On Writing,  publishing

What Is Special?

With Writing, What Exactly Is Special?

A nasty question I got a hunch I shouldn’t ask. Making a project, a chapter, a story special is a quick way to problems and critical voice issues.

Making the speed of writing a project special is also a problem I just fell into. And have fallen into a number of times over the last few years. I did a book of blog posts called Writing a Novel in Ten Days where I did my last ghost-written project.

Then I did another series of blogs into a book called Writing a Novel in Seven Days.

And then to make writing speed even more special, I just did the Write a Novel in Five Days While Traveling.

I made the numbers of hours I sat in a chair and typed something special.

If I could figure out a way to make special the numbers of hours I sit every week watching television, I would be rich. Or the numbers of hours I spend sleeping. Or exercising. Or doing the finances for WMG Publishing.

Yet I made the number of hours I sat in front of a computer making stuff up special and have sold a lot of those books over time, and I expect I will sell more.

Now, honestly, writing about how something was done does have value to writers coming in and working at the fight. I hope those three books I did, plus others such as Writing into the Dark and Heinlein’s Rules will help writers break out of fears and limits they have placed on their own writing.

So for that, I hope the books are special. But the typing itself shouldn’t be.

In other words, last week I wrote about the practice of writing a novel. And I hoped others would be interested in seeing how that was done, so I’ll put the blog posts about it together in another book.

There are a lot of magazines and books and such done in different areas about how to practice, how to get past limits. In our house every month comes a magazine on that topic. It’s called Runner’s World. A wonderful magazine for runners of all levels on how to practice, how to run, how to get faster and better.

I read it regularly, takes bits and pieces here and there, ignore lots of it because it isn’t right for me. I expect writers to do the same thing from my book and any of the other thousands of writing books out there.

So as I have been talking about (the last three nights in these posts) finding ways to get out of your own way with writing, to kill your own myths, it is important to watch out about making the time sitting in the chair special.

But at the same time, making something special in the process of typing can both help and set up new and different problems.

What is ideal?

Ideally, we all have gotten past all the things that stop us from writing, we all just enjoy the process of creating stories, we all have no problems just sitting at a computer and making stuff up.

And that ideal applies to exactly zero writers I know of for longer than a day or so at a time. Some might claim they are living the ideal, but don’t poke too hard or the bubble busts.

We all feel the ideal, all hit it, all enjoy it when it happens. And then reality smashes back in with a hidden voice from some workshop or a long-forgotten sentence from an English teacher or a self-doubt about value of work or numbers of sales or what will a mother say and on and on and on.

For me, I wish (ideally) that I could write without the distraction of trying not to be distracted. My biggest issue is after 40 plus years of doing this, I have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

I have most myths killed or whimpering in a corner, but the problem of distraction for me is the distraction.

Yet I love telling stories and doubt I will ever run out of stuff to make up. (How silly does that sound? (grin))

So one of the ways I get around my distractions is I make something special in the writing.


Like taking a poison to stop another poison.

So When We Are Writing, What is Actually Special?

I got a few ideas…

—Writing new words is special. Period. Nothing beyond that, nothing about the words or the content or the amount, just new words.

— Writing the story you want to tell is special. For many writers, they seldom give themselves the gift of actually telling a story they want to tell. Writing to market, fear, not feeling ready are three major reasons writers don’t just tell a story they want to tell. There are others.

—Enjoying the writing process is special. When I am sitting and living inside the characters and story I am telling, not paying attention to real-world-time passing, that is special. I don’t enjoy finishing a story or novel so much. And nothing really excites me about starting a project. But when I am just free and telling a story to myself, now that is special.

We All Fight Our Own Myths

Myths of fiction writing are the things that stop us or slow us down or make us write something we don’t want to write.

Some of us let the myths slow us down, let the myths control the writing.

Some of us fight the myths, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but like falling off a horse, always climbing back on (eventually) after failure.

Sometimes we have to use one myth to beat back another. Making the simple act of sitting in a chair and making something up special is dangerous. That puts pressure on the creative part of the writing.

But at times we all use it with challenges, counting word counts, and so on.

But caution. If you only have a few hours a week to write and you make those hours special and put pressure on them, you might find it difficult to get started every writing session.

If you think that writing so many hours a day is the key to success and you make those hours important, you will soon find yourself not wanting to sit down.

And so on.

Again, caution on making the simple act of sitting in a chair and typing special or important. Instead, make the fact that you are creating something fun and original to you a special feeling.

