Getting in My Own Way

Hi Folks,

Sometimes, probably more often than not, my own biggest problem is Me.

Today I knocked out something over 2000 words before I went walking. Didn’t walk all that long. I didn’t even need a shower, really, although I took one because that’s what you do.

After that, I was fired up to leap back into writing another scene in The Marshal of Agua Perlado.

And I did.

Then I got stuck.

I wasn’t stuck like writers usually complain about being stuck though. I was stuck because I really, really liked the scene I had just written. And I wanted folks to see it early.

So I excerpted it, then adapted it (changed a few words here and there, added a bit of info to clarify names that readers of the novel would have known but that seem orphaned in the short story, things like that.

Okay, good. The short story of the week for next Monday (5/25) is done early, ready to go. (I wrote it after 9 a.m. this morning, so it’s legit for the new week.)

Only now I have to create a promo document for it.

The promo document is just a Notepad document that contains the story title, name of the publisher, the story description and Internet search tags so I can copy and paste them into Smashwords and Amazon instead of rewriting them every time.

And a cover. I have to find a suitable cover photo, select the right font(s) and create a cover for it. Well, and then I have to publish it to Smashwords and Amazon and my free story website and HarveyStanbrough.com.

Okay. All of that’s done so now I can get back to the novel. Three and a half hours later. (groan)

That’s okay. Breathe. Fortunately, I had typed well over 2500 words (my daily goal is 3000, remember?) before I started all the insanity, so I have to type only one more session and I can call it a day.

Of course, I don’t count the words in the short story in my word count since they’re virtually the same as the words in the novel. There are maybe twenty words in the short story that are not in the novel. Not worth the time to figure it out. So I show the word count for the short story, but those words are not duplicated in the totals at the end.

So that’s what I mean about getting in my own way.

It’s like I ran out in front of myself, stuck out my leg, and tripped me, making me stumble for almost four hours during which I should have been writing or cursing or drinking or something. I don’t know. I’m only one guy here.

Usually.

Happy writing,

Harvey

A Reminder Concerning Streaks

Hi Folks,

Sometime or another, in one place or another, I mentioned to someone that Streaks Have Power.

I probably mentioned it here before, and I’m sure I mentioned it in at least two or three seminars or writing intensives.

To create a streak, you set a daily or weekly or monthly goal and then achieve it time after time after time.

If you’ve ever worked in one of those places where the management had a sign up that said something like “93 Accident Free Days” and then the number changed each day, you were witnessing a streak.

And even if you weren’t the one who got hurt and had ZERO vested interest in the streak continuing, when they reset it back to 0 or 1 Accident Free Days, it disappointed you.

Same way with writing streaks.

My own best streak thus far is my short stories.

Back in April 2014, I set a goal to write and publish a new short story every week. That included writing the story, creating an attractive cover for it, and publishing it to three places: here, Smashwords, and Amazon.

On the first venue, the story went out free to subscribers, once per week, every week. Thanks to the latter two venues, within a week or so, the same story was available for sale in over 100 nations worldwide. Cool.

In that particular streak, today (May 17, 2015) I published the 65th short story. That’s 65 short stories in 58 weeks. When I post the cover over on HarveyStanbrough.com/short-stories a little later today, it will be the 93rd story cover there.

So what makes streaks so powerful?

When you get a streak going, you don’t want to break it. That’s it.

And the longer the streak runs, the more it will torque your jaws if you allow it to end. The thing is, as of about 1:30 p.m. today, I have a streak of 65 short stories writing at least one story per week. If I don’t post one next week (Monday, May 25) the next time I write a short story my “streak” will be 1 story. Ugh.

The other good thing about streaks and their power is this: If you DO happen to fail, you fail to success.

When Dean Wesley Smith set himself a goal to write one short story per week, his streak broke at 47 stories. Oof. Body punch. On the other hand, in that year, he had written 47 stories. Can that really be called a failure? I don’t think so.

Now, if I had said, on April 15 last year, “Y’know, I’m gonna set a goal to write 52 short stories before next April 15,” no possible way I would have done it. Then I’d have excused myself. After all, writing 52 short stories in a year is a ridiculously high goal. It’s unrealistic.

