Writing Into the Dark: Works Surprisingly Well

Writing Into the Dark coverEarlier this year I read Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith, and I was thrilled to see that something I had been doing is actually a good idea.

In the book, Smith talks about “cycling,” where you go back every 500-700 words and revise/review what you wrote. It’s a good time to add depth, fix consistency problems, uncover typos, etc. I’d been doing something like it but not consistently. At some point I had read “never go backwards.” The idea was to always move forward in a book. Editing as you go was a waste of time and a good way to get blocked. Smith says it’s the opposite. Cycling allows you to keep writing in “creative voice” while still finding and fixing errors along the way.

His goal is to write one draft and never go back to read through the entire story. Finish draft. Send to first reader and editor. Fix errors they find. Publish. Move on to next story.

That philosophy ran counter to everything I thought I had learned about writing, but as I read the book I realized it was the approach I wanted to use. I just needed someone to tell me it was okay.

The other focus of the book is on writing without an outline, which I have always done. And always kind of felt like I was doing it wrong. For the current book, I decided to completely embrace his method, and three chapters in, I already see the benefits.

He spends a lot of time in the book talking about the dangers of writing from critical voice instead of creative voice. He says beginning authors believe writers can’t add foreshadowing and come up with all those great plot twists without outlining. Smith says outlining leads to writer’s block because it’s boring to, in effect, write the story twice. He says you have to trust your creative voice and that it knows what it’s doing if you just get out of its way.

So what’s happened for me so far? Well, when I started this book, I knew four things needed to happen (one is too big a spoiler and I’m not going to reveal it here, so I’ll only talk about three of them.) 1. Dafydd was going to get an apprentice. 2. Paul was going to hunt a serial killer. 3. Buildings were going to start falling down around DC–magic is involved. I wanted there to be some connection between 2 and 3 but I had no idea what it would be.

Halfway through Chapter 2, the connection revealed itself, quite naturally, and a big zinger happened at the end of the chapter, which works (I think), but I had no idea was coming. Part way through Chapter 3, #3 started happening, and I think it’s a pretty cool way to introduce that particular plot element.

While I have the high level understanding of the relationship between points 2 and 3, I’m still fuzzy on the details, but I’m confident now that my creative voice has it all under control, as long as I’m willing to listen to it and keep critical voice firmly muzzled.

If you haven’t read Smith’s book, I highly recommend it. I think it’s going to take me to my next level as a writer, and I’m excited about that!

7 thoughts on “Writing Into the Dark: Works Surprisingly Well”

  1. I think that is really cool that you didn’t quiet know how things were going to work out when you started writing. Reading this post makes me want to write a book. And I do like the method you described here.

  2. Writing a book is one of the most rewarding things you can do. I highly encourage you to try it, even if you do it just for yourself and never publish it.

  3. If I’m blocked, I’ll go back three or four pages, read them and try and boost my momentum. I’ll go straight to the end of a book without stopping, except for a few notes that are pertinent to the plot. I’m sorry, but I don’t right crap (like they say you’re allowed to), I’ll try to get every sentence right the first time and move on. That way my second and third editing drafts are much easier and keeps the workload down. It keeps the depression down too, knowing that “Look, it’s not going to be that bad with these editing rounds.”

    No outline–I’m a pantser–my characters write the story–I just obey their motives, actions and directions.

    BTW–thanks the Gods that I’ve found another writing blog. I thought I was the only one. But some of the Intrigue authors also seem to hit on the writing and publishing topics, so I’m feeling more and more at home with all of your blogs.

    1. @Chris, I don’t write crap either. I used to allow myself that, but it was just too much of a pain to go back and fix it. I won’t beat myself up if something is rough the first time through, but I try to make it as good as possible and then polish when I cycle back.

      Glad you’re feeling at home! This blog is still new, and I’ll probably vary somewhat in my topics: writing stuff, story stuff, book reviews and tech. My interests are varied, and the blog will reflect that. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  4. Hi, Juli,

    A very interesting post. My method is to start with characters who live in my head for quite a while. Then I move on to a rough plot outline. My first draft naturally has errors. But I put it away and work on something else for a while. Then I come back and begin editing.

    1. @Jacqueline, thanks for commenting! One of the reasons I wanted to try this method is that I find I get so bogged down on editing the first draft that it delays things for months. I’m hoping this method will give me a clean enough draft that will only need minor editing, so I don’t get bogged down. There was way too much time between my last two books, and I want to shorten that. We’ll see. Early days yet…

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