“That” You Write vs. “What” You Write

Hi Folks,

In a recent post (as I write this), Dean Wesley Smith wrote “…all that matters is the writing, not the end product.”

That seemingly innocuous statement is only one of the many truly major lessons I’ve learned from him and attempted to pass along.

To establish credentials, Dean Wesley Smith is a USA Today best selling novelist with over 200 novels to his credit. He has also written several hundred short stories, almost all of which sold and many of which won prestigious awards.

In other words, the guy knows what he’s talking about. And he actually practices what he preaches. Because it works.

Because I listened to him, in the last 4 years (as of today) I’ve written just fewer than 200 short stories, plus 34 novels and 7 novellas.

Now to the meat of the matter…

Beginning writers, regardless of age, have trouble separating “the writing” from “the end product”: the short story, the novella, the novel, the series, etc.

And yet, separating the two concepts is essential if you want a career as a writer. By “essential,” I mean if you separate them, you’ll succeed. If you don’t, you’ll fail.

In this regard, I was no different from any other beginning writer when I started writing fiction at the age of 61.

It’s true that I came in with a great grounding in the tools of the trade. I used to tell people I was dipped in the language at birth.

I’m good at grammar and syntax, for example. I know sentence structure right down to the bones and sinews. I know the types of clauses, what differentiates a phrase from a clause (a phrase has no verb), and the types of phrases and their uses.

I know what a comma splice is, and what a run-on sentence is. (Hint: it isn’t just a really long sentence. “John hit the ball he ran the bases” is a run-on sentence. “John hit the ball, he ran the bases” is a comma splice.)

I even have a seemingly innate sense of when to alter sentence structure.

I know, for example, that characters usually don’t speak in complete sentences. Unless the character’s a librarian or an English teacher. And she’s in class. Fragments, folks. They use fragments. Like these.

I know all of that “conscious mind” stuff, and I’m glad. It’s necessary to learn and know the conscious mind stuff.

Hell, I can even diagram a sentence with the best of them, and I actually enjoy doing that.

But Not When I’m Writing

Enter Heinlein’s Rules. Add to that one gem of wisdom I learned from Dean when I complained to him via email that I was “stuck” while writing a novel.

He responded with, “Happens to everybody, Harvey. Still happens to me. What you do is trust your subconscious and just write the next sentence.”

Wow. Trust Your Subconscious and Just Write the Next Sentence.

He added, “Then write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence. Soon the story will be racing along again, often even before you realize you’re no longer stuck.”

He was right, as he usually is.

I started buying some of his lectures and then some of his online workshops.

They weren’t about grammar and syntax and punctuation and sentence structure. I was glad because I already knew those things. (If you don’t know them, you still need them.)

His lectures and workshops are about the craft of writing.

I learned a lot of things that I’d never even considered. Things I had seen at work in novels I’d read but hadn’t recognized.

Note: ANY learning, in school or later in seminars and workshops or from books, is the domain of the conscious mind. Learn sentence structure or punctuation or the craft, then don’t worry about it. What you learn with the conscious mind will filter back into the subconscious and come out through your fingers as you’re writing.

A few months later I picked up another gem from Dean that clicked. It’s stuck with me ever since:

The Writing Is What’s Important.

Not the story. Not the novel. The writing.

If you make the writing important — if you make That You Write important — you will be successful.

Read that again. Make “that you write” important. Not “what you write.”

This is what Dean meant in that recent post when he wrote “…all that matters is the writing, not the end product.”

Make “that you write” important because writing is fun. It’s an escape from the everyday world. Safeguard your escape time.

But DON’T make “what you write” important. The instant you make “what” you write important, it will become work. Work is not fun. Work is stressful and pressured. Not an escape. I don’t even celebrate finishing a novel. I don’t want to send the wrong message to my subconscious. I thrill at starting a new one though.

Learn with your conscious mind, then trust your subconscious to write your stories and novels.

The subconscious isn’t about thinking or learning. The subconscious is all about having fun and storytelling.

After all, it’s been telling stories since before you were even aware there was an alphabet.

So set aside that invaluable time to write. Make “that you write” important.

“What” you write will take care of itself.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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