But that isn’t what I did. I set a REALISTIC goal to write at least ONE sparkling, shiny new short story every week. And in that same 52 week period I wrote 59 short stories.

So there y’go. Set yourself a repeating, renewing goal and build yourself a streak. I swear it’s worth it. Tell your writing groups and partners and get them to do it with you. Great fun.

Happy writing,

Harvey

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Hi Folks,

A writer and friend once asked in a comment over on my Daily Journal whether I would

“address the issue of setting the bar of productivity so high that [some] of us … can’t possibly keep up with you? As much as I want to, I can’t keep up. I’m guessing that eliminates me from the ‘professional writer’ category.”

I did respond in a comment (on the Journal), but I know a lot of readers don’t go back and read comments. Also, there are at least two separate issues in his question, and I didn’t answer them both.

First and foremost, please understand, I don’t set the bar of productivity for anyone but myself.

Your job as a writer isn’t to keep up with me or anyone else. Your job as a writer is to write. Period.

And that’s a job you took on yourself voluntarily. You can quit if you want.

We all live different lives with different requirements, different interests, etc. I wouldn’t dream of setting your goals for you. You have to do that yourself, or not.

Here’s what I recommend to calculate or set your own productivity goals if that’s something you want to do:

  1. Figure out about how many publishable words of fiction you can write per hour. (Same goes for other kinds of writing.) Most writers who practice writing into the dark tend to get 750 to 1000 words per hour (that’s only 13 to 17 words per minute).
  2. Figure out realistically how many hours per day you can write. This doesn’t have to be every day. It’s your schedule, so set it up the way you want to. (If you feel that you have zero free time every day, email me and ask how to find extra time. I’d be happy to fill you in.)
    • If you write only one hour per day and you put out 1000 publishable words per hour, you will write 30,000 publishable words in a typical month. That’s 360,000 publishable words per year.
    • I started to add that if you write only two hours per week, you will write 110,000 words per year, but that isn’t really true. The numbers are there, and it’s possible. And I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule. But the fact is,
    • if writing is such a low priority that you can find only two hours per week to practice your craft, chances are great that other things will take over and the writing will fall away.
  3. Prioritize. Do remember, please, that only you can set your own priorities in your life. If you’re in prison, then many of your priorities are set for you, but otherwise you set your own priorities. The fact is, when we want something badly enough, we find a way to make it work. When we don’t, well, we don’t. That’s priorities.
  4. Write. You can’t be a writer unless you write. Yes, it’s a free country. You can SAY you’re a writer even if you never write anything more substantial than a grocery list. But you can’t BE a writer unless you write.
  5. This is a bonus. Know that there is power in streaks. If you want to be a writer, set goals and challenge yourself.
    • If I hadn’t set a goal to write a new short story every week back in April, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have 92 short stories on the site at HarveyStanbrough.com and another one due by Monday at 9 a.m.
    • If I hadn’t set a personal daily goal to write a certain number of publishable words per day back in October, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have six novels and a novella finished and be over 25,000 words into another novel. And finally,
  6. It doesn’t matter WHAT goal you set, as long as you set one and then strive to reach it.

Okay, that’s one question answered.

Second, if you can’t keep up with me does that automatically eliminate you from the “professional writer” category?

No.

  1. I don’t keep up with Dean Wesley Smith, but I still consider myself a professional fiction writer.
  2. I don’t keep up with ANY of the old pulp writers. Many of them routinely hit over 1,000,000 (that’s one million) words per year of published fiction, and they did it on manual typewriters.

As I said above, it isn’t about keeping up with anyone else. It’s about setting a goal and then striving to achieve it.

Only you can decide whether you are a professional fiction writer. But don’t judge yourself based on what I do or on what anyone else does.

In my world, if you’re a “professional” anything, that means you engage in a certain activity as your chosen profession.

If you’re a professional automobile engine mechanic, you repair engines. If you’re a professional house painter, you paint houses. If you’re a professional teacher, you prepare lesson plans and conduct classes. If you’re a professional writer, you write and you put your work out there so readers can find it.

