Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Forcing the Help

Writers’ Communities…

I keep hearing over and over about how other writers force writers to do something like get a book doctor or rewrite or whatever. This advice (99.9% of the time) is coming from beginning or unpublished writers.

But these writers feel forced, like there is a gun to their head because it is their “community.”

For some reason I mostly escaped this silliness when I was coming in.

My mantra was always to learn only from those who were farther down the road than I was by a long ways.

I wanted to learn from those writers making a living, having long careers, and so on.

I sought out those writers, put myself in positions to learn from them.

I believed that from day one completely. It was a belief I never faltered from for decades. Long term writers were the only humans I would ever listen to or read for learning. Period.

I must admit, I was rudely dismissive at times of writers who thought they knew something, but only had a few books published. They were not worth my time to listen to. Now I listen and learn a lot from students and newer professionals, which is the main reason Kris and I teach, but I know how to filter and call bullshit or myth when I hear it.

I learn from the questions newer writers ask more than anything else, and from trying to explain something very advanced and complex such as information flow or tags.

Sadly, beginning writers these days do not have a filter and listen to everything by anyone who can talk louder than the next person. This is really present in all the marketing gurus who pop up, have a few books, then start teaching how they did their marketing. 99.9% fad stuff.

So how do you avoid other writers dragging you off the road and into the ditch? Simple. Only learn from long-term professionals. Get snobby.

Take classes, go to conventions where the professionals are, listen to blogs, read books they wrote or recommend. Only listen to someone who has a bio that makes you go “Wow, I want that career.”

Then, take even their advice and hit it with a giant salt shaker. If advice doesn’t make sense to you, for heaven’s sake, ask yourself why? Always question. If  a long-term professional’s advice doesn’t make sense because it conflicts with something you learned from your English teacher, then question your own beliefs. Always question.

One more time. Always Question!!

But first and most importantly, get away from the train wrecks, the rewriters, the “you must get a book doctor, an agent, a dozen beta readers.” Those folks are death.

Why allow them into your life. Never read or write reviews, start building a belief system in yourself.

And then go for making your writing and learning fun. If someone is telling you, no matter who, that fiction writing must be work in some fashion or another, run, don’t walk away.

Clear out those who don’t have a clue what they are talking about and learn from long-term professionals. We all won’t agree, but we will have things that are similar. Figure out what works for you.

Always Question.

And remember, telling stories is great fun.

And making a living from telling stories is even more fun. You can get there if you get away from those who want to hold you down.


  • Linda Maye Adams

    I think the reason why beginners listen to other beginners is pretty complex, but boils down to everyone saying what they want to hear combined with writers wanting validation and not realizing it. Once you add validation in the mix, people do really dumb things like, “I knew he was a scam agent, but it was my only chance at getting published” or feeling sorry for a publisher being reported for scamming writers.

    But we’re all shown by the media that writing is supposed to be “easy.” McGee on NCIS writes a bad book based on his working life and it turns into a best seller. He gets go to parties in limousines, with beautiful women hanging off his arms. People recognize him as a celebrity because he is a writer. These writers crave that kind of validation.

    So the writer sends off the manuscript, expecting to be able to brag to all the people around him that he is now a celebrity. The manuscript comes back with a form rejection. The writer studies those few lines, trying to read between them to figure out why the agent rejected it. They turn to other beginners and start asking questions. Someone pops up with one of the usual beginner tips and getting what they thought was a personal rejection (probably a nicer form letter), so the writer goes through his manuscript to do that. Sends it off again, gets another round of rejections. The writer comments that he wishes the agents would give personal comments so he could figure out what’s wrong with the manuscript, except that he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t want that. He wants comments that the story is good and the agent wants to buy it. So when the first agent sends the writer a small bit of personal comments, the writer melts down and becomes very angry and lashes back at the agent. “You’re just too stupid to recognize my great story!” By making the story’s acceptance part of the writer’s self-worth, it becomes a huge problem for anyone not saying what that person wants to hear.

    The experienced writer will never say what that person wants to hear. Not only that, the beginner begins to resent their success. J.K. Rowlings and Dan Brown were always favorite targets on the message boards I used to be on. The writers would jealously pick at the sentences for all those things they were told by other beginners not to use, then declare, “I don’t know how this garbage ever got published!” So it becomes much easier to listen to all the people who don’t know what they’re talking about because the ones who do are never going to say what the writers want to hear.

