Challenge,  On Writing

Keep The Fun…

Nothing Is Important In Writing Fiction…

The moment you make something “important” you let in critical voice and since it is important, the critical voice will shut you down.  That’s why so many of you can’t finish a story or a novel. It becomes important about halfway through, you become afraid to show it when you are done because it might be bad, and you stop.

Critical Voice wins. (Critical voice only has one goal and that is to stop you.)

But I have gotten a number of questions on how to focus on a challenge and not make what you are writing important?

Well simply put, don’t make it important. (Yeah, that helps…)

It is a matter of focus, actually.

When you are thinking of the final product, the book, getting done, all that, your focus is PRODUCT FOCUSED and that is where making something important comes from.

When you are actually in the story, your focus should be on the PROCESS of writing, of keeping it clean, making sure your characters work, your story flows, and the other billion things your creative voice does automatically.

Never think about the final product, just the process of writing and keeping the writing fun.

Writing should be all positive. That is creative voice. When you hear a negative thought, kill it because that is critical voice trying to stop you. If you think something sucks in a story, leave it in the story, your creative voice put it there for a reason, trust it.

You do that enough times and your critical voice knows it can’t get in that way anymore and stops trying and you end up finishing everything you write.

A challenge for some people brings up PRODUCT FOCUS. It takes the focus from having fun telling a story and puts it on how many words did I write, have I written, and in comes critical voice.

So give yourself permission to not care about the number of words, just the story, and promise yourself you will add them all up at the end of the day or the end of the week when you are tired and not one moment before.

Then focus on writing a story or book.

Stay in the PROCESS, never think about the PRODUCT coming at the end until your creative voice says, “It’s done. Let’s write something else now.”

And that’s how you keep a challenge from hurting your writing. Stay in the process of writing, count the words at the end of the day, or even once per week would be better.


  • Emilia

    I think I needed to hear this. I’ve got myself in creative knots due to feedback from my first reader.

    • dwsmith

      Dump the first reader and find a first reader who will only look for typos. You have to believe in your own work, otherwise critical voice will win and stop you cold.

      • Emilia

        Is it alright if the first reader comments on information flow and how they connect to the character?
        I’ll start looking for a new first reader.

        • dwsmith

          Nope. Only typos. What does some reader know about information flow and character? You are the writer, learn to start trusting your own work.

          You learn by reading, classes, and that sort of thing. Then you forget it all and trust your creative voice to use it when it is needed. Feedback on stories only teaches critical voice how to stop you. Never teaches creative anything.

  • Erica

    Thanks for this, Dean. I’ve been doing ok with my productivity recently – but after Day 1 of the challenge, everything has suddenly become very hard, and I haven’t written much at all this week:(
    This blog is perfect timing, as it’s exactly what I’m struggling with right now. Or I think it’s that.
    I also know I’ve set quite a tough challenge for myself, so I think it’s that too. But any increase in my productivity for the year would be welcome.
    I’ll try what you say and focus on the Process from now on. Thanks:)

  • Philip

    The timing of this is perfect because I just started a new project last night and told myself I’d only focus on the fun I derive from writing and meeting all my characters where they live. However, it hits harder coming from a professional writer like you. I’ve been following you for years and I can’t think of anyone else who doesn’t give an F more than you: you just write.

    I watched an interview with the legendary Richard Matheson last night and he said similar things. Another prolific guy like you. He wrote in all kinds of genres and didn’t let critical voice stop him.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    For a few years, tracking word count was a help for me. But I had to stop tracking word count when I realized it was starting to stress me out. I’m now project focused, as in: “this is the project I’m writing this week, or this month.”

    Then I track how many projects in the year and set my publication schedule around that.

    Engaging with projects (ie a short story for Patreon, or the current novel, making sure my weekly newsletter gets written) keeps me motivated and satisfied. I only pay attention to words to gauge how far along I feel I am in the story. Then I let the words go.

    And at the end of the year? I count up my written and/or published projects the way other folks count up their word total.

  • Heather Hatch

    That’s very clear.

    I realize my brain has paired this phrase with deadlines and challenges:
    “I Got skin in the game”, and all the associations of bruising, sacrifice and ‘risk’ – ‘no pain/ no gain’ – implied.

    I choose to dump it.
    Process IS fun.

  • Kate Pavelle

    I’ve heard a cool thing that applies to all long-term projects: you are creating a string of pearls. Every day, you show up and add a pearl. Not every pearl will be perfect, but even the bumpy or irregular ones will add to the string, and when it’s all done, people won’t notice.
    Just show up and add a pearl a day.

  • Julia V Ashley

    Since I started “writing into the dark” I’ve had a much easier time sticking with the fun and avoiding the doomsayer/ciritcal voice. I wrecked my streak of having good fun when I paused a story to get other things done. When I came back, my critical voice was absolutely certain it time to attack, and the creative voice just sat back and said, “Yeah, we were done with that anyway, weren’t we?”

    No, we weren’t. I just paused. You two stick to your respective areas.

    I beat the critical voice away from it, and let the creative voice wander off and do other things until it decided it really did have some fun ideas to finish off that story. I hope to pick it up again next week and continue the fun.

  • George K

    I used to believe:
    “Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven’t been told a million times already – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching. ” –Harlan Ellison

    but now I’m trying your way and just writing for fun as well as “enriching” etc. And I must say I like your way much much better.

    (And I’m starting to believe writers like HE were lying when they said stuff like that. I watched your 20books lectures on youtube and you clearly say how pro-writers say one thing to fans and another to fellow writers).

    • dwsmith

      George, Harlan, to a level, believed that about his writing and thus he was very prolific in the early years and as each year went by he wrote less and less and less until writing a short story or two a year was all he could manage and then not even that, sadly. But he was stunningly good at packaging his work and he was an amazing showman and he did a ton for newer writers he believed in. And nonfiction always came easy to him because he put himself in all of it.

      But he believed the part about writing fiction being hard work, believed it to his core, never moved off of manual typewriters to make sure it remained feeling like work, and thus because of that belief, his own critical voice killed his writing way, way before it should have stopped.

      • George K

        It sounds from what you are saying that as the years went by he slowly went from “it’s fun” to “it’s work” more and more . I suspect (just a guess) that some writers start to take themselves and their work more and more seriously as they see more and more success. And as they do that it naturally leads to seeing it as “serious art” or at least “important”. Especially if you have many awards and accolades. Deadly. Better to not care and just remain a “2 year old having fun” and then you can do it forever. That’s what I’m learning from you. Thanks Dean.

  • Britt Malka

    This is so important to remember – not making it important.

    I needed this challenge. Otherwise, I’ll push fiction out to some day where I don’t need to write other things to make money.

    Sure, I still write nonfiction during this challenge, but I’m also writing two stories: one will be published under my own name, the other under a pen name.

    The pen name story was supposed to be just for fun. ERm… for money, actually, but nothing important. And I’m finding myself being a lot more daring in my writing this. The characters are more daring, more different from myself and my usual characters. I love this.

    It’s fun!

    “Writing should be fun.” Why else write?