As I wrote at the outset, I didn’t write the Daily Journal and post my numbers to intimidate anyone or even to challenge anyone. To be honest, I posted the numbers “in public” primarily to hold myself accountable. Secondarily, I post the numbers to show other writers and would-be writers what is possible if they follow Heinlein’s Rules and if they practice Writing Off Into the Dark. I posted my Topic of the Night pieces to share my knowledge. (shrug) Nothing more to it than that.

If my postings here or on the Journal encourage any other writers to greater heights with their writing, good. I am honored.

Finally, just so you know, I blatantly stole the idea for my Daily Journal from Dean Wesley Smith, who does something very similar. He calls it Writing in Public.

Honestly, I think he got the idea from Harlan Ellison, who at one time set up a chair and small desk in the display window of a department store and wrote short story after short story “in public.”

He wrote the stories on the spot on a manual typewriter, and as he finished each page, he stuck it to the display window so the readers gathered outside could read it as he wrote it.

How’s that for confidence in your ability as a professional fiction writer?

Happy writing,

Harvey

When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Hi Folks,

For well over a year (as I write this, May 2015), I’ve been practicing pushing down my conscious, critical mind and the fear it brings to the table. Yet this morning as I was going through my morning wake-up ritual, fear flooded over me.

This morning it’s back to the writing.

I have at least one more prequel to write (it will be book 3 in the Wes Crowley series) and I’ve already started the first sequel (The Marshal of Agua Perlado).

I also have to write the short story of the week sometime in the next few days or break the streak I’ve had going since April 15 of last year.

So no lack of writing opportunities. No lack of ideas.

But I was overwhelmed. What I’m I gonna write first?

Well, I can’t write all of them at once, so I have to pick one.

I can hammer out a good short story in only a few hours. But I want to get the siphon going on a novel again, so I need to write one of those.

And that’s when the fear hit, in the form of feeling overwhelmed.

Despite the fact that my next novel will be my sixth, and despite the fact that all of those have come since October 25, 2014, a sense of feeling overwhelmed washed over me.

What am I thinking? I can’t write a novel! It’s too much! It’s too big! It’s too many words!

Know what? That’s true. I can’t write a novel.

But I can write a sentence.

I can write a great line of dialogue or descriptive narrative to pull my reader into the story. I can write another sentence, and another. I can write a scene.

There’s an old saying: How do you eat an elephant? The answer? One bite at a time.

I can’t write a novel, but I can write a scene.

I can’t write 40,000 or 50,000 or 60,000 words, but I can write 1,000 words per hour. I can write three or four hours per day.

And I can tell a story.

Some stories are short and are accomplished in only a few thousand words. And some stories keep going until you look up 30 days later and you’ve written a story of several tens of thousands of words. That story would be a novel.

And I know it can happen because it already has.

In the overall story of Wes Crowley and friends, in five novels, I’ve written 225,252 published words of fiction.

How? By not allowing myself to feel overwhelmed. By pushing down my conscious, critical mind and the overwhelming feeling that I can’t possibly write a novel. I just recognize and admit that I can’t.

And then?

I write the next sentence. Then I write the next sentence. Then I write the next sentence.

Happy writing,
Harvey

Read Everything, Think Critically, Accept Only What Feels Right

Hi Folks,

Many of you know I put a lot of stock in Dean Wesley Smith’s advice, but sometimes he tosses a blanket over a topic and beats it to death with assumptions and generalizations.

When he’s talking about things he knows about, his advice can be golden. I’ve learned a great deal from him.

However, he has his prejudices like anyone else. I suspect he was burned once by a bad freelance editor (or book doctor) who didn’t know what he was doing. This is precisely why, when I was editing (yes, freelance copyediting), I offered writers a free sample edit. That was a complete edit of up to a few pages. In that way, my ability sold itself.

Anyway, as what I suspect is the result of a bad personal experience, DWS seemingly endlessly tries and convicts “book doctors” and “freelance editors.” Among the charges he levels without any possible way of actually knowing about all book doctors or all freelance editors, he says

  • they have never written a novel (I have written over twenty and I have gone back to editing for others as well)
  • they have no experience at all in commercial fiction writing (see above)
  • they know only what English teachers taught them (no, some of them have a feel for the language)
  • they have no idea what will make a novel sell (some do, and a good one has a very good idea what will keep a novel from selling, and he or she will steer you around that)

Now it’s worthwhile to note that Dean himself says after he’s written a novel, he sends it to a first reader (his wife, Kris Rusch) and then sends it off to a copyeditor.

