Updated: Jan 15
Days away from publishing my 25th novel, which to some puts me in the category of ‘prolific’, let me show you a prolific writer, my good friend Harvey Stanbrough, novelist, poet, etc., etc., English language professor, and writing myth buster.
If you are a writer or a reader, this will give you important information on successful writing. Note: the colored font was added rjs.
Read this from HS journal entry Nov 29 (hestanbrough.com)
I recently received an email from an instructor at the Star Fall Arts Center thanking me for one category of my writer resources at harveystanbrough.com. Then she asked me to list another resource there. She provided the link and said it “covers everything from inspiration and outlining all the way to editing and proofreading.”
It was one of those unbelievably comic moments during which, had it happened face to face, I might have put my palm on her forehead and said, “Um, have you MET me?” (grin)
Anyway, I thought my response would make a good Journal entry. Here it is:
“Thanks, and thank your students, but no, I won’t add that resource to my website. Unfortunately, writers can find information on those writing myths—and they are myths—literally everywhere. I do not propagate the myths.
“I am a successful and very prolific professional fiction writer. I also get a great deal more practice at actually writing than most do. I have written and published 69 novels, 8 novellas, and well over 200 short stories. I write because there is no greater fun than watching my characters’ stories unfold.
“In my own blog for writers--
(see https://hestanbrough.com or see https://harveystanbrough.substack.com/)
--I teach writers (young and old, beginner and advanced) to trust the characters to tell the story that they, not the writer, are living. This is how most prolific, long-term professional writers write. Unfortunately, most writers come to this knowledge late because so many people are making so much money propagating the myths.
“If you want to give your students the best possible gift for anyone who is serious about writing fiction, give them my free archives. You can download those at https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-archives/.
“I also recommend my books, Writing the Character-Driven Story and Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction), and Dean Wesley Smith’s book Writing Into the Dark.
“Seriously, if I thought it was necessary to outline, revise, rewrite, get input from critique groups (none of which is writing), etc. ad nauseam, I wouldn’t write at all. I would go fishing or find something else fun to do.”
Yes, You Who Disagree, I Understand
I’m not stupid. I realize I’m beating my head against a wall.
To say that one who teaches writing into the dark might experience a little pushback is like saying that one who stands in the path of a tidal wave might experience a little moisture. Wave over wave have been crashing over me for over eight years. Constantly. No let up. And always from “experts” who have written far fewer stories than I have. And most of their stories were polished to imperfection.
Writers for whom I was hopeful have come and gone. Most of them drifted away in that same sea, tugged away by the prevailing current (probably in accordance with some Great Outline).
I’ve even lost some writers whom I tutored personally, probably because I said something they didn’t like or said it in a way they didn’t like. That’s the world we live in. Many folks spend whole days queued, waiting to hop on the I’m Offended ride.
Of course, if that’s how they want to spend their life, it’s fine with me. I generally just tug my hat a little lower, flip up the collar of my jacket, and creep past them as quietly as possible. Believe it or not, I’m actually a very quiet person when I don’t have something original to say, and especially when traversing territory that might be landscaped with ambushes.
And yes, I realize if I talk a Zen-like letting go and having fun to 1000 would-be writers I might get through to 10. And chances are, 6 or 8 of those will succumb to fear and revert to the myths later. And no wonder. It’s comfortable there. You don’t get anything done, but at least you fail in comfort. And hey, if you and your critique group and your book doctors can turn out two novels a year, you’ll be hailed as being prolific. (grin)
Anyway, I do this only because nobody else does, at least with any regularity. Plus I’m an anti-control freak. I hate seeing people fall into lockstep, follow the crowd, and then wonder why writing seems like such hard work.
Face it: The crowd seems never to be going anywhere good or fun. But the herders make it sound like fun until the edge of the cliff suddenly appears.
But I do understand. At least those in the crowd get to go with the flow rather than struggling against it. Ugh.
I can’t tell you how tempting it is to stop talking about writing altogether. If I don’t talk about writing, I don’t have to listen to and feel a need to refute all the BS, which the speaker ironically utters just as if it’s a brand new sparklingly original thought. And people believe it. Sigh.
Maybe it should be a little satisfying (but it isn’t) to know that most of those who keep spreading the BS aren’t even aware it’s BS.
They’ve been conditioned, inundated with the myths year after year after year by teachers in public school and university and in TV shows and films and commercials and everyday life, etc. until finally, any alternative to writing a novel by committee is too frightening a prospect to even attempt.
What’s really disheartening to me is that all those poor, trusting souls have been taught what they can’t do.
They’ve been taught that something as simple as telling a story is beyond their capability unless they carefully outline it first, then revise it, then invite others to provide their opinions on how they would have done it, then rewrite, etc.
How horrible is that?
They’re innocents, stuck in the middle of a minnow flow that’s being herded by sharks who value them only as a food source. As long as they keep buying how-to books and visiting blogs that propagate the myths, the how-to books and regurgitated advice will keep coming.
I’ve been talking about writing for a long time, offering a freeing, Zen-like alternative that somehow makes writers suspicious and even cautious. And in their ignorance, proponents of the myths use outright lies, half-truths and innuendo (“I could write into the dark, but I prefer to turn out quality fiction”), not to refute what I teach, but to keep others from even trying it!
Figure that one out. What are they afraid of? I mean, other than admitting they’ve been fooled or fearing that their non-fiction book sales will fall off precipitously. There are no other reasonable explanations.
But it doesn’t matter. Well over 99% of those would-be fiction writer hopefuls who follow the myths will quit and move on to other opportunities within the first year or so. And good for them.
Soon, I think, it will be time for me to shut my pie hole and recede into the sensible world populated by my characters. I suspect I’ll at least fill out the rest of this year. I would want the archives to be complete.
But the fact is, I’m powerless to help those who don’t want to be helped, and I’ve already laid out the path to success as a fiction writer for those who want it. They only have to let go, trust themselves and their characters more than they trust the collection of critical minds that is a critique group, and write.
The Journal archives will always be there, of course (including for 2022 early in the new year), as will my own few how-to books. The only real difference will be that I won’t be on the sideline nagging. Those who can summon the requisite courage will simply pull up their big-person pants and actually try writing into the dark—hey, even if only to disprove it.
Be a skeptic, by all means. I’m fine with that. After all, that’s all I did back in mid-April 2014.
Then again, meh, WITD probably doesn’t work anyway. Probably those 70 novels, 8 novellas and over 220 short stories were a fluke.
Talk with you again soon.
THANK YOU HARVEY - IT'S NO FLUKE!