On Writing,  publishing

Running Through A Novel

Ran Through the Dry Creek Crossing novel tonight…

Kris is my first reader, and since both of us work on paper, she reads my books that way and when she spots a typo or something, she marks it.

That means I need to run through and fix the marks I agree with. She often catches other small issues I tend to have. And, of course, it is copyedited at WMG before going into print.

But tonight I was running through Dry Creek Crossing: A Thunder Mountain Novel I wrote in the third part of the challenge last month, getting it ready to be turned in with a Smith’s Monthly issue. Very, very few marks.

Kris had a question about a detail in the ending and I understood what she was saying and that took one line to make clear.

That was it. I wrote the entire novel writing into the dark and when I hit the last word I printed it and gave it to Kris. And tonight it took me all of thirty minutes to touch it for the final time.

Thirty minutes.

And I couldn’t even figure out where I had cut out one four thousand word strange loop where my two characters go exploring up into some old ghost towns in Central Idaho. And then come back to the exact same spot. I honestly don’t even remember why I would even have them do that, but clearly I needed to explore off in that area at the time.

Over the last few days I have gotten some interesting emails about the Writing into the Dark workshop. Most of have been great questions, but a few started off the question or letter with “I can’t…”

Not a thing I can say other than the old saw about every writer is different. And I honestly don’t care if anyone signs up for the workshop. On this one, I am going to record it anyway, even if only a few sign up. I figure that if there is a writer out there feeling lost, starting to hate writing because of the rewriting and outlining and all the crap people tell them that they have to do, then this workshop will be there to help if they have the courage to take it.

But as I have discovered over the last few days, most writers don’t think they need help and certainly, and I mean CERTAINLY don’t feel they need to change their writing system. After all, their system is working.

And that’s fine. I flat don’t want to force anyone to do anything with their writing they don’t want to do.

But that said, fear in writing is very powerful. I have talked about it in numbers of workshops, from editing to research to fantasy and others. Fear takes writers and bends them and eventually breaks them. I’ve watched it happen now for 40 years, sadly.

And the fear of not doing something “right” is the biggest and most deadly to this art of writing fiction.

I am pretty much the only writer talking about writing without rewriting and without outlining.

And I am pretty much the only writer who constantly says that writing should be fun, not work.

So by that measure, if I am outnumbered that much by the “common knowledge,” then I must be wrong.

But honestly, having fun and being challenged with telling a story and learning how to be a better storyteller is so much fun, I don’t care if I am wrong.



The Universe Between Bundle

I curated this bundle and I had great fun with it.

I loved living in that middle ground. All my writing falls in the middle ground between two places. Every story. Some more obviously than others, but without a doubt, every story or novel that I write, or every book or magazine I edit, falls in the “between” place.

This bundle not only helps a fantastic charity with Ablegamers.com, but it has some stunning novels by some great writers.

And it has an entire volume of Fiction River. A lot of short stories in there as well.

Give this one a look, folks. I think you will be very happy you did.



You should all have Smith’s Monthly #40 now. Both #41 and #42 are in the process and I will be turning in #43 this weekend.



This fall major business workshop was full, but as normal, when I started the email group this last week, a number of people had to drop out. Some for business reasons, some for health.

So after I announced this a couple days ago, one person signed up, so that leaves two spots open in the Master Business class for October 21st -28th. All top level business focused on indie publishing only. Write me if you are interested with what you are doing with your writing and where you want to go. The coast workshops are invite only.

You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Thanks for your support.


  • Vera Soroka

    Boy, I could write an essay on this subject. I only started writing 10 years ago. In that 10 years my writing experience has gone through a lot. Mostly discovery and learning of course. Now I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I was always a reader first. I was one of those writers who fell into this craft-literally. It was the author Cornelia Funke who woke up the writer seed inside me. I wrote my first paragraph on the computer that we got for my daughter. The rest was written in the back of my garden journal. (Because they made fun of me and I hid it).
    I followed a few YA authors at that time and when they talked about their writing process, which sometimes was good but the one thing that they ALL talked about was the rewriting. You had to rewrite to make it better. I had no clue even where to begin because I wrote totally in the dark and it felt very natural to do it that way. So, I made a mess of some of my manuscripts because of that. I would just go on and tell another story. One novel has three versions of it. LOL.
    Finally, I threw all that out and just took what critiques that were useful and applied them and wrote into the dark. So much more fun. And I think it is worse now with the internet as some try to make money telling others how to write faster and publish faster doing it their way. One guy I get emails from insists that you need to outline in his way and it will get you results. He also shouts down that producing a lot of product is not the answer. He says that’s a myth. I don’t agree with him there. I follow a few successful indies and they all have one thing in common and that is a LOT of books. I think they got noticed because of that. And of course told a good story.
    This is the end of my rant. Writers have to learn what works for them and only them and stop listening to these gurus that think their way is right.
    I think my best workshop to take would be the depth one and the second one. Those would be more of a benefit to me I think than this one.