However, in his rant against “freelance editors” he doesn’t mention that he uses a copyeditor. That’s a little misleading to say the least.

Perhaps his copyeditor is licensed, but I’d bet not. Would he have hired this person in the first place if the copyeditor had said he or she was a “freelance editor” instead of a “copyeditor”? I’m just sayin’, to many people in the business, the terms are interchangeable.

As a disclaimer, let me say that there are many so-called freelance editors (and proofreaders and copyeditors and book doctors) out there who don’t have a sense of the language. There are many who mean well, but don’t know what they’re doing. And yes, there are some who are strictly scam artists and mean only to separate you from your hard-earned money.

There are also many out there who are very good at what they do and they can help you improve your work. I am one of them.

So do a little research. At a minimum, request a free sample edit. If your would-be copyeditor won’t let you see up front what he or she can do for you, don’t hire that editor. Move on to the next one.

I take exception to Dean’s post not only because I am a very good freelance copyeditor who always gives more than I am paid for. I take exception because he’s a trusted, respected source of information and he’s steering all writers away from what some of them might actually need. And he’s doing so based solely on generalizations, innuendo, and half-truths (i.e., all freelance editors are bad, but he sends his own work to a copyeditor).

As a related aside, DWS also has said many times, “real” editors (by this he means “not freelance”) work for publishers in New York. Period. All other editors are charlatans who are only out to scam you out of your money. All of them.

I guess the twenty-something “editors” working in New York for the Big Five are licensed. But I’m not gonna ask him.

Okay, so the point here is the title of this topic, and it kind’a piggybacks on the Learning post I wrote here a long while ago (http://harveystanbrough.com/pro-writers/learning/). If you’re a writer, it’s important that you keep learning. In that regard, I recommend that you

  • Do a little research to discover your would-be advisor’s level of experience (I never accept advice on a particular topic from anyone who has less experience with that topic than I do)
  • Even after you’ve decided to trust the source to provide good advice, Think Critically about what you’re being told
  • Discard ANY advice from ANYONE that’s based on broad generalizations and assumptions. All of it. Period.
  • Discard any advice that doesn’t “feel right” to you or work for you

I do recommend DWS as an excellent source of information regarding production as a writer, getting depth in your writing, etc.

However, I’ve noticed over the past several years, he DOES base some information on assumptions and generalizations. He slips them in every now and then. Fortunately, they’re pretty blatant so they aren’t difficult to identify and steer around.

I’m just sayin’, forewarned is forearmed.

Happy writing.

Harvey

The Numbers Game and Failing to Success

Hi Folks,

Note: I originally wrote this back on May 9, 2015 for my Daily Journal. It’s valid information. I hope you will enjoy it and find it useful.

More than once I’ve mentioned Heinlein’s Rules. You can actually get your free copy here. If you follow those rules, you will be a professional writer, period.

Not only that, but others will consider you prolific, even if you’re not.

As an aside, still others will consider you a “hack writer,” again, even if you’re not. They won’t read your work. They’ll just leap to the assumption that if you’re producing a lot of short fiction and novels, all of it must be bad.

Don’t Worry About It.

Those folks will blather on among themselves for awhile, and then they’ll go back to attending conferences, talking about writing, thinking about writing, bragging about being a writer, and saying what terrible drudgery writing is but that they simply must write because they owe it to the world or some garbage like that.

And they’ll continue not producing anything more substantial than a grocery list.

Okay, back to the numbers game and failing to success.

My personal definition of “a prolific writer” is one who produces one million (1,000,000) or more publishable words of fiction per year.

For that reason, my personal goal is to write at least 3,000 publishable words of fiction per day. If I do that for a year, on Day 365 I will have written 1,095,000 publishable words of fiction. That would make me prolific.

Periodically I check in with myself to see how I’m doing. Sort of bad news. Through yesterday, May 9, 2015 (as I write this) 128 days have passed since January 1. During that 128 days, I’ve written 284,100 publishable words of fiction. My daily average thus far this year is 2219.5312 words per day.