    Saw that play out over and over again on the writing message boards.

    • dwsmith

      Linda, yup, those places are deadly in the extreme. That’s why I suggest people spend their time elsewhere if they want to be a writer. Can’t get there through those boards.

  • Philip

    YouTube is loaded with new writers who have one traditionally published book and no other credits. Here is the step-by-step myth guide to becoming a “real” writer today:

    1. Sell several short stories to non-pro markets to get “credits” to impress an agent.

    2. Outline a novel using “beats” and other “must-know” formulas.

    3. Write a sloppy first draft of your novel.

    4. Write another, more polished draft of your novel.

    5. Repeat Step 4 several times until it’s “your best work.”

    6. Bring your novel to a workshop for other unpublished writers to tear apart.

    7. Repeat Step 4 with workshop advice added to your manuscript.

    8. Hire an independent editor to make sure your novel is “ready.”

    9. Repeat Step 4 with editor’s input.

    10. Shmooze agents at conferences and on Twitter to “make connections.”

    11. Submit your polished manuscript to as many agents as possible. Use a catchy, polished query letter that your workshop reviewed and possibly an expert.

    12. After many, many rejections, one agent wants your full manuscript. Send it to him with.

    13. Sign on with agent and re-write your book several times based on agent’s advice.

    14. Submit to publishers.

    15. Get a publishing contract. Sell all rights to a giant corporation and meet your new editor, a 22-year-old Greek Classics major from an Ivy League school who not only never wrote before but never worked a real job.

    16. Revise your novel several times based on the editor’s advice.

    17. Revise your novel several times based on the Marketing Dept’s advice.

    18. Make sure you built a phony social media platform because the publisher won’t market your book.

    19. Change the title to your book based on Marketing.

    20. Last minute change! Re-write your novel switching the main character from a man to a 13-year-old girl because that’s what sells, according to your publisher.

    21. Revise, revise, revise…

    22. Buy a copy of your brand new book from Barnes & Noble (because very few others will).

    23. Diss indie writers for not being “real writers.”

    24. Find a new agent and repeat the whole process because your first book didn’t sell.

    • dwsmith

      LOL, Philip!! That is wonderful and so true it hurts.

      And some beginning writers out there, if they saw that, would say, “Oh, thanks for the roadmap.”

      Wow, when you detail it out like that, stunning. Those could be chapters of a book, but I would be afraid to write it even as a joke because so many beginners would follow it like the bible.

    • Janine

      This seems to be the formula that’s being pushed, I’m afraid. And with NaNoWriMo prep time now being two months long, yikes.

      About #23, there’s an unspoken mentality with some of the rewriting crowd that pursue traditional publishing that indie publishing is beneath them and they will not touch it. When these types solicit book recommendations, I point them towards an indie title, as nearly all my recent favorite reads have been indie published. Usually, I get ignored in favor of those that recommend exclusively big five books. Sad that they will miss out on some great books.

  • Vera Soroka

    I just saw a podcast last Friday. This gal was called a Book Coach. You committed to stay with her for 6 months so you finished your book. She was charging $2,500 for this. To me this is hand holding and does not give you the confidence to work on your own. These gurus are multiplying like crazy and they are all out to take your money because they have the secret to success. Desperate writers fall for this. You have to turn them all off and as you’ve said, learn from the long time writers that have been around for a while. I’ve learned a ton from you and Kris. When I tried this revision thing, I ended up with another novel. I wrote once and that’s what I thought you did. I thought I was doing it wrong because I was listening to too many agent blogs and writer blogs. It was you who blew all that away and I then continued on my way. I have written a ton since. I’m just a poor publisher but I’m working on that.

    • dwsmith

      Vera, sounds like you are now on the right track. And I told you to stay with a book coach? Doesn’t sound like me at all at any point in any blogging life I have had.

      • Vera Soroka

        Oh no quite the opposite stay away from them! No this gal locks you in for 6 months in this book coaching thing. Very sad and she has a thriving business and claims to have NYT bestselling authors working with her(meaning they got stuck and came to her) and a staff of 32 editors! No, I just finished 30 stories in 30 days and not once did I ever rewrite or revise or whatever you call it. LOL!