Hunger for the feeling of creation.

You might find that focusing on the creation, not the sitting and typing, makes it a ton more fun.


  • Chong Go

    Hmm, that’s a great point about making something “special” as the most certain way to kill the joy of it. Exercise, learning, etc. I’m going to be thinking about this for a while, I think. Thanks for this!

  • Bob Tinsley

    This struck a “special” chord with me. In addition to writing I carve Welsh and Scandinavian love spoons and wedding spoons. When I pick up a knife and a piece of wood I’m not concerned with how long the carving session is going to take nor with how much progress I’m going to make. I’m absorbed in the act of creation itself. The process is calming and fun rather than stressful. Professional carvers tell me I’m really good at this. I’m going to see if I can apply this concept to my writing. Thanks for the epiphany!


    • Melissa Bitter

      What a beautiful analogy! Thank you Bob. 🙂

      When I paint, this is what I feel like. Sometimes I just start with color, but I’m mostly interested and focused on layering the paint in order to create something that I like. Like your spoons, I’m not focused on the clock or how much I’m getting done while I do it.

      And back in my musician days, when I used to practice for 3-4 hours a day. Putting in the work and effort day in and day out like Dean blogged about the other day. I only watched the clock to make sure I was progressing through scales, exercises, and music pieces at an appropriate pace, and to take breaks to rest my arms. Otherwise, I’d get lost in what I was doing and spend too much time on scales and not get to all the pieces I needed/wanted to work on that day.

      • dwsmith

        Exactly, Melissa. That practice is critical in writing as well, only we get to sell our practice sessions.

    • Indie Indeed

      Great analogy. I used to do all manner of creative artistic projects and it was always an enjoyable, relaxing process which I did for its own sake, rather than the result. I need to get into that space with my writing.

  • Sheila

    Interesting. I find I’m happier when I focus on telling the story, rather on X number of words, or X hours in the chair. The feeling is much better when I’ve told a good story, and the time/number of words aren’t the real measure.

    Though I do keep up with my word counts, I try not to let that be the reason I’m doing it, or the writing ends up dull and I’m lacking that feeling of satisfaction knowing I got the best story out.

  • Marion

    I agree with Bob’s comment…this post struck a “special” chord with me. In trying to make things “special” can end up putting too much pressure on ourselves and will actually keeps us from writing and enjoying what we are creating. Thanks for the reminder, Dean.

  • Indie Indeed

    Yes! Thank you! “Special” –> creating pressure –> creating conditions of worth (I am successful only IF…) –> self-judgement –> inner resentment of self-judgement –> rebel against self-judging –> escape from self-judging by avoiding activities where judging occurs, specifically, writing!

  • Meg

    This is how I feel about quilting and the other needlework I do. They’re all about process for me, not product (I give most of my quilts away to charity because my house is already full of them and everyone I’d want to give a quilt to already has one — I’ve been quilting for almost thirty years and I’m woefully productive). But when I’m writing I’m focused on product, for better or worse, and paradoxically I don’t end up with a lot of that product. I’m not sure how to get to the point where I’m focused on process while I’m writing instead.

    • Liana Mir

      This is very much what happens to me with original fiction after a while, or any story I’m writing for someone else.

      It becomes important and once it’s important, it becomes hard as climbing a mountain when you’re as much of a computer bug / non-outdoors person as I am.

      Which is a pain because then the guilt of not working on stalled stories makes it hard to work on the easy-flowing, low pressure stories and everything grinds to a halt because I don’t know how to make something “important” not important again without abandoning it altogether. 🙁

      I hate fighting my own brain.

  • Harvey

    Maybe there’s also something to be said about not getting wrapped around the wheel. That “distraction of being distracted” Dean mentioned? Become aware, give it to your subconscious to work out, then move on (or back) to whatever works for you.

  • Ken

    You pretty much made the point I was thinking after first reading about your current quest to remove specialness.

    Somethings should be special. I figure that varies by person, but I always feel like finishing a book is a special thing. I finish them all the time, so it’s not that bigger deal, but I like to maintain in my head that it’s special, even though it’s really not from a perspective of what I regularly do.

    Hence, I agree. Make something special and others not. Makes sense. Probably best to be selective and look to what helps and what hinders, I guess.

  • Anita Cooper

    ” it is important to watch out about making the time sitting in the chair special.”

    Thank you for this, Dean. As always, your advice is spot on right when I need it.

    Now…back to it. 🙂