If I keep that average through the rest of the year, on December 31 I will have written 810,128 publishable words of fiction. By my own definition, that is not prolific.

But it isn’t bad either. Will I take it? Of course.

I’ve failed up to now in meeting my daily goal, but averaging over 2200 words per day feels like success to me.

I’ve failed (thus far) in meeting my annual goal, but writing over 800,000 words of fiction in a year feels like success to me.

So yes, I will have failed, but I will have failed to success.

I wish you the same. Happy writing!

Harvey

Spending Time in the Chair

Hi Folks,

There is a pervasive myth that writing “fast” is writing bad. The myth is based on the notion that if you write a novel in a period of days instead of at least several months, it must be badly written. That’s just not true.

Productivity in writing boils down to two things: discipline (which is to say, a work ethic) and Heinlein’s Rules, especially Rule 3 in this case.

Not too long ago one woman told me she could spend all day on one sentence.

Seriously? How boring must that be?

If you’re going over and over and over your writing, counting the number of times you use “that” or “which” and making sure you alternate them (they’re not interchangeable) or checking sentence structure (yaaawn, stretch), then yeah, it’s gonna take you a year or two or ten to write your novel.

And you know what? When you finally finish, it’s going to be horrible. You will have polished all the good off of your work.

Write the thing. Just write it.

Write it as well as you can per your current skill level, finish it, ship it off to a first reader and maybe a proofreader to look for mixups between things like “waist” and “waste” or “rode” and “road.”

Then publish it.

Then start the next one.

All of that comprises step one to being a professional writer.

Step two is spending time in the chair.

I was saying in a presentation a few days ago (as I write this), would you call yourself a mechanic if you only spent a few hours a month under the hood of a car?

Now learning is good. In fact, it’s essential. But no matter how much you learn about being a mechanic, you aren’t a mechanic if you don’t spend some time fixing cars.

Endlessly attending seminars and conferences about being a mechanic is not being a mechanic.

Talking about being a mechanic is not being a mechanic.

Thinking about being a mechanic is not being a mechanic.

Being a mechanic means getting under the hood and doing your job.

Same thing goes for writing.

If you call yourself a writer, shouldn’t you actually write? Okay, it’s a free country. You certainly may call yourself anything you want, but you can’t actually BE a writer if you don’t write.

I write 1,000 words per hour. If that sounds like a lot, do the math. It’s 17 words per minute. That leaves me a lot of time for staring off into space, researching the name of that particular type of pastry the character wants to buy, etc.

Then I spend three or four or five hours in the chair. Every day.

Yep, I have a job that I only have to work three or four or five hours per day.

If you spend only three hours per day doing your job, Mr. or Ms. Writer Person, and if you hit around 17 words per minute, and if you do that only five days per week, taking weekends off, you will write 15,000 words per week. That’s a 60,000 word novel in 4 weeks.

Now why again do you think it should take a year or two to write a novel?

Decide to write the best story you can the first time through, then spend the time in the chair, and you’ll be amazed at how much good writing you turn out.

Happy writing!

Harvey

 

Write Honest Dialogue, You Racist Swine

Hi Folks,

The following is a guest post by my friend, professional fiction writer and ghost writer Dan Baldwin.

Billy Ray Watkins stood in the doorway of the old shack where the unfortunate sharecropper was kept prisoner. Watkins, 300 pounds of angry bigotry and hate, pounded his fist, sneered and wiped the chewing tobacco spittle from his lips. He grinned and said, “You lacking-in-a-proper education, fatherless son of the African veldt, I’m going to smack the doodoo out of your ebony tushie.”

Writers have an unspoken contract with their readers and that is to write with honesty, especially dialog. To write any other way is to break that contract, disappoint or even enrage your reader, and put your writing career on the fast track to the “$1 Each” cardboard box at the front of the foodstore. To write any other way produces drivel like the lead paragraph in this post.

My thriller Sparky and the King takes place in the 1960s Deep South. The plot involves members of the Klan and organized crime figures bent on vengeance against the influence of “race music” embodied by one Elvis Presley. Honest writing demanded that I used the language of those people when I wrote sections of the book in which they appeared. Some of that writing was uncomfortable, but necessary.