  • Ashley R Pollard

    The only thing where I think they and me differ is on Beta readers. I have three: one a US Marine, one who is a Navy Corpsman, and a DOD civilian contractor; have them because I’m writing military SF, and research can only take you so far–me being British and not a former Marine or ever working for the DOD.

  • Sean McLachlan

    I managed to skip this phase too. When I decided to switch from archaeology to writing, I was living in Tucson which, as you probably know, is full of writers. I got to meet people like Dennis McKiernan, Janni Lee Simner, Weston Ochse, Yvonne Navarro, and Judith Tarr. Meeting people who made a living at writing and were regular, down to earth folks with a solid work ethic blew away a lot of myths before they even had time to form in my neophyte mind. It’s only now, years later, that I realise how much I owe to those early conversations.

  • Jason M

    It boils down to force of personality.
    The people who need a community telling them how to do their art simply aren’t forceful people.
    On the other hand, the people who do their art despite their community are forceful personalities. They’ll go far.
    I don’t give much advice to other writers because it seems that the force of personality ultimately determines their fate. I figure that 1) the less forceful ones will wash out and 2) the more forceful ones will eventually find the help they need, if any.
    It’s natural selection. Maybe I’m wrong in that, but I don’t think there’s much we can really do to “save” younger writers except put advice out into the world and help the more forceful ones find it. Kind of like Dean does with this blog.

  • Lorri Moulton

    Thank you! This is so good to see. I have been trying to follow the advice of more well-established authors, but that constant noise of ‘do this, redo that’ in some forums does get annoying. I’m going to take a break from those places, concentrate on my WIP and have fun!

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Jo. And ask where the advice is coming from, what decade. Kris and I really try to stay in today, but often you hear advice that would have worked in 1989.

  • Kessie

    When I was a teen, my Dad had me read a lot of John Maxwell. Lots of self help success books. One thing he mentioned that stuck with me is, hang out with people at a higher level than you. If you’re a millionaire trying to hit the next level, find some billionaires to hang around. I first applied that to my art. I hunted artists who were miles better than me and studied them. My art drastically improved. Then I applied it to writing. I’ve followed The Kill Zone blog for years–all professional authors out doing the real work. They don’t give advice like beginners do. I ran across you and Kris when you’d pop up on the Passive Voice and began following you. I recently unfollowed a lot of blogs that pander to new authors and first books. I want to hear how book 23 is selling. I don’t want to hear moaning about how hard book 2 is.

  • Sheila Watson

    Guilty of reading reviews.

    Also guilty of “re-writing” though I *think* what I was doing was actually cycling, just with a big space of time between the original drafting and the cycle through. My first reader *cough Dean cough* suggested the ending was lacking *cough actually totally missing cough*, so after I put it aside for a while I read through the story really quickly to recapture the voice of the piece and added an ending. Then, I cycled back one more time to add in and deepen the ending through the story. I think I’m doing it right, but its actually pretty difficult to understand the nuances between what is “cycling” and what is “re-writing”. Now I just have to figure out how to do it in the moment starting with recognizing when I don’t actually have an ending!

    I have completely gotten rid of first and beta readers. I now recognize that is just jerking off wanting someone to love my story. I have two trusted readers who I turn to only if I have one or two very specific questions about the piece. Questions like, “Do you buy into the magic system?” or “Did this alien’s features makes sense to you?” And then I request them only to answer those questions.

    • dwsmith

      Sheila, if you let a story sit after you finish it, then go back, that is rewriting. If you cycle back into the story while you are writing it, you are in creative voice and thus the writing is positive and forward.

      The key is when you are done, even if you give it to a first reader, you don’t ever change it, just let it be. Fix the typos and move on to a new story.

      My comments in challenges and workshops are never intended to make anyone rewrite a story. My comments are just feedback for learning in a future story.

      • Sheila Watson

        Dean, I want to challenge you on that because I want to understand.

        I’m not seeing how the process of “cycling” is different than the process of “rewriting”. They seem to be the same to me except that one is done in creative voice and one is done in critical voice. So, I’m not getting why the passage of time, or adding to the story would move the process from one definition to the other. What are you doing in cycling that is different from what you are doing in rewriting, other than doing it in creative voice? What am I missing here?

