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Topic of the Night: The Blog That Destroyed An Art Form

The Blog That Destroyed an Art Form

I got a great comment from a guy this morning. I didn’t put it through because the guy called me some pretty good names. *ss*ole was only one of them. One word I had never been called before. Creative.

But he said he had liked my writing. (I think the operative word there is “had.”)

So why was he so angry? And why did I damn near fall out of my chair laughing at this angry post with a bunch of swear words aimed at me? (Not the reaction he was hoping for I am sure.)

Because he said, basically, that with my writing a novel in seven days, I no longer respected the novel form and I had ruined and devalued an art that takes many, many writers years and years of work to create.

I am not kidding.

In his eyes, because I spent 40-some hours writing a novel over a week’s time, I had ruined all novels for all writers.

I had devalued their art.

(Didn’t know I was that powerful, did you?)

So I was still laughing when I went out into the kitchen. I told Kris what had happened and when she stopped laughing as well, she got right to the heart of the problem. She asked two very simple questions.

“I wonder who pointed your blog out to the guy? And I wonder how annoying the guy was getting continuously talking about his two-or-three-year novel?”

Yup, she hit it right on the money.

Someone, more than likely a writer friend, wanted this guy to just finish his damn work-of-art book, so the “friend” sent the poor soul to my blog. The guy read about my finished novel in seven days and hit the roof.

And, of course, I had to be to blame for ruining an entire art form and devaluing all novels in general. (Including his, I’m sure.)

The Myths Combined With Fear

When the myth about rewriting and the myth about writing-slow-to-attain-quality collide with fear, you get a writer constantly working on the same book over and over and over for years and years.

Happens all the time, sadly. And some writers escape, but very few.

Most writers don’t even know they are trapped because isn’t that how their English teacher said they needed to do it?

It was those two myths that started me writing the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. The chapters on both are in the first book and still available for free under the Sacred Cows tab above.

And it is pure fear of doing something wrong that holds the writers in the myths. To escape any myth, a writer must first get some courage. Much easier for me to say than for a writer to do, I admit.

And they must find other ways, study other writers. That is clearly what someone wanted this angry writer to do, more than likely to help him.

This guy was suddenly faced with a writer like me who worked a full day job (excuse gone) and watched television and took naps (excuses gone) and who is 65 years old (excuse gone) and still wrote a 43,000 word novel in seven days in one draft without rewriting.

I can understand the anger. I expect to get more.

But I never, not once, thought the guy would give me enough power to think I have devalued an entire art form. Wow, that’s just head-shakingly funny.

And it shows a frightening lack of knowing the history of writers through time. And how many of the very classics he thinks are perfect were written in a week or two, one draft.

Of course, if he knew that, he wouldn’t be angry at me.

I Will Be Careful With My Power

As Spider-Man says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (I know, I wrote three or four of those novels.)

So I promise to act responsibly now that I have suddenly found myself with the ability to destroy an entire art form.

— I promise to just keep on telling it like it is in publishing and writing.

— I promise to just keep on showing how it’s done with my own writing.

— I promise to keep on my little donkey and jabbing at the myths of publishing as they pop up their ugly little heads.

— I promise to just keep on doing my own monthly magazine with 70,000 words of my own fiction in it every month. Just turning in Issue #30.

(And whatever you do, if you are that guy’s friend, don’t tell him about my magazine. Can’t imagine what he would say if he learned I was devaluing all of the magazine industry as well.)

So sometimes the myths come pouring at me in the form of a poor, angry person who needs to defend a way of thinking by swearing at me. Normally, I just ignore those poor souls.

But this guy anointed me with a vast power that I just had to report to all of you, just in case you didn’t know.

Until today, I didn’t know I had it either.

What great fun.


  • Gnondpom

    Wow, thanks for the laugh! A few days ago we learned that you might be a mutant, and now we know that you are probably in fact a god, that explains how you managed to pull off a novel in 7 days!

    Just made me think that there must be a god of novels in the Poker boy universe, just like for everything else. I wonder whether his name is Dean?

    • dwsmith

      Hmmm, you might be right. But I have a hunch the main Gods would be Frederick Faust (Max Brand among other names) and Earl Stanley Gardner and Lester Dent and Lawrence Block and Bob Vardeman and so on.