Honest dialog can challenge a writer not only in the writing of it, but also in the selling. I tried to explain to an agent who objected to the racial hatred in the terms used by my characters. I said, “Three hundred pound murdering racists in the Deep South don’t say ‘people of color.’”

Honesty isn’t always easy to write. I’ve heard “How can you write such filth?” more than once. Honest writing invites criticism, much of it off course and unfair. My mother was a devout Christian lady and every time I gave her one of my novels I always warned, “Now Mom, remember it’s not me saying and doing all those bad things; it’s the characters.” She understood. I gave a copy of Sparky to my doctor and she understood – I think. However, every time I’ve been in for an exam since, she’s had an armed guard in the room, so….

The bottom line for a writer is basic: If you want to write about certain people and aspects of our culture, you have to use the language appropriate to that time and place and those people. You’ll have to use foul language, unpleasant scenes, and despicable characters doing despicable things. If you can’t do that honestly, choose another subject so you can honor your contract with your reader.
#
Dan’s Quote of the Week: “If the Creator had a purpose in equipping us with a neck, he surely meant for us to stick it out.” Arthur Koestler

To learn more about Dan Baldwin and his work, please visit his websites at http://www.danbaldwin.biz or http://www.fourknightspress.com/. You can subscribe to either or both by emailing him at baldco@msn.com.

Measurements and Dimensions

Hi Folks,

This post first was published in a slightly different version on October 10, 2016 over on the Daily Journal. I’m reposting it here because I felt it needed a broader audience and might help some of you.

Got a great email from a respected writer friend recently (Thanks, JGV!) regarding my current WIP (back in October, 2015). He wrote

What about doing away with the specific dimensions and leaving the images of the structures, etc., up to the reader’s imagination unless it’s critical to the story. Maybe imply those measurements through dialogue or description like “cramped” or “spacious.” (The account of Noah’s ark might’ve worked better without enumerating cubits.)

That’s a good and valid and point, and as it turns out, he caught me just in time. He made me think.

So when should we include dimensions and when should we not include them? As my friend mentioned, they should be included when they’re critical to the story.

That sounds simple, but beneath the surface it’s problematic. To at least some degree, the reader determines what is critical and what is not. Omit the dimensions and some readers will find the writing “thin.” Include them, and other readers will skip over that part, as I have done occasionally in Heinlein and Asimov novels.

So to expand a bit on the discussion of what should be included, maybe dimensional details should also be included when they’re not critical but still interesting and/or entertaining.

Which leads us to wonder how to determine what is or is not interesting and/or entertaining. To the reader. (Always remember there’s a reader on the other end of the writing.)

As I wrote earlier, my friend’s email made me think. What I came up with is this question and the following rules of thumb:

Q: What exists within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience?

1. If the feature you want to describe does NOT exist within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience (e.g., a lunar colony), include the dimensions.

2. If the feature DOES exist within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience (e.g., a bedroom within the lunar colony), do NOT include the dimensions. Here you would opt instead for descriptors like “cramped” or “spacious” because the reader has seen an apartment and can relate.

I like to think I already knew this, but if I did, I hadn’t yet realized that I knew it. I do now, so it’s more firmly rooted in my subconscious. That’s a Good Thing.

As one other more or less minor consideration, I’m writing into the dark here. I’m allowing the characters to tell the story. (A technique I highly recommend because it’s so freeing.)

So say a character wants (or needs) to know specific dimensions as evidenced by her awe at first stepping into a lunar colony. Should I stop the Receiving Liaison who appears at her shoulder (having noticed her sense of awe) from delivering a short canned speech regarding the massive dimensions?

No.

The colony is new and wonderful to the character. It’s also new and (I hope) wonderful to most readers. So the dimensions are necessary, though probably not critical.

But should I also then drill down to the nitty-gritty and describe in meters and feet the size of the bedroom in the apartment the character is eventually assigned?

Again, no.

The apartment (living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom) already exists within the character’s and reader’s shared experience.

So in that case, the character might note (for example) there’s barely room for a double bed in the bedroom, much less the seating area and walk-in closet the character enjoyed in her home on Earth. But she doesn’t need specific dimensions for that.

