzzy feelings don’t put bacon on the table, and the fact is, I like bacon, despite the fact that (or maybe because) liking bacon isn’t politically correct because it isn’t made from soy.

So if you’re one of those folks who tells me now and then how much you learn from these posts or how valuable they are or how reading them doesn’t actually give you a migraine, hey, I hope you’ll consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar. You can click the preceding link or you’ll find a button in the upper right corner. And if you’re one of those folks who like to remain silent because, after all, that’s your right, but you also enjoy the posts, learn from them and so on, I hope you’ll consider tossing a tip my way as well.

I’m a full-time fiction writer now, which means I’m making my living with my words. In the past 9 months, since April 15, 2014, I’ve written over a quarter-million words of fiction (263,441 to be exact). That doesn’t include blog posts and other nonfiction. In those 263,441 words are 46 short stories and 3 novels. During that time also, I collected the stories in 12 short fiction collections and the novels into a trilogy. Finally, during that time I created 62 book covers and published those 62 works to over 100 nations around the world through various ebook and print venues. Not bad for an old man, eh? (grin)

I’m just sayin’, writing blogs posts and seminars and other nonfiction is no longer my main focus. When I write a blog post to help you out, it costs me time that I could otherwise use to tell a story. And frankly, telling stories—sitting at my keyboard making stuff up—is a great deal more fun. (grin)

Oh speaking of which, I also added a tip jar to my fiction showcase website over at HEStanbrough.com. If you sign up over there, you get a free, brand new, freshly minted short story every week. Anyway, that’s the same tip jar so don’t feel like you have to hit both of them, okay? But yeah, one would be nice. (grin) You know, if you can see your way clear.

Those tips will help me keep these blog posts going. Oh, and if you do decide to toss something into the kitty, as they say down in Texas, Bless yer hort.

Coming up, in addition to new blog posts, I’ll also be reposting a series on Microsoft Word for Writers and a revised series on Being a Professional Writer as well as a lot of other good stuff.

Until then, happy writing!

Harvey

 

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