      I wouldn’t even be at a lower god level. I would be down at the lower superhero level. (And for all of you who have never read a Poker Boy story, just ignore this. It will make no sense. (grin))

  • Anita Cooper

    “But this guy anointed me with a vast power that I just had to report to all of you, just in case you didn’t know.”

    Of course we knew it, Dean! Why do you think we keep coming back for more? 😉

    Seriously though, I feel for that guy…his critical voice has a tight grip on him…and in my opinion I think he’s lacking some humility. Even if he disagrees with what you did there’s no reason to be uncivil. Apparently he’s forgotten his mother’s advice about keeping quiet…

    • dwsmith

      Actually, Anita, I feel bad for the guy as well. Trapped in the myths so tightly and he clearly has passion about his work. But he doesn’t realize that he’s not protecting his work but is instead protecting the myths.

  • Dane Tyler

    Wow. Just…wow. I can’t believe someone would ascribe the power to devalue an art form to any one person, but that’s not the shocking part to me.

    To accost you because you did something someone else can’t do? won’t do? I guess I should stand outside any skydiving school and shout obscenities at the instructors, right? I mean, *I* could never do that. How DARE they do it? They’ve devalued the flight of flying squirrels! Let me get to Urban Dictionary and find some really choice epithets.

    I’m still just STUNNED when someone comes along and is rude to people doing so much to help others.

    C’mon. At some point, a writer has to grow up, acknowledge their own weaknesses instead of blaming something – or someONE – else, and…deal.

    You handled it well, like a mature person would. I wouldn’t have, I don’t think. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Dane, I’ve been putting myself out front since the early days of Pulphouse 1987 and have had people angry at me, some for decades, and trolls, and you name it. It bothered me a little at first, but now, after thirty years I just shrug and in this case, laugh my ass off. Can’t take people like that seriously. You have to just feel bad for them because they are so lost in something they actually care about.

  • John Zemler

    Hey Dean,
    Now that you are a super-hero, can we expect a new Marvel movie where you go after the evils of the Big 5?
    Do you get a cape to wear? What will be your version of kryptonite? Will you get x-ray vision to see through the pitfalls in so many traditional contracts?
    Semper Pax, John

    • dwsmith

      I’m not selling myself to Marvel unless they want me to novelize the next movie. Or write another Spider-Man novel or two. Then I might be bought. (grin)

      And Kryptonite? Well, that’s picking, which has always been my first real passion and now we will have two stores that need to be supplied. And I can already see through those stupid traditional novel contracts. (grin)

  • Lassal

    So, how cool is that, Dean?! You not only write about superheroes, you are one yourself!

    I have to say that I did enjoy following along.

    Every time you wrote about going to take a nap or watch The Voice, something in me clenched and I heard a voice (mine? Noooo! 🙂 ) shouting “Don’t do it!”, “Don’t interrupt!” … If was really fun! You had me on the edge of my seat.

    And it is always awesome to buy the stories and read them afterwards – knowing how they came to be!

    Way to go, SuperDean!
    Cheers from Germany

    I was looking at your Patreon page last night. I’m collecting patrons for a book series – off site first with little “emails-of-intend” so I do not have to start in the awkward-zone with zero supporters.
    How is Patreon working out for you? Any insights you might want to share? Is the platform stable? Issues with payments etc? Would you do it again?

    • dwsmith

      Lassal, Patreon is wonderful because of the people who support this blog. It’s just a platform for allowing people to do that and I do my best to send out a book or two a month to them, so it’s also another way to subscribe to Smith’s Monthly. But mostly it is something I value because it shows the wonderful support this blog gets and that I’m not just typing into the void. And that means more to me than I can describe.

  • David Davenport

    How’s about using this great power of yours to do something useful then?

    Like solving the whole procrastination problem?


  • Kate Pavelle

    If you really want to make money, Dean, start a religion. You already have a strong Gospel of St. Dean going with your cow-slaying books. All you have to do is package your seminars as sermons, your various works of fiction as facets of “the crystal that is the One Universal Truth,” and your Coast Workshops as revivals, and then you’ll be set! The Westboro Baptist Church will block the road outside in protest, thus providing you with free publicity. This could be a sideline, I tell ya. And instead of rolling a dice, you can roll a marble. It can be one of those “See, it will all work out if you let go of your fear” meditative rituals!