And much as people generally disagree with differences between genders in this bizarre day and age, whether or not a character will wonder about dimensional details (and so whether the writer should include them) also goes to the character’s gender.

A character who has spent his life excavating sites like the Queen Open-Pit Copper Mine in Bisbee Arizona probably won’t wonder at the specific current size of the lunar cavern in which he works. If he does so at all, he probably will do so via comparison (e.g., “cramped” or “spacious” as compared with Queen Mine or some other place he’s been).

But if his wife is allowed to visit the worksite, she might well ask questions like, “Wow! How big is this place?” And when he answers, he might well brag. “Well, it’s only (insert massive dimensions) but it’ll be (insert even larger dimensions) when we’re through.”

As an added thought, this morning I got another email from another very good writer friend whom I respect a great deal. He recommended writing using whatever measurements I’m comfortable with (feet/yards) to facilitate the flow of the writing. Then I can convert everything afterward to the appropriate unit of measurement. Another excellent idea. Thanks, RJS!

So thanks to my friends for the mental exercise. Overnight I have learned and grown as a writer, and I have JGV and RJS to thank.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Excuses and the Fine Art of Self Sabotage

Hi Folks,

Happy St. Valentine’s Day.

Today we have a guest post by professional fiction writer Dean Wesley Smith. Dean has made his living as a professional fiction writer for four decades.

This post was originally published on his website on January 23, 2017. Here we go.

Excuses…

Last week I came to the sudden realization that most of us modern writers are lazy. While at the same time convincing ourselves we are not. We convince ourselves that the time and energy we spend writing is exactly what we are supposed to be doing.

And we seldom question those rules or guidelines or beliefs that lead to the “supposed-to-be-doing” issue.

I’ve been questioning those rules and guidelines for a decade now, writing articles about Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing and Killing the Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing. And yet it was when I finished writing a novel in five days while traveling that I realized I had fallen for some of the same things I had been railing against.

I had made writing a novel in five days something special. And I suppose in this modern world that is special.

And I realized that’s just sad.

Some Simple Math

Here at WMG Publishing, we teach a six-week online workshop called Speed. That workshop, over the six weeks, shows a writer very simply how fast they are in actual production. And helps them with a bunch of things to get out of their own way with their writing and write more productively.

By the end, the speed of the writers taking the class ranges from 900 words per hour to over 2,000 words per hour. And these writers are writing at depth and with quality at those speeds. And in one draft.

So let’s take the lower end of that. 1,000 words per hour (includes a five minute break to move around). I tend to write between 1,000 words and 1,500 words per hour, depending on where in the book I am. Slower at the start, faster at the end.

I write one draft clean.

Let me say that again. Those speeds are writing clean without rewriting. Heinlein’s rules. No sloppy writing allowed. [Ed. Note: Here’s a free, annotated copy of Heinlein’s Rules.]

To write a 40,000 word novel is 40 hours.

To write a 70,000 word novel is 70 hours.

Simple math.

So if you don’t have another job, kids at home, writing a 40 hour week will produce a novel. Move around every hour so you don’t hurt your shoulders and hands.

Simple math.

This is not rocket science, folks.

But now comes the Excuses…. (imagine the word Excuses echoing off into the distance…)

I personally love excuses except when they are coming out of my own mouth.

On that trip I wrote just over 60,000 words when everything was totaled for the 10 days. 37,000 words on the novel in five days in the middle. Plus about 10,000 on the nonfiction blog chapters about doing the novel. The rest was two different weeks of assignment e-mails for writers taking workshops.

Six thousand words a day average. 6 hours a day average.

Some days when I was driving long days I did less, other days when I had nothing to do but visit with friends and eat and play cards, I did a ton more.

But for the entire ten-day trip I spent about 60 hours total. 47 of those hours was to create two different books that will sell. The other 13 hours were to help writers with assignments in classes they were taking.

I even watched two football games, played poker and blackjack, walked around the area for research, and did a zipline as well as eating breakfast, dinner, and late-night meals with friends.

Total hours on my trip were 10 days time 24 = 240 hours. 8 hours of sleep per night (counts my naps) is 80 hours. 160 hours remaining. 40 hours of driving round trip leaves 120 hours.

