Author Topic: Has anyone here been successful in applying Dean Wesley Smiths writing method?  (Read 5680 times)  

Offline HC

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Has anyone here been successful applying Dean Wesley Smith's advice of 'writing into the dark' and 'no significant rewriting'?

The way I normally write (and how I believe most authors write) is that I try to come up with a good story idea. I think about it until I am satisfied with it and ready to start writing it. Then I start writing. Then, when I'm done, I edit it.

However, I have come across this (rather eccentric) man called Dean Wesley Smith on the internet, both on his blogs and on Youtube, who has been strongly advocating a different process.

Dean has this process (which he recommends to every writer) called 'writing into the dark'. Additionally, he also strongly advices authors NOT to re-write. (Although it seems, upon closer reading, that he actually rewrites in some way except that he does it as he goes along while he is writing.)

To put it simply, he basically advices writers to just fly by the seat of their pants (without even having the slightest idea what the story is about) from beginning to the end, and then, when they are done, edit for punctuation, grammar and other mistakes and then submit straight to editors.

I am wondering if this method (fly by the pants, edit and then send) actually produces quality writing. The kind of quality writing that literary agents and editors are looking for. Is there anyone here who actually writes like this? And how successful have you been in doing this?

[NB: I've tried it a few times and, while I've produced some good stories with it (one of them almost accepted by an agent), and recognize that it can be fun, I find it to be mentally tasking and ultimately less rewarding than the normal process. (I hate not knowing what the story is about.) It also tends to produce writing that is of inferior quality.

Also, please note that even though I rarely use outlines, I still don't consider myself a 'pantser' in the true sense. If you know what the story is about as well as the basic plot, then I don't regard it as 'pantsing'. 'Pantsing' is what I call writing without having even the slightest clue what the plot is (ie: writing in complete darkness.) That is what I'm really referring to.]

« Last Edit: December 19, 2019, 04:58:16 am by HC »

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    Offline Lady Runa

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    I'm always wary of writing advice by successful authors. It's common knowledge in performing arts that the best performers usually make the worst teachers because their talent allows them to just wing it, so they can't put themselves in an ordinary less-talented student's shoes. I think the same is true for writing. I'd rather listen to advice from a writing teacher with a background in editing and publishing than a successful author because their advice normally boils down to "do it like I do because it works for me". What they tend to forget is that the sole reason it works for them is their talent in the first place.

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    Offline unkownwriter

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    There are many, they don't post here because there's always someone trying to drag them down. It's a contested topic, much like doing your own covers and your own editing. And the dreaded "writing fast is crap!" meme. Apparently, "no one" can do it, although history is filled with successful people who do.

    No writing advice works for everyone, outside of the general stuff like write a good story in a way that others can connect with it, and learn how to publish properly, which includes how to market effectively. Everything else, the method you use to get to something that can sell, is up to you.

    Offline Jeff Hughes

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    Countless great works, including much of classic literature, were penned (literally) using an organic, "write into the dark" process.

    Writers are different.  Use whatever works for you.  But I'd encourage you not to fall into the trap of thinking that what works for you is the "normal process" (your words).  The most common and most tragic human failing I know of is the whatever-I've-chosen and whatever-decision-I-make... is the one right course.  And that anyone choosing something even slightly different is flawed and deficient.  You see that unconscious righteousness everywhere, wrapped around everything.

    Alas.

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    Offline KevinMcLaughlin

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    My experience with his method was that it tends to work much better once a writer has the basics down.

    The first million or so words of fiction are considered ones apprentice work. During that time we are learning the basics of our craft, and following his method to a T can prove challenging.

    Once one has a solid grasp of story, though? Sure. It works very well. Im always testing and tweaking new methods in my writing as I grow as a novelist; whether any specific technique will work well for me or not varies, but Ill only find out by working on it.
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    Offline HC

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    I'm always wary of writing advice by successful authors. It's common knowledge in performing arts that the best performers usually make the worst teachers because their talent allows them to just wing it, so they can't put themselves in an ordinary less-talented student's shoes. I think the same is true for writing. I'd rather listen to advice from a writing teacher with a background in editing and publishing than a successful author because their advice normally boils down to "do it like I do because it works for me". What they tend to forget is that the sole reason it works for them is their talent in the first place.

