Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night,  Writing in Public

Learning is Attitude


Learning is Attitude

Tonight, for the third night in a row, the storm hit again. Flooding all over the entire Pacific Northwest, and power was out here for three hours tonight.

But now that the power is back on, I’ve decided to just go on as normal until it flickers and goes out again. After 20 years living here on the Oregon Coast, you get used to this, sadly. At least the power came back on after three hours.



Made it through the monsoon rains to the snail mail, the grocery store, and then to WMG Publishing around 2 p.m. for work on continuing to set up new offices and move stuff around.

I worked there until 7 p.m., then went home to cook dinner. Just finished with dinner and the power went out after flickering a few times over thirty minutes.

So we dug out all the flashlights and battery radios and LED lanterns and such and made sure all the back-up batteries on the computers were off and things unplugged for when the power surged back on.

Then we headed to the WMG offices through the monsoon to check on the computers there. Then on to the north end of town which still had power. Stocked up on batteries and other stuff at an open store, then home.

I took a nap while Kris read and she woke me up when the lights came back on.

So I got in here around 11:30 p.m. to start the workshop assignments. Got those done around 1 a.m. and then went to watch some television.

I suppose now I could do some writing, but just don’t feel comfortable turning on my writing computer in this storm. The house is still rocking and rain pounding the windows on the ocean side.

So no writing. The novel will still be there when the weather settles.



NOTICE:  Everyone who is signed up for the anthology coast workshop in late February, the first short story assignment has gone out over the list. If you didn’t get it, check the list. It’s due Sunday night, no exceptions.



All workshops have openings. All start in one week.

Class #51… Dec 7th … Advanced Depth
Class #52… Dec 7th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… Dec 7th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #54… Dec 7th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… Dec 8th … Character Development
Class #56… Dec 8th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… Dec 8th … Plotting With Depth
Class #58… Dec 9th … Designing Covers
Class #59… Dec 9th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… Dec 9th … Designing Book Interiors

Classic Workshops and Lectures are also available at any time.


Topic of the Night: Learning is Attitude

Over the years I have watched something more times than I want to admit. And without fail, it has been terminal for the writer, meaning the writer has not been able to recover and actually move forward.

Hang on, this might take a moment to explain.

To put it bluntly to start, what I am talking about is an attitude of “I know it all, I don’t need to learn anymore.”

Put in a religious manner, “My writing beliefs are right and I will defend them to the death.”

How many varied ways this expresses itself is amazing.

For example, early on in my writing life, I noticed this numbers of times. It always came from a writer who was ahead of me in sales, in skill, and in some minor aspect of success. The writer had the attitude that they didn’t need to learn.

And then when I followed Heinlein’s Rules, pushed stories out, started selling, and one day went past the writers who were not working as hard or even working to learn, things turned bad. The writers who had been ahead got angry, often biting, often trying to hold me at their level, and often putting down how hard I worked at my learning and writing.

I usually left them behind. Lost friendships, actually, but couldn’t stay with it.

In those days, when asked how I managed to make a living and sell so much and write so much, I had a simple answer. I said, “I work harder than everyone else.”

That really would piss off the I-know-it-all-writers. Wow.

Then, as we started doing more teaching, we would run into these types of egos often, but expressing the problem in a different light.

This form goes like this: The writer would learn just enough to start selling, then lock in at that spot.

I have actually had writers tell me they are afraid to learn more for fear of upsetting what is working in their writing.

That is so head-shakingly stupid as to be funny.

It’s the ego. And if the writer does take a workshop or come back to a workshop, they only are doing so to prove to themselves how superior they are. That never goes well. (grin)

Learning is an attitude. Learning is a hunger to keep finding out more stuff.

I love to go out to thrift shops and antique stores and other places to find treasures. I love the thrill of finding a treasure.

I think of learning in publishing and writing as exactly the same thing. It is a treasure hunt with the thrill of discovery attached.

And I love being around and working with writers who have that same hunger for learning, that same willingness to try things to get better.

On the flip side, I have almost no time for writers who think they know it all, who only want to impress me with their brilliant minds. I mostly ignore them. Harsh? Yes.

But honestly, the harshness comes from over forty years of watching this problem in its many forms. The outcome is that either sooner or later, the writers with the ego attitude vanish.

And the writers driving to keep learning stick around.

What is going to be interesting as I put up these posts about Heinlein’s Rules is how many writers will get angry at them. Just watch. (More than likely will happen on other blogs, or on writing boards or lists.)

Heinlein’s Rules strip away all the excuses. If you can’t get out of your own way, can’t put away your own ego that you know more than Robert Heinlein, you will be better off ignoring the Heinlein’s Rules chapters as they go by.

And if you have to make excuses as to why those five simple rules don’t apply to you, better to skip them in the first place as well. All they will do is make you angry.

Learning is Attitude.

Talking about Heinlein’s Rules tends to clearly illustrate where in the world of writing your attitude and ego are located.

This will be fun for many of us. I know I’m going to enjoy going through the rules again.

But remember I said this right here. If any of the five simple rules make you angry, do some checking in with yourself. Anger comes from being vested in a belief.

And if that belief is that you know better than everyone else, oh, oh…

Just saying.