  • Mark Kuhn

    Dean, you aren’t wrong by any stretch. Your techniques of writing have helped me so much, you wouldn’t believe it.
    Which brings me to the next thought. First I’m glad you moderate this blog. I stopped visiting other writing forums a long time ago because outliners and non-outliners end up having epic fights.
    And it shouldn’t be that way. Outlining doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for you or Dean Koontz or Michael Connelly or David Baldacci, just to name a few. Outlining works for James Patterson just fine.
    Which segues to my next point. Stephen King’s “On Writing” book. Lots of advice in there about re-writing. And grammar. And having a copy of The Elements of Style nearby. He also said he never considers any story to be finished. Critical Voice large and in charge. (I’ll get to how James Patterson brought me here in a second). I have read a few Stephen King books and I have to say I’m not a fan. (GASP! What did he just say??) I think it’s because I don’t own a forklift to get his books from the store and into my house. But I digress.
    My second point is artists, in my opinion, have no right to trash talk other artists. Trash talking is fine in sports. It’s used to gain a psychological edge on your opponent. Stephen King has been quoted as saying, “James Patterson is a terrible writer.” I disagree with that opinion. But I’m sure there are some people who do. King has even taken a pot-shot at Dean Koontz, who has said that he has written more best-sellers now since he doesn’t outline anymore.
    It’s a battle that rages everyday. Outline or not outline. But since the hallowed halls of academia preach outlining, then that’s the way it must be. Which is wrong on so many levels. There is no end to the carnage and the long list of people who have quit writing and will never know the satisfaction of having FUN while telling stories.
    You are on the right track, Dean.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Mark. King, remember, came solidly out of the literary tradition and was an English teacher, actually. Patterson came out of advertising. He builds things like an architect does a floor plan, which is why he can write with so many others. Koontz, Connelly, Baldacci write no outline, one draft, clean and done.

      So you mentioned three different types. A literary person, a builder, and storytellers. I am a storyteller. All of us have found success at one level or another. So the key comes down to enjoyment. If you are forcing yourself to follow the King method when you would be better with the Koontz or Bradbury or Heinlein method, then you won’t be happy and your writing will stop.

      It really is that simple. Every writer is different. There are successes you can point to with every way. So each person has to go to the enjoyment, the place that makes the little creative voice in all of us happy. Don’t pander to the critical voice, feed the creative voice. And that leads to long-term careers.

  • Thomas F Bennett

    Hey Dean,

    I’ve emailed you a bunch and I feel like leaving a comment about this instead. Thanks so much for being supportive through all my challenges this year. I’ve thought about quitting writing 3 times throughout the year, mostly because of health issues and frustration about my living situation.

    But when I’m writing nothing feels better, and with your help and encouragement I’ve got a few stories that are worth trying to sell. Thanks to you and Kris for encouraging me and not letting me give up on myself. It’s made all the difference.

    • dwsmith

      Thomas, not sure what we did, but thanks! The key with the writing is to keep it the safe and fun place to escape. That way when the world turns to shit, as it does for all of us at one point or another, the writing is there, sort of waiting, saying “Come play.” Helps us forget the problems at time. So keep the writing fun and the rest works out.


  • Cynthia Lee

    I’m a bit embarassed to admit this, Dean, but I started writing into the dark about four years ago to prove you wrong about writing into the dark. It was a dumb decision that turned into a smart decision, if you know what I mean. Not only did I really start enjoying the writing, I also turned into a different sort of writer than I’d set out to be.

    Writing into the dark made me abandon (happily, I should add) the literary pretensions and myths I’d acquired as an English major. It also showed me that I really wanted to write genre fiction, that trying to be literary made me miserable. I realized while writing a novel darkly that I really love to write fantasy. I realized while writing short stories darkly that I love writing horror.

    I am having more fun with writing than I ever thought possible.

    So if anyone is reading this and saying to themselves “Dean is full of *&#$” or “I just can’t” or any variation on that theme, go ahead and try to prove Dean wrong. You may find that you are capable of things you didn’t think possible.