So I spent half my waking time writing, the other half doing all the other fun stuff I did.

I am a professional writer. I make my living from my fiction. So why did I think that spending 47 hours in ten days writing was so special?

It just wasn’t. It’s just what I do.

But I thought it was special in this modern world enough to write a short nonfiction book about the writing while traveling and I know for a fact a bunch of people will buy the book over time. And I hope it helps some who buy it. That was the point.

But by actually making myself stop and look at the entire thing, I realized I had also helped myself.

I had spotted a few places where I was spouting excuses.

So Now a Confusing Definition… Writing Fast!!

So many beginning writers, English teachers, and others who flat don’t understand the creative process equate writing fast with writing sloppy or poorly. (As if they know what poor writing is, but that’s another point.)

So what exactly is writing fast????

Simply put, it isn’t typing faster, it is spending more time in the chair writing.

So if you spend more time in the chair writing, you get better. (Wait, that means if you write faster you get better…yup.)

Writing is the only art that actively discourages its young from practicing. It tells young writers with all these myths and beliefs that if they write slowly, don’t write much, they will magically get better.

Still not sure how that works in their minds, but it has no basis in reality.

To get better, no matter your typing speed, you spend more time in the chair writing. (It’s called “practice.”)

And from the outside perspective of others, that makes you a faster writer. Because you spend more time learning and writing and thus you produce more words.

Again not rocket science.

More Evil Math

You say you are happy with your two 70,000-word books per year. Good for you. You have yourself convinced you are a hard-working writer. And all your family and friends are convinced because you have sold them a bill of goods.

You type fiction at about 1,000 words per hour. So over the entire year you spend 140 hours for the two novels. (You also have yourself deluded by your English teachers that rewriting is important, but we won’t go there, but because of that you write very sloppy first drafts as well.)

So you spend 140 hours per year writing. That works out to about 390 words per day.

I’m betting you write e-mails longer than 390 words.

So the pace of 140 hours per year is not something you really want to look at because the myths, the beliefs, the religion of writing fiction makes you think producing two books per year is good.

So along comes a jerk like me who can spend almost one-third of your yearly hourly output in five days. That has to make you angry. I can understand that.

I don’t type faster. I have just learned to sit in the chair for more hours than you do is all.

And because I sit in the chair and make up stories for more hours than you do, I am labeled a fast writer and a hack. Luckily, my fiction has paid my living since 1987. All because I sit and make up stuff.

So since I put that post up about comparing lazy modern writers, me included, to the pulp writers of old, I have gotten excuse after excuse from writers. Some are downright creative, some are silly, some are myths, and a few are valid.

Valid Excuses in My Opinion

If you say you want to make your living with your fiction, your writing, at some point, the following are valid excuses. (All excuses are valid if you are a hobby writer.)

— Children. They always come first, their needs, their wants, their time. They will grow up and leave eventually, so don’t use valuable children time on writing. The writing will be there after hours and after the kids are gone.

— Health. Without taking care of your health, you won’t be able to write. Or you will die young. Always remember there are no old fat people. Don’t believe me, just open your eyes and get out some. Get healthy. Spend the time to get and stay healthy. And this includes not sitting for hours and hours at a time typing without moving every hour. You do that and you really are as stupid as you look. Sorry. Stay healthy. Time for health is more important than writing time.

That’s it.

If your goal is to make your living at some point with your writing, there are no other valid excuses.

And I can hear most of you go… but… but… but…

You want to make it as an international fiction writer, selling your stories all over the world and making a living at it for decades, you pay the price. You kill the excuses.

Anything but children and health are excuses.

And trust me, if you tell yourself “I can’t do that…” you are right. Because with that attitude, you never will.

As I have just discovered, the first step on killing excuses is hearing yourself think and say them.

A hint about one of my excuses I’ve been hearing myself think and say… “I’m 66…”

Yeah, ain’t that just a damn silly excuse. That won’t stop me ever again now that I have heard it.

We all have excuses. I am no exception. The reason I am known as a fast writer, meaning I spend more time writing than most, is because I have cleaned out most excuses.

But I am still a work in progress, as we all are.

Have fun.

Dean Wesley Smith