The Writing of Dead Hand: A Cold Poker Gang Mystery

Day 1…. 700 words.  Total words so far… 700 words.
Day 2…. 1,200 words.  Total words so far… 1,900 words.
Day 3…. 1,000 words.  Total words so far… 2,900 words.
Day 4…. 1,100 words.  Total words so far… 4,000 words.
Day 5…. 1,400 words.  Total words so far… 5,400 words.
Day 6…. 2,450 words.  Total words so far… 7,850 words.
Day 7…. 3,300 words.  Total words so far… 11,150 words.
Day 8…. 1,200 words.  Total words so far… 12,350 words.


Totals For Year 3, Month 5, Day 8 

Writing in Public blog streak… Day 849

— Daily Fiction: 00 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 8,350 words  

— Nonfiction: 00 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 1,200 words 

— Blog Posts: 1,100 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 4,000 words

— E-mail: 31 e-mails.  Approx. 1,800 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 195 e-mails. Approx. 11,900 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 0 Covers


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And thanks.

If you would like to leave a tip just hit (Goes to WMG Publishing account, but I’ll get it just fine.)


  • Irette Patterson

    Thanks for writing this series, Dean. Glad to hear that you and Kris are doing well even if you may be a bit soggy. In the introduction of Stephen King’s latest short story collection “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams” he says that he’s “still an amateur, still learning my craft.” And that’s Stephen King.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, and that is King being honest with his own attitude. He really believes that, the best writer on the planet believes he’s still learning his craft.

      That’s part of what makes him the best writer on the planet.

  • Dane Tyler

    Rock solid stuff here, Dean. It wasn’t long enough ago I had major ego issues because I had a bunch of people telling me how “talented” I was and what a “great writer” I was. I felt I held ground with people who were bestsellers, and maybe I was a little better than so-and-so, and things like that.

    Oh, man. I just hang my head in shame at the attitude I had, at the hubris. Goodness. And yet those books had things to teach me, had things to say to me as a writer, and you know what? I was SO arrogant I didn’t know that, and today still don’t know a method for pulling that stuff out of them. (I saw you refer to doing this in a comment on your blog a few posts back, and it really struck me. Learning how to rip a book you love apart and figure out how the author did what they did to make you love it? Gold. GOLD.)

    Now I want to learn, but still find myself being arrogant. I want to learn from people like you, and Kris, but until recently, didn’t think I could learn anymore from the craft books I have. Yeesh. I caught myself with that in my head the other day, right around the same time you wrote about getting bits and pieces out of books, just as you would learn anything. We can’t hold an entire book of information in our heads at once; brains don’t work that way. So gleaning one or two things? Wow. Another revelation for me.

    Now I know, even if most of the book doesn’t teach me anything, I can scan it for something of interest, some tidbit that fits ME, at the time. And looking back at those books later might yield more tidbits depending on where I am in the learning curve at that time. Wow.

    So much eye-opening information, so many shifts in attitude and mindset, all happening right in front of me, and most of it because of how generous, how giving, you and Kris are. I’ve learned more from the two of you in the last eight months or so than I learned from anyone else about the art and business of writing in the last five years. (And maybe some of that’s because of my ego!)

    I can’t thank you enough. I can’t wait to learn the next thing, whatever it may be, wherever it may come from, and whenever it happens. It won’t be soon enough for me – I’ve really loved the learning and have found learning is my biggest inspiration this past year – but it will come if I keep my head right.

    I will be watching for what sets me off, though. Then I’ll check to make sure it’s not a myth. And if it’s not, I’m going to pay close, close attention to that.

    Thank you so much Dean. Hope the storm passes you without trouble soon.

  • Vera Soroka

    I think if you stop learning, you are selling yourself short. Your missing opportunities on trying new things. Singers are always reinventing themselves to stay fresh and new. It’s always a learning journey if you are a true artist.
    Being a writer and person who draws, there are many genres and mediums to explore. Why would I want to hold back on that?

    • Sean Monaghan

      There’s a story about a guitarist, I think in Ozzy Osbourne’s touring band, who would find a guitar teacher in each city they played and book a lesson. I keep that anecdote in the back of my mind.

  • Kim Iverson

    I’m excited to read the rules, but more so is your take on them. Whenever I learn something new, I get this rush of excitement where it’s like I’m re-energized all over again with the passion and love for what I do. Learning is in my blood.

  • D J Mills

    I read for 2 hours last night using kerosene lanterns because of a storm taking out the electricity supply. Each time I read back through one of my” How To Write” genre (action, thriller, etc) books I learn one more thing, so thank you for teaching how to keep learning and growing as a writer.

  • Mark Kuhn

    Dean, sorry to hear you guys are getting hammered by the weather out there. My wife’s sister and her husband retired a few years ago to Portland and my wife and I have placed Oregon on our short list of places to retire to. No snow, no extreme cold. That’s important. New Jersey winters are becoming brutal. I understand the weather in Portland can differ quite a bit from the weather on the coast. Pictures I’ve seen of the state are absolutely stunning in their beauty.
    The so-called experts are saying New Jersey will get a break this winter because of a strong El Nino. My fingers remain crossed, hoping they’re correct.