What Writing Into the Dark Really Is

Hi Folks,

Especially if you think you already know what WITD is, please don’t skip this topic. If you do know, you will have lost only a few minutes. If you don’t, this might open up a whole new world to you.

Karen, an excellent storyteller, wrote a comment on my Daily Journal back in  April.

I responded, albeit briefly, because if someone takes the time to comment and the comment seems to beg a response, then a response is owed.

But I decided to turn my response into a topic in the hopes that it will help a few more little lights come on.

Karen is one of my tutored writers at the moment. I’ve been tutoring her for a long time, but officially (meaning as an official “student”) for only a week or so before she left the comment.

In part, Karen’s comment read

“I do love writing into the dark but I don’t know how to sustain it (I leave holes in the story as I write). And I really don’t know how to cycle. That’s where my critical mind creeps back in usually. I need a bigger stick.”

Nope. What she needs is to understand what writing into the dark really is.

As I’ve said all along, WITD is trusting the characters to tell their own story through your subconscious mind.

But I’ve said that so often that it’s become a cliché, like “Show, don’t tell.” Everyone purports to know what “show don’t tell” means, but few (even so-called writing instructors) actually understand and can explain it.

But that’s a topic for another post. Like THIS ONE.

WITD is more than writing without an outline or trusting your subconscious mind and the characters to tell the story.

Or maybe a better way to say it is this: Not everyone truly understands what “trust the characters to tell their own story through your subconscious mind” really means.

And that’s perfectly all right. It took me awhile to understand and develop that level of trust in myself and my characters to Just Tell A Story.

Then one day (AS A READER, not an editor) I read a short story I’d written awhile back as Nick Porter (“Consuela”). And the little light bulb over my head came on.

All at once, I understood the freedom of writing into the dark. And I realized “Consuela” is a really GREAT story.

In preparation for this blog post, I read “Consuela” again.

In light of new and simple mechanics or techniques I’ve learned or slap-my-forehead-realized SINCE then (like pacing and using all five senses filtered through of the POV character’s opinions),

▪ the pacing wasn’t as good as it could have been (read “it sucked”);

▪ the characters themselves would have been more fully developed had I delivered their opinions of the setting as filtered through their physical senses; and

▪ there was (still is) a TON of setting description missing that would have enhanced and advanced the story.

Yet “Consuela” is still a GREAT story. And yes, other regular readers have said so as well. It was the best I could do at my mechanical or technical skill level at the time, yet it’s a great story.

And because I trusted in my own abilities, wrote it and let it go (published it), it’s been earning me money since early 2014.

As part of her comment, Karen wrote, “I leave holes in the story as I write.”

That she believes her story has plot holes is a function of her conscious mind.

I edited (conscious mind) her debut novel The Widow’s Circle and didn’t see any plot holes that I can remember. And it was part of my job to consciously look for them.

The Widow’s Circle was a really great story. Want to know how great it was?

I STILL remember parts of that story, and that was three years ago. That’s how great that story was. Yet chances are, if you say the name of even one of my recent novels, I won’t be able to tell you the plot without looking it up to refresh my memory. (grin)

The point is this: If Karen read The Widow’s Circle (after the edit) and decided there were “holes” in it, that’s her conscious, critical mind trying to stop her, trying to “protect” her from being embarrassed by publishing a story that wasn’t “good enough” (or that had “plot holes” in it).

And why is she allowing her conscious, critical mind that level of control? Because she was (and is) assigning too much importance to an individual story.

It’s only a story. It isn’t earth-shaking or life-changing except to a particular reader who’s reading it at the time.

But get this: If The Widow’s Circle didn’t exist, that same reader would read another story that would be equally earth-shaking or life-changing for her.

Eventually, the truth of writing into the dark will sink in for Karen and, I hope, for you: As I keep saying, what’s important is THAT you write, not WHAT you write.

No matter how much you agonize and strive to make any individual story “right” or perfect, it won’t be right or perfect to someone.

You have zero control over the outcome. None.

It’s a fact that if you hover over a story, rewriting and revising and polishing your original voice off of it even for years, some readers will LOVE your story, and many more will like it. A few will hate it, and a few, possibly, will think they found a plot hole.

And that brings us back to writing into the dark.

Guess what? If you write your story to the best of your ability and skill level at the time and then let it go (publish it) and move on to the next story, some readers will love it, and many more will like it. A few will hate it, and a few, possibly, will think they found a plot hole. (Sound familiar?) (grin)

So it’s your choice.

You certainly have the right to write a novel in a few weeks or months or years, then spend time rewriting, revising and polishing. Or you can write it, give a first-reader and/or a copyeditor a crack at it, and then let it go (publish it) and move on to the next novel.

And the outcome will be exactly the same.

If I were in the former camp, at this point in my career I would have published a handful of short stories and (maybe) a handful of novels.

Instead (back in early April), I’d published almost 200 short stories (and their 30 attendant collections) and over 40 novels. (By the time this posts in mid-July, I should have written and published almost 50 novels.) And in a day or two I’ll start another novel. And I’ll continue to rack up 4- and 5-star reviews. (I don’t watch those, but my wife does.)

So here’s the bottom line: The closest you can ever come to perfection as a writer is, “I Don’t Care What Anyone Thinks.”


Now, I DO take into account what my first readers (one man and one woman) say, and their opinion is valuable to me, but I don’t always take their advice. I make some minor changes (spelling, inconsistencies, etc.) that they spot. Then I publish the thing, forget it and move on to the next story.

At the moment, that probably sounds arrogant to some of you, but it really isn’t. It only means this:

I trust my voice, and I won’t allow any critic (even myself) to derail it.

When you reach that place — I PROMISE — you will become vastly more prolific. And as long as you keep learning, your work will improve.

When you reach that seemingly arrogant vantage point (and you will), you will have released the notion that “This story is important,” and you will have opened the doorway to freedom in your writing.

That freedom is invaluable, folks. It’s the freedom to tell a story, publish it, and let it go as you move on to the next story.

I wish that for all of you.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


I’m looking for first readers. If you would like to read my novels FREE and before anyone else sees them, email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com. All you have to do is read for pleasure. If something jumps off the page at you, let me know. There’s a little more to it, but not much. Of course, I’ll give you credit.

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