    Yes it seems to me that a lot of his advice is rather wrong-headed in the sense that they don't really apply to most of the people they are intended for. He seems to think that because it works for him then it will work for even new authors. His advice to 'just write and publish and not bother marketing' is another glaring one. (Incidentally, I've always wondered why he doesn't just create a fake name and publish a bunch of books under it to show that one can become successful simply by publishing lots of books without any marketing at all. But he's never done that.)

    Offline Douglas Milewski

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    From my POV, part of it has to do with the editor. If you submit something, you make the editor find the problems for you. You only fix what gets flagged, not what you're unhappy with. Essentially, write fast, make someone else make the quality judgement calls, and only fixed what you're paid to fix. If something doesn't sell, then you aren't out much time or effort.

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    Offline Rob Martin

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    My experience with his method was that it tends to work much better once a writer has the basics down.

    ^^^ This. I don't believe his advice is bad (remembering he isn't advocating zero editing, just not rewriting). Once you have enough experience to get the story down correctly the first time, rewriting should hardly ever be necessary anyway. But it takes a lot of practice before any writer can get to this point.

    Offline blubarry

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    I've taken online and in person craft classes with Dean and Kris years ago. They both understand the craft of writing very well. What is now his depth in writing really helped me move to the next level in my writing. The crux of what he advocates is not spending your time endlessly rewriting. He does revise (what he at one time called cycling, don't know if he still does) but does it while he writes. He views writing as practice, which means you should constantly strive to improve. Finish the story, get it out into the world, and move on. I don't write quite like Dean, but I do write fast, have had considerable success, and think there are merits to not letting yourself get stuck.

    Offline CassieL

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    I'm one of those who thinks that his approach can be helpful for those writers who second-guess themselves to death and change their stories to the point of removing everything interesting from them. But he's very adamant that his process should apply to everyone and that I hate. Because as others have mentioned there is no one size fits all approach to writing a story.You have to find what works for you.

    I do the cycling he talks about where I start each writing day with a review of the chapters I wrote the prior day and make minor edits to those before continuing onward. But for me personally I like to have one more draft after that initial one because I'm one who under-writes meaning I leave out description and some dialogue action in a first draft and I need to go back through and add that in. And then I do the grammar and error readthrough and a specific check for words I tend to mess up like further/farther. And then I'm done.

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    Offline Flying Pizza Pie

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    "I am wondering if this method (fly by the pants, edit and then send) actually produces quality writing?"

    Probably not for the average writer.

    There are as many different nuances to writing as there are writers. I write from an idea for my own work, but use outlines and notes for books I'm helping other authors with. To each their own.

    Writing without rewriting sounds tough. I think I read that Kurt Vonnegut did one page at a time, rewriting the page over an over until it was ready to publish. Only then did he move on to the next page. Again, to each his/her own.


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    Offline Brevoort

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    Has anyone here been successful applying Dean Wesley Smith's advice of 'writing into the dark' and 'no significant rewriting'?

    Before this topic gets killed for toxicity, like it always does when the fast-writing vs quality comes up, let me just make a few points.

    Dean Wesley Smith has a track record that comprises some two hundred novels over 40 years and whole cargo planes full of short stories. He knows craft and he shares what he knows.

    As far as I know, he does not recommend that every writer jump over the edge and write into the dark, just the ones who feel they can trust their creative instincts. He does say, no rewriting except to editorial direction. That is from Robert Heinlein's 5 Rules for Writing.

    Instead of brute force rewriting Smith uses a technique widely used by many writers of starting off a session by going back over previous writing (not from the beginning, just a few pages) and giving it a once over, and then launching into the dark.

    This cycling back, rather than sitting down at page 1 and plowing ahead to the end rewriting and dickering, is common with many writers. Robert Heinlein used it, Wayne Stinnet here on these boards does this, and so does Lee Child of Jack Reacher fame.

