Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Writing into the Dark Speech

A Talk I Gave at 20Books Conference…

About 500 plus people in the room, and not sure if this is an official video from the conference or not. But it popped up on YouTube, so figured you guys might like it. Cramming that much down into 40 minutes is crazy, but I had fun.

The video is cut off at the start and at the end. But most of it is there.

I tried to keep it fun.

20Books Vegas Day 2 Writing Into The Dark



  • Harvey

    Great talk, Dean. I’ve been WITD for almost five years, and I still picked up another gem. Thanks.

    The next vid that popped up was a guy who plans to “profile” “prolific” authors in the hopes of mining gems that will help us all increase our productivity.

    His first subject was Anthony Trollope, whom, he exclaimed, wrote (emphasis his) 47 novels in 38 years!”

    Thanks to Heinlein’s Rules and WITD, I wrote 32 novels in the first 4 years (I’m on 36 now) for an average of 8 novels per year. At that pace, if I could write for 38 years (Oct 2014 through Oct 2052) I would have written 304 novels. And I consider myself a slacker.

    Here’s hoping, for their sake, some of those folks paid heed to what you tried to pass along in your talk at the conference.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, prolific under the old system just doesn’t hold up much in this new world. (grin) It took me from 1987 to 2007 to get over a hundred books published in traditional. Twenty years and I was considered very prolific. Last ten years I have done that many more and am not considered that fast. (grin) I flat love this new world.

  • S.E. Gordon

    Wow, such a good video. I picked up a few things/nuances that I didn’t get from your Writing into the Dark book.

    The critical voice certainly is a parental voice that intends to keep us safe. Does it always make the right decision? Well, if creativity isn’t its specialty, then the answer is likely, no.

    “Never speak [or think] a single negative thing about your writing.” Part of me wishes that this sentiment was included in the original Writing into the Dark book. It certainly keeps the mind in a positive frame of mind that makes the Writing into the Dark process (and implementing Heinlein’s Rules) possible. How much work can you realistically do if you’re constantly thinking, “Oh, my writing really sucks…?” Not much.

    Guard against “Where is this going?” That’s the beauty of this process. You don’t want to know. Just keep going and write the next line. Instead, ask, “What logically comes next?”

    • dwsmith

      In writing, the critical voice always makes the wrong decision. Readers don’t read safe, easy, dull books. Just like no one watches the perfectly behaved child walking beside their parent and doing nothing. Nope, people watch with laughter or shock or stunned amazement or horror the out-of-control funny child. Your book needs to be that child, not the dull, quite one. Critical voice is always wrong in creative things.

  • Philip

    Awesome speech. Writing Into the Dark is such a game-changer that I own it in ebook and print.

    I was stunned to hear you were asked to speak at 20Booksto50k because those guys are all about writing to market and outlining. Great to see they’ve broadened their horizons to encourage other approaches.

    • dwsmith

      Don’t think they realized who they were asking, since I think KU is the worst thing a long-term thinking writer can do. (grin)

  • Chris

    Fun video – thanks for sharing, Dean.

    Thanks too for a ton of useful and inspiring advice. I’ve been following your blog for over a year, listening quietly, soaking it all in, and following up with a bought book here and there. I’ve been having fun (also known as writing) fulltime since January 2018, I have written 8 novellas and 8 novels this year, inspired by your principles. I let the readers decide if they like my stories or not, and just keep writing. Just wanted to save thanks!

    Oh, and your blog and book about The Magical Bakery was and is a game changer! 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Chris. Very much appreciated and well done on getting full time. Great fun is right! And yeah, I think the Magic Bakery is one of the best things I have done, but very few people see it. Nature of the beast. Thanks again.

  • Anthony Izzo

    Great advice, as always, Dean. I particularly liked what you had to say about growing a backbone and believing in your own work. It always makes me a little sad when I hear writers say their book was crap until they gave it to their editor.

  • David


    Great talk. I find this speech is fun, clear, and valuable for all fiction writers. (I’ve already read: Writing into the Dark, Heinlein’s Rules, Magic Bakery, and others. Great books). A wonderful forty-five minute overview here.

    Your Cycling process brings to mind Kurt Vonnegut (Funny, you mention Billy being unstuck in time in this speech, incidentally).

    In one of his lecture films, Vonnegut said there were two types of writers, this was before Pantsers and Plotters rivalry, or whatever, I believe.

    Anyway, he named the two types of writers Swoopers and Bashers. The swoopers were unstuck in the time line of the narrative, and wrote whatever page struck them as interesting, and then shuffled and spliced it all together, William Burroughs style. Vonnegut thought this was horrible, because in the days of manual typewriters that was suicide, so he was a one-hundred percent basher that typed page one, over and over, until it was perfect, then page two, and onward to the end. One draft, clean, and stamp it in typesetting. Yeah, no editor either.

    Interestingly enough, Writing into the Dark with cycling, et cetera is the ultimate hybrid.

    I’ve always written as a cycler, just didn’t think to give it such focus or a name (or write books about it, damn). I started telling stories on typewriters, but when I progressed to a computer in the late eighties, it arose naturally as my process. So easy to be unstuck in time, and add in this and that, and quick fix in a word processor. Scroll back to the top of the doc and go back down through the thing. As long as you get past critical doubt, it’s great.

    Of course, I got completely lost in both craft techniques obsession and at least half of the worst myths over the years. Finally, I am pleased to see all the thousand moving pieces now, though!

    Overall, you have certainly named it best, and revealed it slippery ride, but thankfully I know from my experience it really is a naturally occurring method for skilled pros and lucky amateurs alike.

    Thanks for all you do.


  • Maree

    I watched this today, and even though I’ve read the book a couple of times, and been working on the process long before I came across you, I still picked up something new. Or maybe it was a combination of watching the video and then reading the other comments.

    I realized that I get inspiration mostly from odd things I see around me, people or places being not quite as expected. You discussed inspiration a bit in the talk. But you also said that knowing what happens next isn’t something you need to know. Which is something I have internalized for writing novels. But with a novel I generally have a vague plot concept in mind. I’m currently working on short stories though.

    So I see these weird things I see around me all the time, I keep thinking, if only I had a story to go with it. Yesterday I was telling a friend that the basement bathroom at the library is so creepy and I feel like there’s a story there. But I didn’t know what.

    I should just apply fingers to keys with these weird things I observe and let the story happen instead of trying to figure it out ahead of time. Right?

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Maree. Amazing what will happen when you just sit down and put in depth of say that basement bathroom through a character and then just keep on typing. Have fun.