    When my family came to the US, my dad and other members of the immigrant community were seriously discussing what would it take to get a church going for the tax write-off. His business is chemistry. You, who work in fiction, have a much better chance in the field of faith.

  • Jason M

    Age 65 is nothing. I just went to a David Gilmour (leader of Pink Floyd) concert here in Chicago on Monday night. He sold out 20,000 seats at the United Center, and blew everybody away for two and a half hours with unbelievable guitarwork.

    Oh yeah — he turned 70 last month. Still performs like he’s 25.

    BTW keep on devaluing the entire art form lol. It actually helps to remember that the world will continue spinning whether or not we finish our works-in-progress.

  • Jeremy M

    Fear is such a huge subject. And the biggest thing that holds people back not just in writing, but practically anything.

    You’ve touched on dealing with fear in several workshops and lectures. Have you ever considered doing an entire lecture on fear? How to turn fear into an engine that can drive people forward instead of holding them back?

    Thanks for all you do. What you and Kris put out there makes for the best education a writer can get these days.

    • dwsmith

      Interesting, Jeremy, we’ll have to think about it. But got a hunch the fear hits most people differently. But there might be enough to combine into groups and how the fear hits writing. Hmmm. Interesting idea. Sort of a “Fear and the Art of Writing.”

      • Felicia Fredlund

        The productivity workshop goes through some of the fear stuff. How to use a few different kinds of fear and such. I really found it useful and I should probably review it again sometime soon. 🙂

        • dwsmith

          Anytime, Felicia. It’s open for review at any point. And glad you found it useful. It was a fun one to do.

  • Rick Grant

    High Art Form my polite Canadian a**.

    I honestly don’t know how or why you put up with such rude and vulgar correspondents. Personal attacks like this in the real world would result in bloody knuckles and smashed noses. Well, you are clearly a lot tougher than me.

    However, it is disheartening to see that someone who so highly values the High Art of the Novel gets it all wrong. He clearly does not understand the nature of story telling that I suspect was hard wired into the human brain hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of years ago.

    This guy probably has a rigid idea of what constitutes a novel; a certain length for sure, particular character developments (the old Hero’s Journey Formula), and derivative to a great degree of the so-called writerly greats. So, when you or anyone else, dares to break one of these arbitrary rules it is as though the Greeks have started digging into the foundations of Troy. This of course results in fear, a cowardice of intellect, and a need to lash out as wildly and inappropriately as any uncultured boor.

    The odd thing is; there is no accepted definition of what a novel is, other than perhaps it should be printed on paper. Academics argue this nonsense endlessly in their faculty lounges and get nowhere. The history of the novel is as wild, torturous, confused, and contradictory as any thriller plot. Again, there is no commonly accepted definition of what constitutes a novel, low or high brow. It is a chimera of bewildering complexity verging on incoherence.

    Your correspondent has bitten too deeply into Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” and forgotten, or never had the wit to learn that McLuhan added a important insight; that “the content shapes the medium.” McLuhan most elegantly described it this way, “the content of a medium is a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind”. And there is essence of all story telling. It is the ability to transport the reader, listener, viewer, to another reality and for a while to let them live there.

    And so we are again at our beginnings, thousands of years ago, sitting around a fire on a wild night listening to tall,wonderful, scary tales of life on the African plains.

    The story is what counts and it doesn’t matter whether it is told, written on a clay tablet, scratched into the wall of a Pharaoh’s tomb, handsomely printed by the Bloomsbury Press or come to that, displayed in full 3D at a theatre.

    What may be the world’s shortest story (The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door.) contains a universe of novels and it might have taken as short a time as 15 seconds for Frederick Brown to write it.

    Tell that story to some overnight campers around a fire on a creepy dark night and listen as the explosion of creativity pours forth a torrent of tales, sagas, and yes, even the seeds of contemporary High Art Form novels so beloved by your oh so impolite vulgarian of a correspondent.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, yeah, don’t tell the poor guy that the novel length that he treasures came about over the last fifty years because publishers needed to charge more so they had authors write longer. That will mess with the poor guy’s brain.