    Lee Child is perhaps the most successful dark dive writer. He has said many times that when September 1st of each year comes along and he starts a new Jack Reacher novel he has no idea whatsoever what the book will be about. And the same goes for just about every day when he starts a new writing session. There is independent proof of that statement from Andy Martin who wrote "Reacher Said Nothing" a book based on his experience sitting alongside Child for a year while he wrote "Make Me". And to head off the inevitable cry that the publisher is editing his work there is ample evidence that the publisher pretty well leaves Child's manuscripts alone and certainly does not request significant rewrites.

    Smith has published a worthwhile book on this subject called "Writing Into the Dark." But you can get the same information from his webpage although it will be spread out over several blog posts.

    It has been pointed out repeatedly here and elsewhere that there is no one way to write. If an approach is not comfortable or productive for you then don't sweat it. Find a way that works for you. The quality question will be determined by your readers.


    Rick Grant
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    Offline HC

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    I think I read that Kurt Vonnegut did one page at a time, rewriting the page over an over until it was ready to publish. Only then did he move on to the next page. Again, to each his/her own.

    That's funny. I once read about exactly that with respect to Dean Koontz.

    Offline Lorri Moulton [Lavender Lass Books]

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    I write the story.  The next day, I edit what I wrote and write the next part.  I guess that's cycling. 

    My understanding is Dean Wesley Smith advises writers not to get so caught up in producing the perfect manuscript that they get bogged down for months/years rather than writing the next story.

    Again, every writer should do what works for them. We all have different processes and that's what makes it interesting.  We all have our own voice, our own style, our own way of doing things.  I focus on that.  :)

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    Offline Cactus Lady

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    It works for some writers, not for others. Personally, I would hate writing that way - it totally goes against what feels comfortable for me and how my brain works. Yeah, it does really bug me that he holds it up as the BEST and only valid way to write. But I do my best to ignore that and just do what works for me and makes writing fun for me. The thing I agree with him on is not getting caught up in making your book perfect according to someone else's idea of what it should be. Contrary to Heinlein's Rules, for me this includes editors. It's my book, not the editor's. Do whatever your process is to get it good, then move on to the next one.
    « Last Edit: December 19, 2019, 11:49:30 am by Cactus Lady »
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    Offline Crystal_

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    Is Dean Wesley Smith really successful? I don't follow him closely, but it's my understanding that he sells so-so, especially considering how many books he has.

    I think, for 99.9% of writers, writing in the dark and doing absolutely no revision will produce a pretty poor book. It has nothing to do with speed. It's more that almost no one can tie together all the strings of a great novel in one go.

    It may produce a readable, entertaining enough book. But it will also produce a sloppy book, that is either bloated with too many pointless scenes or missing too many key scenes or both.

    I have read many books like this, by authors who don't seem to revise thoroughly. In most cases, their books would be greatly improved by a round of revision. Many of them do well and put out books readers enjoy. But that doesn't change the quality of their books*. Their books are still under-thought.

    It's not about writing good or writing fast. As far as I can tell, there's nothing about this method that requires you to write fast. And it's possible to write fast and still revise thoroughly. (Either in the planning phase or after the first draft is complete). Don't make this into something it's not.

    *quality is obviously subjective. I can only go by what I consider a quality book: compelling and three-dimensional characters, a coherent and interesting story, resonant theme, consistent tone, realistic dialogue, prose that never gets in the way.

    Offline Maura

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    You might do what I did, read one of his books and see what you think. I read his blog and do what I do with everyone, which is to say try the bits of their advice that sound helpful.

    Offline Cactus Lady

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    I think, for 99.9% of writers, writing in the dark and doing absolutely no revision will produce a pretty poor book. It has nothing to do with speed. It's more that almost no one can tie together all the strings of a great novel in one go.

    It may produce a readable, entertaining enough book. But it will also produce a sloppy book, that is either bloated with too many pointless scenes or missing too many key scenes or both.

    I have read many books like this, by authors who don't seem to revise thoroughly. In most cases, their books would be greatly improved by a round of revision. Many of them do well and put out books readers enjoy. But that doesn't change the quality of their books*. Their books are still under-thought.

