We’re Lucky In Practice
Writers Are Very Lucky…
We can practice and get paid for it many times.
I realized that once again as I was driving back from a poker practice session at a local casino. I went to the $45 buy-in tournament early in the week to practice some on basics and give myself a must needed mental break from the move.
It has been some time since I have played any serious poker and I know I need to get back tuned up. (Writers never forget how to write.) But poker at the level I play is a sport and it takes bringing back skill levels to sharpness when away for a time. Especially since I will be in Las Vegas.
So I have signed up for Daniel Negreanu’s Master Class to get me back on the right focus (and I hope learn a few bits here and there. He is one of the best after all.)
The Master Class series has a bunch of writers, including James Patterson, doing video classes. I’ve talked with a number of writers who said the Patterson Master Class was good and they picked up some details.
That’s how we all learn in writing, a detail here, a detail there.
Now Daniel Negreanu’s Master Class in poker is going to be geared to earlier stage players than I am, but yet he will still be saying things that will add in a detail here and there to my knowledge and get my mind back in the right spot. And that will be more than worth the money.
And I paid $45 for a practice session tournament, and I will spend more on practicing with little to no thought of winning much right out of the gate. But I will make that up by factors of hundreds later on. So not worried.
A second thought crossed my poor tired brain on the way home from that short practice tournament. I realized that even though I had made my living for a number of years playing poker, I was a long ways from knowing it all and being satisfied. I have a ton of things to learn about the sport. That feels exciting.
And in writing I know I am just starting to scratch the levels of knowledge above me. Just starting. And that’s exciting.
Yet I see so many writers who have figured out a way to shut off all learning and just remain where they are.
I love the excuses. “Learning causes me to be more critical and shuts down my writing.” (Wow, that is someone very, very clueless on the nature of learning.)
“I am too busy writing at the moment.”
No one is as busy as I have been in the last two months and yet I still found time to learn a bunch of stuff on writing and work on bringing my poker knowledge back up to speed.
And there are many more excuses, all make me laugh and shake my head when I hear them.
There is always time for learning in life.
I’m not just talking about taking classes from us, I am talking about learning overall. Some writers reading this are constantly pushing to learn and practice and I love helping those writers move forward where I can.
And a few reading this will not have practiced or will have great excuses to not be learning. But very few, because, to be honest, reading my blog, and Kris’s blog, is too painful for someone who has decided to stop learning for whatever reason. So those people just sort of forget to come here.
So I am rambling here tonight to the choir. And I honestly like that.
I like being involved and talking with people who are driven to learn.
Maybe you guys should put together a Craft of Learning workshop. Or a lecture at least.
There’s a mentality in American culture that learning only exists for a short time and then you finish it, which is why so many people in general are resistant to learning anything new past their early to mid 20’s. I, like you, believe that learning never stops. I’ve been writing a bunch of short fiction as of late and make sure I learn something new with each and every single story and take a risk.
However, as I’ve learned the hard way, there’s a bunch of writing advice out there (especially on the internet) that’s heavily based on the “sacred cows” and other writing myths that you have documented over the years and can severely harm writers in many ways. How can we weed through the bad advice without ignoring the good lessons to learn in writing?
Listen to your little voice, Janine, when hearing or reading advice. The creative little voice. It will get excited and positive about a piece of advice if it is right for you. If it isn’t right, or you are not ready to hear it yet, then it will be neutral. If it makes the little voice laugh, it’s likely too stupid for words.
Watch also where your reaction comes from and track down the origin in your mind of where the reaction comes from. That’s what we are always having people do in different workshops. Question the source of the base learning that causes a strong negative reaction.
For example, when you hear someone like me say to not rewrite, chance are the reaction was strong and angry. But if you take the time to find out who taught you the rewriting myth, chances are it came from a non-writer like a teacher. Or it came from a major writer talking in public where they are hyping their own books (in public we all must tell readers we “work” hard on our books to give them reader value.)
So the key is to become aware is basically what I am saying. Be aware of where your own reaction is coming from and also look at the source of the advice. If it is a writer with five books out, three of them how to write, RUN! But someone like me or Kris with hundreds of novels and forty-year careers, then don’t accept what we say right off, but we get a slight bit more weight in the analytics.