      One correction, the Frederick Brown story you refer to actually as that line a ways into the story and it is a regular-length short story.

      • Rick Grant

        Yes of course. It’s been decades since I read “Knock” and forgot that the two-line story was part of a much longer story, of which I can remember not a damned thing.

  • Jeff Soesbe

    Funny comment because I easily found multiple examples of “classic novels written in a short span, even a month”. Often, they are mentioned in articles appearing around NaNoWriMo.

    I wont add links, but books mentioned include: A Christmas Carol; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; The Confidential Agent; As I Lay Dying; A Study In Scarlet; King Solomon’s Mines; The Gambler. On The Road; Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde; etc. I’m sure there’s plenty more.

    I look at it as a function of time and skill level. If your writing is at a mid/high skill level, and if you put in the the time, you can probably write a pretty danged good book in what others would consider a “short time”. And the best way to get to that skill level is practice, practice, practice, aka write, write, write.

    – yeff

  • Harvey

    Jeez, Dean, all I can say is now that you’re aware of your power, I’m glad you’re choosing to wield it so wisely. And as they would say in the Great State of Texas, “Why looky here, Dean. This boy thinks writin’ a novel is a high-art form. Bless his heart.” 🙂

  • Sophie Sin

    Haha. I write as Sophie Sin and Dick Powers. I’ve written 800 short stories as of today. My publisher regular complains about you, Dean. I was a washed up writer trying to get into naughty mags and doing average at it until I came across Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into The Dark (well before you actually made those into full length books) and started to write an average of 200+ books a year.

    Things he’s said that cracked me up:

    “If that damn old man hadn’t written those books, I’d wouldn’t have to work so hard every damn day.”
    “Sometimes, Sophie, I wish you weren’t so damn prolific. It’s his fault, isn’t it?” (He said this on Skype with a ‘help me’ look when I suggested we do some premium Createspace books for our new website. My publisher is under contract and has to respect some of my ideas – poor him as I have many!)
    “Dean Wesley Smith: The man that made me work too damn hard…”

    The last one is paraphrased, but I do believe he holds a significant grudge against you. Me, on the other hand, I think you are a wonderful person.

    Continue to be wonderful!

    • dwsmith

      LOL, Sophie. Fantastic fun and thanks for that. Keep having fun and torturing your poor publisher. I know I drive Allyson at WMG Publishing nuts at times as well.

  • Prasenjeet

    I am surprised to find that these myths exist in India as well. Recently, I read a newspaper column by some critic who was attacking best-selling authors in India. She said, quoting some unknown Delhi university professors, that the standard of English has come down. She was concerned that those readers (in millions) who bought such best-selling books were becoming the new illiterates who have no idea of English language. She, later on, said that gone are those days when writers worked on a book for eight years or more ensuring quality. Nowadays, writers come up with a book every year or so (of course, she is only talking about traditionally published authors. If she knew what indie authors were doing these days, I am sure she would faint).

    • Kate Pavelle

      Fear is universal. Although Rabindranath Thakur didn’t read like a “rewriter.” He was a poet, and poetry is organic. It either flows, or it doesn’t. His books, plays, and poetry all had that water-like feeling to them, a sense of constant movement and inspiration. So here you have an example from your part of the world! (Disclosure: I have read his work in Czech translation only. It was still marvelous, though.)

  • Tank Johnson

    “I had ruined and devalued an art that takes many, many writers years and years of work to create. ”

    Err isn’t that A)Procrastination B) Practice C) Lack of discipline.

    My other comment is from a book by Richard Koch The 80/20 Principle to paraphrase him the most important 80% is done in the first 20% of the task there after you are just seeking imperceptible increments. How much time do these artists spend anguishing over “She left the room” V “She exited the room”

    • dwsmith

      Tank, wait, you forgot “She stormed out of the room.” Or wait, “She floated out of the room.” Or wait, how about “She exploded out of the room.” Or…

  • Kevin Johnson

    After I read this post, I stumbled upon an old file I had stored away one of my old USB drives–a digital copy of The Fiction Factory by John Milton Edwards. I have to say, it’s hard to read this thing and not see the same messages in your blog. I’ve re-read the short book about three times already, beginning to end. I’m sure you must have had come across it at some point in your collections.