    • dwsmith

      That is so cool, Cynthia. Thanks! It is really fun how it works that way, actually. I thought Bradbury and Heinlein were crazy when I started it as well, but realized that if both of them were saying this, why not try it at least. And I had the same discovery of fun and sales.

      Thank you for saying this. Actually, people will give you a lot more credibility on this than me.

  • Robert J. McCarter


    I love writing in the dark. How boring it would be starting a novel knowing everything that is going to happen. And I get it, outlining works for some people and has created some good books, it’s just not for me.

    With your encouragement, I recently wrote 30 stories in 34 days (120k words). That kind of stuff doesn’t happen with outlining and a boat load of myths and a ton of worrying. And I’ve thought about this some since the challenge. Some of those stories, some of those worlds, just wouldn’t exist without writing into the dark. Without immersing in story and letting go. Because, honestly, I wouldn’t have the courage to write some of those stories if I knew what was coming, and I wouldn’t have thought most of that stuff up if I was outline and obsessed with coming up with a “good idea.”

    I don’t think I’m saying this very well, but if you create the space and discipline, keep on leaping into the dark, you will be amazed at what comes out. It will be literally stuff you never imagined you’d write about. And if you as the writer are surprised, it’s a good bet that the reader will be to.

    I’d love to take the Writing into the Dark workshop, I’m sure I could get a lot better at it. Just timing right now. If it sticks around for a bit, I’ll take it.

    Thanks again for being so out there with this. I would have given up long ago without what you blog about and what you teach!

    • dwsmith

      Oh, don’t scare me, Robert. No giving up. Keep having fun because your stories are wonderful and fun. And if you keep going, a lot of people will love them.

      And the Writing into the Dark workshop will be around for a long time, at least as long as I am still doing workshops. It is a workshop that was difficult to figure out and now that we have, it will be one of those workshops like Depth that sticks.

  • D J Mills

    Based on all the other courses I took with Dean, I would say that Writing into the Dark will be as good, or even better than the details listed of what I will learn.
    i am working on finances right now to make sure I can afford it in Sept or later. 🙂

  • Annie Reed

    I’ve written exactly one thing to outline/proposal, and while I didn’t hate the experience, the end result felt very stilted to me (oh, and I even totally threw out part of the outline along the way). It was a one-time experiment just to try it. Won’t do it again.

    I’ve always written into the dark, even before I realized what I was doing. I write to tell stories to myself, to entertain myself, so why would I want to tell myself the same story more than once? Sure, there’s _always_ the scary part when I have no idea where a story’s going to end up or even if there’s a point to the whole thing, but if I just keep going, eventually my subconscious lets the writer in on the secret. And boy, is that moment fun or what?

  • Thomas Bennett

    As someone who just finished Assignment #5 of the Research workshop after also having Kris’s lecture on it, I have to say taking the workshop leveled up my writing in a way that the lecture on the same topic could not. The lecture on research is fantastic and gives you pointers and ways of doing things. The workshop allows you to dive deep and get feedback so you can improve what you’re doing. And I was one of the ones asking about the Writing into the Dark Workshop. So I figured I’d post the answer I’ve determined from my own experience.

    You should find another lecture Kris wouldn’t mind doing. Your two lecturing styles compliment each other.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Thomas. We do try to keep the lectures complimentary of a workshop, with the lecture being surface and the workshop being the deep dive.

      So thanks!

  • Marsha Ward

    Wrong? Really?

    After 30 years of shame that I couldn’t tolerate outlining, and revising and rewriting stories that felt right and whole and complete the first time through, I read Writing into the Dark and the bonus parts from Killing the Sacred Cows, and suddenly realized that I had no call for shame. I was a real writer, no matter what those around me said. I’ve published nine projects so far this year, with six more to go. What fun!

  • David Alastair Hayden

    It’s kind of amazing how many writers don’t try various techniques. I think most benefit more from discovery writing or loose plotting (superficial structure) than plotting. But if you’re not comfortable or new, it doesn’t hurt to try different ways. Once you’ve found your technique, or if you start off writing naturally and freely, you’re good to go.

    I’m comfortable now with discovery writing (usually knowing the ending but not because I try to know it, just happens), but I’d still love to take the course to maybe find a new technique or viewpoint. Always room to improve. Unfortunately, I want to write a 100k novel in September, and I have *a lot* of other stuff going on that month. I just won’t have the time. If you offer it up again later in the year, though…

    • dwsmith

      Going for three months in a row, David, then every other month after that for as long as I keep doing these things. Or at least, that’s the plan for this workshop at the moment.