    It's not about writing good or writing fast. As far as I can tell, there's nothing about this method that requires you to write fast. And it's possible to write fast and still revise thoroughly. (Either in the planning phase or after the first draft is complete). Don't make this into something it's not.

    *quality is obviously subjective. I can only go by what I consider a quality book: compelling and three-dimensional characters, a coherent and interesting story, resonant theme, consistent tone, realistic dialogue, prose that never gets in the way.

    This would be my concern. How do you know what needs to be changed until you have the whole book in front of you? Until you can see the balance and shape of the whole thing, what turns out to be more important than you thought at first and what turns out to be less important? At the end of the book you realize a small detail added near the beginning would add depth and meaning; okay, with the cycling method you go back and add it, then that changes everything else, so then you have to go back and do all those changes, then the very ending of the book might require even more changes, so you really end up doing a lot more revision than if you wrote the whole thing at once then went back and read it through and revised the book as a complete entity.

    Like I said, I guess it works for some people, but my mind boggles at the thought of trying to create what I consider a quality book (my definition is pretty much the same as Crystal's) without being able to look at the book as a whole.
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    Offline J. Tanner

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    DWS's level of success and quality is debatable particularly when you're talking about literary agents and editors. Much of DWS's success in trade publishing was with tie-in novels and ghostwriting (which is not a slight.) What's indisputable is his level of production and having that much out there, all making a little, can provide a decent income for a self-publisher.

    However, Lee Child and Stephen King both use some form of writing into the dark and are so high up the mountain we need binoculars to see them, so in general what he's saying can be true. But you'll never know if it can be true for you.

    When I read DWS's advice quite a while ago, he was still clear to frame it within "everybody is different" and "there's no one true way" but did sort of say... hey, if your current process isn't producing results what do you have to lose by trying mine? You'll probably be happier and more productive. ie. He was aiming at novice writers more than people who've found their voice and know what works for them already.
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    Offline Lorri Moulton [Lavender Lass Books]

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    (Snip) I hate not knowing what the story is about.

    I took this one sentence out to emphasize that some of us like having no idea what's going to happen next.  Do I write everything this way?  No.  But I do enjoy writing short fairytales a chapter at a time on my website.  It's a fun way to have readers stop by each week to see what might happen next.

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    Offline Fleurina

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    In the main, I write in the same way as DWS. I enjoyed his Writing Into the Dark book, to know I'm not alone! 
    It's not a choice as I can't plot to save my life.  Back in the dark ages in school exams, I was supposed to write my plot before the story.  But I always cheated  -- left a gap for the plot, wrote the story then filled in the plot afterwards.


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    Offline Vinny OHare

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    I really enjoyed his session last year at 20books. I tried to adapt to it but I don't exactly fit the mode. I did adapt some stuff of his ideas into my writing and it made me faster and a better writer.

    Offline Crystal_

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    Yes, but are Child and King totally skipping revision? I often write a chunk of my books in the dark, whether it's a chapter, an act, a character. I know the book will end in a HEA and I know the overall trope, but that's often all I know about the middle to end of my book.

    I get a lot of great stuff that way. But it's always missing some threads. I need some amount of revision to tie whiting together.

    Offline Patty Jansen

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    Writing is like making a cake:

    The order in which you add the ingredients is not terribly important. You can carefully follow the recipe, or you can chuck the lot in the blender and Bob's yer uncle.

    It's all about the end result.

    The level of scoffing at DWS's sales always makes me realise how much the selfpub community still has to learn about long-term sales, income streams, and the importance of diversifying and owning your audience.

    Ignoramuses go to his Amazon US page and go like: his highest ranking book is only at 300k BWAHAHAHAHAHA and then diss and dismiss. Extra-ordinarily ignorant.

    This guy has made his career out of writing for years and has weathered significant changes, yet he's still here and still making a living from selling his books.

    Offline L. G. Estrella

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    If it works for him, then that's great. Like any craft, I think there's a lot of variation in what works for one person and what works for another. I tried a lot of different methods before eventually settling on the one I favour today. It can't hurt to give his method a try. If it doesn't work, then there are plenty of others to choose from.

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