        You seem to be saying its impossible to be in creative voice, once a story is “finished”?

        • dwsmith

          Sheila, yes, pretty much. Once a story is finished, think of a two year old kid as your creative voice. It’s done with that story, wants nothing to do with it, so the only way you can go back after time is in critical voice, the front brain voice that thinks it knows everything about writing but actually knows little.

          Cycling in creative voice is always a positive thing. Critical voice is always negative, creative always positive. That’s how you tell the difference and know when critical voice starts coming in.

          And any time you walk away from a story after it is done and come back, you are basically turning around and walking backward in your career and wasting time when you could be writing new words. New words, moving forward, finishing new stories and getting them out to people who can buy them is always better than wasting time going back trying to make something a half degree closer to perfect while likely making it ten degrees worse.

          So cycling is what long term pros do. Some call it rewriting, others don’t talk about it, but all but a very, very few long term pros I have been able to get close to over the decades all fix as they go along, finish a manuscript, and are done with it. They honor their creative voice by letting the creative voice alone and not second guess it later.

        • Chong Go

          Sheila, I do a lot of non-fiction translating and editing, and the biggest problem I’ve found with going back later (“rewriting”) is that I’m out of the creative voice flow and down to looking at sentences and grammar instead of story. So I’ll have the urge to change something, but when I go back and reread that section with the change, the new change screws something else up. I either already used that very same expression two sentences later, or it breaks the flow of the paragraph, or something. It almost always causes a problem later. So although I find places I want to change, 90% of the time, I resist the urge and just leave it as it first came out, and trust that my original creative voice did it best. (The other 10% I’m going back and looking at the original language and checking to see if I perhaps missed the point of the original text. That will also cause a clunky section in a translation.)

          • Sheila Watson

            Sure. And I get that. And I agree with you (and Dean) one hundred and ten percent on that. BUT that is not what I am discussing. You and Dean are both adding qualifiers to my process which are not present in my process: my two-year-old child is done with the story, my creative voice wants nothing to do with it, you can only go back to a story in critical voice, a half degree closer to perfect, second guessing, sentences and grammar instead of story flow.

            We agree on all that. We agree that if all those things are present, I am working from my critical voice and not my creative voice. I am fully on board with the idea of writing only in your creative voice. Could not possibly be more on board with that. Dean and Kris are absolutely, without a doubt in my mind correct about that.

            Let me be clear. In the process I am describing I am not in any way operating in critical voice as I review my material. I am doing exactly what Dean is explaining in his idea of cycling — I am re-reading the material in creative voice, not judging, not correcting, not changing the flow, not thinking about sentences or grammar or characterizations or plot, working on gaining momentum, working from instinct and deeply immersed in the character’s world and POV and my own author voice. And then hitting proverbial or literal white space and filling in places where things are absent or thin or ‘off’. In this particular case, adding an ending and then one final pass through where I add the elements that were instinctively, creatively brought up in the ending to the story (mint tea and a scar and daughters) to the story. And then leaving it alone. Not fiddling with the story further. Not going back to it endlessly. Trusting myself. This seems to me to be exactly the process Dean is describing with respect to cycling.

            The idea which I am challenging is the dogmatic notion that there are Rules Which Can Not Be Broken and that I am walking backward in my career or wasting my time if I cycle back to a story after some time has passed. And the idea that the creative voice process is impossible to access under Certain Circumstances. My point is that the ability to access the process is what matters, not the dogmatic rules.

            So my question was about whether or not I am missing something about the PROCESS of cycling. It doesn’t appear that I am. You (and Dean) may not believe that I can access that process after a certain period of time, but that is very different from me misunderstanding the process of cycling which he is trying to describe.

          • dwsmith

            Sheila, you clearly have the intent and the process of cycling just fine. Why I will not let your method stand here, ON THIS SITE, as valid is because you are an outlier. Most writers will look at what you say and use it as an excuse to “okay I can go back later so why not write sloppy up front the first time through?”