There’s a lot of writing “experts” around the internet actually, and I’ve checked a bunch of their credentials. Usually 0-3 books published (sometimes a little more, but it’s almost always single digits), many of them started giving tips and advice *years before* their debut were published. And quite a few of those have English backgrounds.
You’re right about that “voice”: I wasn’t angry when I first read your advice years ago, but I was dismissive about it. And yes, the rewriting and outlining myth for me came from teachers and other unpublished writers, which I submitted to because little old me only studied STEM in University and not English. I kept wanting the myths to be true, but I crashed out and am only back in because I decided to listen to your advice this go around.
Another example: you know when I started to wonder “maybe developmental editing isn’t what it’s cracked up to be?” When I started to see unpublished writers starting to offer said services. You don’t have a book out yet, how can I trust that your advice is any good? Might as well pay a random person off the street to do that.
BTW: I make sure to overdramatize my writing problems when they occur in public, even if it’s not that bad of a setback.
Linda Maye Adams
Cut yourself off from it as much as possible. If you’re on a writing message board, drop off cold turkey. Today. Seriously.
I had to do that after I took the productivity workshop. One of the exercises was very eye opening as to what myths I’d learned over the years–and the majority of them came from one message board. Even if you tell yourself that you’ll ignore the bad advice, simply seeing it over and over will wreck your writing. Because so much of what I picked up was toxic, I had to do a brain dump and try to unlearn all the garbage (I’m keeping it clean; that is not the word I just thought!) I’d learned. And I’m glad I did. I haven’t missed the boards as much as I thought.
I can just see you standing up in front of a church (fake detail alert) Sunday morning sunlight streaming though those large clear windows…
Well I could go on 400-500 words (maybe even up to 1,200 words (I’m practicing on getting that level of depth in my Sci-Fi / Fantasy stories)) using at least 5 senses like how the breakfast of butter-fried chicken fills my mouth (can you have that for breakfast?).
…with all of us writers leaping to our feat shouting ‘Amen, brother, Amen.’
Nah, if I thought that was a possible chance of happening, I would stop instantly. It’s not me that does this folks, its you guys. I want no credit for simply saying “hey, look over here at this.”
So the key is to just keep having fun and down the road you can help others along as well. And you won’t want credit either when you do.
I tend to sing off-key but I’m happy to be a member of this choir. 🙂 I’ve recently found another valuable reason to continue learning. Early this year I had a life roll followed by writing a book in series that I had no interest in writing, yet felt I should. Between the two my creative voice went away in a sulk and I had been unable to produce any words for far too long. Months in fact.
The longer I went without writing the more frozen I became. I knew I had to do something, so I became a lifetime subscriber to your workshops. Learning broke the dam. Having to write assignments got my creative voice playing again, and learning new things has renewed my excitement about writing. I’m a firm believer. Never stop learning.
Marsha, glad you broke the dry spell. All caused by the critical voice winning in its goal to stop you. So fantastic. Now keep focusing on bringing the fun back into the writing and the critical voice will go into the corner whimpering at its defeat.
Well said, Dean.
I’ve taken numerous writing classes and workshops. By far, WMG’s have been the most useful. You cut through the myths and teach us what we really need to know to improve and succeed. And it’s hard work, like most of the worthwhile stuff is, but only hard in the sense that it makes us better at doing the thing we love–much like sprints and lifting weights help athletes improve doing the thing they love. Every one of us reading this blog want to express ourselves through our words and stories, and the tools you and Kris provide help us achieve that.
If it weren’t for you (and Ray Bradbury), I wouldn’t have written and FINISHED 43 (and counting) short stories since July of last year. It took a leap of faith to toss away that critical voice holding me back, but by God, its the best decision I’ve ever made.
You and Kris are definitely paying it forward. It’s greatly appreciated, so THANK YOU.
Hey, Phillip, write a couple more and you will beat my first year of writing a story per week. I did 44 my first year. So way to go! Great fun.
Holy shit, man. Congratulations! I only made it 3 stories into the Bradbury challenge this year, but I guess it’s not too late to try to finish the year strong,
Thanks, Philip! Great name, BTW. ? Definitely not too late to jump back on the wagon. Your future self will thank you as he sees how much you’ve leveled up the writing skills.