    My favorite passage, one that seems to be echoed in most of your blog posts, is “A writer is neither better nor worse than any other man who happens to be in trade. He is a manufacturer…. If the product is good it passes at face value and becomes a medium of exchange.”

    And that was 104 years ago. His numbers (and income) are impressive even by today’s standards. I mean, there’s so much support for everything you say, how you debunk the myths of publishing and writing. I’m amazed and shake my head when I see, hear, or read about people who get that defensive over their “precious” stories.

    Okay, time to get back to my own story-mill.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, the Fiction Factory is an amazing book. Nothing about creation of fiction has really changed much in a hundred years. The myths are just more widespread now and that stops a lot of people. But the actual way to succeed hasn’t changed much at all.

  • Becca

    I am a writer who is escaping these myths now. It has been an interesting process. I’d all but given up on writing because I thought I had to rewrite, but every time I sat down to rewrite a novel, I wrote a completely new novel with only character names staying the same. Everytime I got “serious” about revising, I hated writing and stopped. I thought I was a failure. That I was broken.

    Then, oddly enough, I stumbled upon comic book writing. My English teachers and professors had never given me rules about THAT kind of writing, so the critical voice whined, but couldn’t roar. And I had FUN again! When I came upon your blog and books a couple of weeks ago, I figured out why. Now I’m beating back the myths and rediscovering the love of writing.

    Although writing is fun again, I also feel quite alone. I can’t talk to my writer friends about this. They will get as angry as the man who emailed you, Dean. One girl has been revising the same two books for years and pitching to agents at every writers conference she can get to. If I told her what I’d learned about agents… The other friend IS an English teacher (who I was dumb enough to let read a WIP some years ago…never touched that book again).

    The writing conferences and FB groups all BOAST the myths and whine about the fear they coddle.

    It is a little lonely on the outside. But I have this blog (thank you). And I have my husband. He knew these friends were hurting my writing and has told me so for years, but I thought I had to be a tortured artist. I thought miserable was the price to pay.

    And, when the friends start whining about how they lost the voice of the MS in the last revision, I can grin to myself and go back to having fun.

    • dwsmith


      One thing about being lonely and having to ignore what the others are doing is that you will be selling and they won’t be, and of course, you can’t tell them why.

      The art of the creative process is so different from what English teachers teach. So sadly all the rewriting and torture and work-think comes in. Yet we are entertainers. We need to first enjoy the process and entertain ourselves before any reader will enjoy the story. Something they also forget in the myths.

      So congrats on escaping and making writing fun. Just remember, the battle with the critical voice is a forever battle we all fight. Even mine finds a way to pop up at times, but I have a large hammer and after a day or so I smash it back into its dark, angry corner.

      Have fun.

  • Beth

    I’m amazed at that guy’s reaction. Mine has been the opposite. I loved reading the series about writing a novel in seven days because you made it all sound like so much fun! Too often, I hear writing advice that makes the whole thing sound like nothing but torture and suffering, and who would ever want to do that? I like hearing the perspective that writing can be fun and play.

  • Jim Johnson

    So silly. I guess the art form really is dead, Dean, because of you and all of us following your lead and being inspired. Chris Fox and Kevin McLaughlin each wrote and published novels in 21 days, and I’m writing three novels in three months and publishing them. Oh oh! 😀

    Write at the speed that works for you, people. I’m 46 years old, have a day job and a 7-month old son, and I’m writing like a fiend. If writing is important to you, find a way to get the time in. That’s the only way to get anything done. If 1,000 words a day is the best you can do, do that. If you can do 5,000 a day, do that. Do what works for you, but keep writing. Practice, practice, practice, and ignore anyone who tries to slow you down or tell you that you can’t do it. Ignore the haters and write on.

  • Shantnu Tiwari

    Dean, when Oppenheimer first saw the atom bomb, he quoted the Upanishads. I think you should have something similar as your tagline:

    I am become Dean, The Shatterer of Art (and writing myths)