            I try to help people here and your method clearly works for you at the moment and you have the ability (at least in your belief system) to get to creative voice after time has passed. I am not capable of making myself believe I can do that and I have never witnessed that ability in anyone else (until now in your defense of my comments). When someone writes a sloppy draft, lets it sit and then goes back to it, for 99.9% of all people, they go at it with critical voice, even though it feels like it is creative, it is not for most.

            So that is what I am objecting to. You have cycling down, but call it rewriting because of that time lag, even if you are accessing creative voice in your beliefs.

            Cycling happens in first and only draft with the desired result to have a story finished when you hit the last word. No going back later.

            So you rewrite. But you use cycling methods (which you understand) to try to get yourself into creative mode and that is great. But my question to you is that if you understand cycling, why not just do it the first time through and save that second time and the work it takes? Honest question.

            And I am not making dogmatic rules as you say. Cycling has a definition in writing. Rewriting has a definition in writing. The major difference is the time lag. Cycling is a one draft thing, rewriting is a second draft done later. You are using cycling techniques to rewrite. Works if you can do it, but 99.9% of us can not, at least to my decades of observation.

  • Murees Dupé

    Brilliant advice, thank you. I’m guilty of reading and listening to too much writing advice. With my first book I used beta readers and after all the suggestions, my book didn’t feel like mine anymore. Luckilly I had a great editor who helped me make it mine, and better again. I always read your posts and advice, which helps a lot. I would rather pay an editor to help me fix my mistakes and flaws, and thus learn to clean up my own writing than listen to my fellow writers again.

    I am also guilty of rewriting the same story over and over. Taking years. I guess I was obsessed with getting my work as close to perfect as possible, but I see now it just keeps me from writing more books.

    Thank you for all the great advice and wisdom you always share.

    • dwsmith

      More than welcome, Murees. Glad it makes sense to you. And isn’t it a ton more fun writing new stories than trying to make perfect an old story that will never be perfect because there is no such thing? Keep having fun. That really is the secret of writing.

  • Sheila Watson

    Dean, thank you for your response. We are on the same page. My worry was that I was missing something with respect to the concept of cycling and that worry has been resolved. I agree that I am an outlier. And I agree that most writers shouldn’t attempt what seems to work for me. I will further acknowledge that it is damn easy to slip into critical voice and we agree that is a plague tent that should never be entered. But I seem to be able to do it. At least sometimes. Shrug.

    Honest answer to your honest question of why I don’t just do it the first time? Well, my GOAL is to do it right the first time. (I WISH I could do it right the first time). But…. sometimes things that I think are on the page (like endings! You recall that 75% of my stories had no ending, right?) are not actually on the page. So … if I can cycle back and add an ending, it seems a viable way to end up with a more saleable story.

    And yes, I understand what you are trying to convey to people and I know my comments don’t apply to 99% of the people who read this. But you’ve oddly just made me even more of a fan of your concept about cycling. And of the necessity of writers to understand it correctly and follow it.

    • allynh

      I’ve had a bunch of windows open to capture all of the comments for the last few active threads, so I haven’t been checking each day. It’s fun to see Dean commenting across many open threads as he did years ago.

      I have to echo Sheila’s point and say that I am an outlier as well. So I will just wave, Hi, Sheila, and hope not to upset Dean. HA!

      BTW, I’ve read through the first Jane Hawk book, and I begin to see what he’s doing. It looks like a six episode series, possible an hour or less each episode. Each episode has its own arc, and the six episodes as a whole have another arc. I’ll know more as I read through book two. The third book is out in mass market next week. The series is a possible Rosetta Stone for what I’m trying to understand. Thanks…

  • Janine

    Thank you for this post!

    As a side note, I think while writers naturally look for moral support, they might wind up getting into these types of situations instead. And with the culture of “writing by committee” becoming more common on writing message boards, it’s going to hurt more writers, feeding into their self doubt. My advice is like yours, stay away from the rewriters and advice articles, simply read more published books. My writing has improved quite a bit since doing this.

    Another thing: I’m thinking about no longer beta reading for people who say they will continue to rewrite their story following my read through (outside of clarification and typos). It feeds into the idea that a great and enjoyable story must be rewritten to death for both parties.

    • dwsmith

      Good idea. And my suggestion…get away from those boards and start enjoying your writing and just telling stories. Stop worrying about the end product so much, just have fun and release it.