I love learning. Pretty much anything. My annoyance comes when I find I’m learning something I already knew and had totally forgotten. Something as simple as writing with opinion. How could I forget such a simple thing? Have fun with your new class!
I’m 39 and started writing fiction when I was 11. It was so easy back then because I was literally a child and had no inhibitions. I didn’t need to break free from a Critical Brain because I didn’t have one yet!
I started writing again in late 2015 when I learned about indie publishing. After reading this post, I went back and re-read my first story from 2015 and I was surprised to discover two things: First, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I would have guessed. Second, it wasn’t nearly as good as the story I finished last week.
So there you have it: practice. By the way, that 2015 story has earned me a few hundred dollars if you include how I’ve bundled it.
But I would have quit writing a year ago if I hadn’t discovered you and Kris. You taught me that I don’t have to analyze markets, outline every little element of my story, give books away for free forever, etc.
Now, if only I can kick that final demon holding me back from finishing my first novel: the critical brain. I must email you every couple of months with one version or another of my critical brain anxiety and God bless you for your patience in answering,
The bottom line is all the noise in the indie community now about algorithms and Facebook ads and auto-responders and blah blah blah is making me doubt what I know in my heart: a good story attracts a good reader and this is a LONG-term business, not a cash crab.
It finally hit me that I have a day job, so I’m not desperate to latch on to the Amazon KU teat and pray I can hit it big.
I have full freedom to follow my artist’s brain, my subconscious, and my 11-year-old mind that knew how to tell a damn good genre tale.
Philip, yup all the write-to-market or get-rich-doing-it-this-way schemes have been around forever. And they will continue in one form or another. I can never fall for them because a friend of mine got so tired of all the “do this” or “what is the secret” that she wrote a joke article for a magazine I was editing about how the real secret to getting rich quick was the placement of the periods on the page.
She suggested a writer learn the secret patterns of periods to make readers and editors buy the work and then just fill in the words between the periods.
From that point on it became clear to me about how all really silly all the get-rich-quick schemes are.
The real secret to writing fiction… Have fun.
Learning is one of my biggest pleasures in life. I don’t learn because it is a good thing to do, or because it will help me. I learn because it is FUN! Of course, it has awesome side effects, but it is the FUN that keeps me learning every day about everything. That’s part of the joy of being alive.
In case you can’t tell, J.M., I agree completely. There is an adrenaline rush with learning and I love that.
Absolutely!! I agree completely.
Mr. Smith, I’m a few years younger than you are, but one thing I live by is the day you stop learning is the day you start dying. I try to learn something completely new, or add some knowledge to something I already know about, every day. Anybody who “doesn’t have time” to learn will be left in the dust of those of us who find it no matter what.
The more I write, the more I learn just how much I don’t know about writing. It’s daunting, and I can understand how folks can be intimidated and easily feel overwhelmed. The best way is just like eating an elephant; one bite at a time, and eventually you’re down to tusks and toenails.
Thank you for this blog. I’ve learned so much from you.
Ross, that was my focus for years with writing, to learn one new thing a day. It was a focus I never really lost.
And I agree about the learning. When I see writers who have stopped learning because they “know it” or what they are doing “works for them” then I know they are headed for the door. And the worst cases are the “fear of learning” where they are afraid that learning will ruin their writing so they actively avoid learning in any way, building a wall around their writing to protect it from some unknown and unseen danger.
I came here because I felt super down today and this honestly cheered me up at least a bit.
I made a goal for myself today to get the two stories I‘m writing finished by 1st of September (by writing 1k on each of them a day, which sometimes actually turns into 3k on one of them and 0 on the other, or 2 on one of them and 500 on the other etc.). But when I told a writer friend of mine, the kind who keeps buying into all the myths, she said I should be cautious with my writing goals, that this was an impossible workload, and how she knows so many authors who would never consider this doable (and I mean, I know that most of the writers she knows are people who either are aspiring or they published like 2 novels in 4 years…). And even though I told her that I needed to make these experiences for myself, she kept telling me that I needed to be careful, and it just really got me down…
It‘s just really nice to come to your blog and see that big long-term goals aren‘t actually impossible.
Alexandra, sadly, you are running into something that all of us deal with at one point or another, and that is leaving friends who hold you back. Sounds like with that friend it is time to pull back and stop talking about writing with her. Talk about other stuff and just be a friend, but keep your writing to yourself. What will happen is that once you start actually finishing and getting books out, she will either change (unlikely) or get angry at you because you are showing her up.
So good luck, no good way to deal with “friends” who try to hold you back, no matter the good intentions.
I agree with this article whole-heartedly! I find myself in a strange place in my writing career. I wrote fanfics “pants-style” for years and years. Sometimes I would write notes when a plot got really huge (like the World War 2 epic with 25 main characters, and I was starting to lose track of where everybody was and what they were doing). But that didn’t hinder my creative brain in the least. I would also go back through and correct typos and details and things before I tossed each story online. I would also cycle, even though I didn’t know what it was called.
Then I started writing for actual publication and spent two years ingesting all the myths. I doubted my writing process, learned to write with outlines and rewrites and beta readers and stuff. I gave myself a critical voice. But all the time I was writing stories that were somehow sub-par to the fanfics I used to write, I had this nagging sense that I didn’t really need all this stuff. So last year, I tossed it all and went back to pantsing. My old style of writing basic notes to keep track of things, plus cycling, and only using a copy editor to catch typos, has led to books that I’m much, much happier with. I’ve half-heartedly used some beta readers, who worked very hard to tell me things I already knew. Don’t think I’ll use them anymore. Thanks so much for giving me the courage to try this, Dean.
Sounds to me, Kessie, that you found your own courage and had the experience behind you to know what worked for you. Well done that you only lost a few years. I lost seven years to the myths, even though like you I had the evidence the other way. So very well done escaping.
What I find interesting is that when writers write fanfic, they have a blast and write wonderful stuff. But suddenly, when it is for “real” publication, it becomes “special” and the writer has to stop having fun and write “special” which is just silly. We should be having as much, if not more fun, with our original fiction as we did with fanfic. Both are just writing and enjoying the process of telling a story.
There is always time for learning, and if anyone doesn’t believe it, I’ll put up that I’m doing every week of the Teams workshop from a different place as we move across the country (old home, air bnb, hotel somewhere, my mother’s house, new house with no furniture, and, hopefully by week 6, my new writing office). And I’m still getting work done on the current project, albeit very slowly.
I love to learn. I don’t know why people would stop. But I accepted I was an outlier in that regard about twenty years ago. I will admit though, that my own particular trap is the idea that if I just learn All The Things, I will get it Right. Which can lead to putting off actually doing things while I search for the one more piece of knowledge that I need. So part of my practice is to constantly redefine ‘getting it Right’ as something other than perfection.
Linda Maye Adams
I can see how some might saying learning triggers critical brain. It actually depends on the learning. When I was having problems with secondary plots and running too short, I did a kitchen sink approach to workshops. I took everything that I thought might help. These were $30-$50 classes (4-5 to 6 weeks and about 15-30 writers). Most were taught by writers with 1 or 2 books out, and had no teaching experience whatsoever. In one case, the instructor actually started revising the material in the middle of the class, then flaked out and disappeared.
Most of them approached writing like they were English teachers grading homework. You submitted your work, and they critiqued and picked it apart. The exercises were also not very fun or interesting from the creative brain side. It was like, “Write a paragraph of description in a village square and get all the five senses in.” Completely disconnected from the idea that there was a character who had those five senses. I was surprised when I took my first class through you, Dean, because my creative brain was going, “Whee! This is fun!”
There’s so much garbage out there, everyone really has to aggressively screen what they’re getting. Like: How many books has this person published? Are they fiction? Have you read any of them? And you still have to have your skeptic’s brain on, because not everything is going to be right for the way you right. There’s a best selling fantasy writer, and I won’t take his classes. They may be very good, but he outlines, and I know that’s wrong for me. You should always think carefully “Is this right for me?” before parting with the dollars, and not basing it on emotion (“I’ll never get published if I don’t take this class”). I’ve gotten to the point where I ask myself what skill I want to work on. Sometimes the answer is that I don’t want to do that right now.