Thursday, July 1, 2010

Psychology of Production

Is it cheating if I get a brilliant idea for a post from my writers’ chapter meeting?

Last Saturday I attended my monthly writers’ group, Front Range Christian Fiction Writers where we’ve been systematically reviewing Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. This book has been around soooooo long, it’s easy to overlook, but don’t! It was one of the first reference books I bought when I decided to begin my journey along the road to publication, and despite the slew of how-to books on the market today, I still pick through this old classic when I need to sprinkle a spark of something into my writing.

This month, Candee Fick lead a review of chapter 8, Preparation, Planning, Production. For anyone new to the writing adventure as well as those well-seasoned, the points Mr. Swain reiterates in this chapter are well worth review time and again. He summarizes the process of novel writing, not only reminding us of the joy of writing, but urging caution against the frustrating elements inherent in the process.

Candee lead us in a discussion that spanned 2 hours, so I’d be writing clear into tomorrow if I tried to touch on each important point (hint: go get your copy or buy is, turn to chapter eight, and read all 51 pages). For brevity sake, I'd like to recap Mr. Swains final thoughts referred to as:

The psychology of production.

“In the good hours when words are flowing well,” remarks Herman Wouk, famed author of The Caine Mutiny, “it seems there is hardly a pleasanter way to spend one’s time on earth.”
How true. Production gives a writer his greatest satisfaction.
Only then Wouk adds, “Never mind the bad hours. There is no life without them.”
Well, as a philosophical attitude, that’s fine. But what a working writer needs when he’s stalled is help; practical help.
Techniques of the Selling Writer, D. Swain, University of Oklahoma Press.

Swain breaks down his process of reclaiming your groove, so to speak, into 16 points well-worth investigating when your mind goes blank.

Separate creative impulse from critical judgment.
As you write your first draft, silence your internal editor. Promise him/her all the critical reviews of your work as needed after the first draft is complete. Until the first draft is done, stick with impulse.

Face up to your fears.
No one is perfect and learn to recognize that criticism of your work is not necessarily a diss of your talent.

Build you self-esteem.
If you act as if you were a competent, confident, successful person…then frequently, you’ll become just that.

Don’t demand too much.
Skill is something you develop over time. Understanding the writing process and incorporating it into your work doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t berate yourself when technique is taking too long to learn.

Keep your own counsel.
There’s always that temptation to share too much of your excitement over your new WIP. Dangerous because a) you might live the moment of an important scene like the first kiss before you’re ready to write it and lose the full flavor of the emotion; b) you’ll be influenced by the slightest raised brow or hesitant nod, and begin to doubt your initial impulse (see #1).

Follow your feelings.
Swain says it best: “Writing isn’t a logical process, thank heavens. And consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds.” In essence, emotions, though not completely reliable, are well worth listening to.

Fall back on free association.
When stuck, spill words. Any words. Keep them coming until they begin to massage themselves into some kind of order, and voila! you’re back in business.

Draw confidence from knowledge.
You’ve learned, or are learning, the elements of fiction writing. You look to the experts in the field and incorporate their methods. Trust them to lay out the road map of plotting, characterization, conflict, etc. This knowledge will help you through any production breakdowns that might arise.

Soak yourself in your subject.
When in doubt over a detail or process, talk to the experts.

Incorporate present interests.
Writers are creative creatures. If a new interest steals your attention and you grow bored of the book you’re writing because you want to move on to the next idea, don’t wait. Incorporate your new ideas into your present plot. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Take the bull by the horns.
“If you haven’t got a good idea, start a story anyway,” suggests mystery writer William Campbell Gault. “You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.”

Stay with the cattle.
God granted you an inborn desire and talent to write. It doesn’t drain away or evaporate.You develop skill, build on it, work, study and experience it. It won’t vanish in a puff of smoke.
You can always quit. But in some people determination, dedication, commitment—staying with the cattle, in the old range phrase—are character traits too deeply ingrained to be brushed aside easily.

Finish every story.
Completion of any story, however bad, is in its way implicit proof that you’re better than most people who talk of writing.

Set up a private checklist.
When you stall out in a story, chances are something about the story itself is wrong. Be honest and make a list of your literary weaknesses. Why? Because we all tend to repeat our mistakes. If you’re aware of your weaknesses ahead of time, when that “block” hits, you have a ready checklist to compare to your current work, much like a mechanic has for your car.

Give yourself a break.
When you spend too much time at your computer, words may begin to come harder. When that happens, take a break. Abandon work for a couple of days, replenish your well with fun and experience. You’ll be surprised at the change of attitude when you sit back down to work.

Avoid crutches.
When the going gets tough, prove you’re tougher. Don’t ever forget to pray through the whole process. God gave you the talent and desire to write and He’ll see you through if you only ask Him.

So there you have it, a simple checklist to keep you tooling along the road to publication, courtesy of Dwight Swain and his infinite wisdom on the subject.

Out of the sixteen roadblocks we talked about, what is the problem you seem to encounter the most?

I know you've come to expect Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory chocolates as give aways in honor of my January 2011 release, Rocky Mountain Hero. Don't worry, when the the weather cools down, there'll be more chocolate to be had : )

This time as we share our highs and lows, one lucky commentor will receive a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This giveaway is to appease item #1, since afterall, you did promise your silly internal editor he/she could devour your work only AFTER you got it all down on paper : )

Happy writing!


  1. Hi Audra:

    My biggest problem, after spending a career writing one to two page advertisements, is getting tired of the long WIP I am working on and wanting to start a new project.

    I plan to employ the advice in the below point in the morning!

    “Incorporate present interests.
    Writers are creative creatures. If a new interest steals your attention and you grow bored of the book you’re writing because you want to move on to the next idea, don’t wait. Incorporate your new ideas into your present plot. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.”

    Thanks, this is a very useful post. BTW, I have Swain’s audio book: “Structuring Your Novel”. I’ll have to find it and listen to it again now.


  2. Vince, I didn't know about Swain's other book. I'll have to check it out!

    Audra, great post!! I need to pull this book out again. It's been years since I've looked at it. It's well past time!

    Okay, night all!

  3. Audra,
    Great post! Dwight Swain is wonderful. I'm pulling out his book and going to relook Chapter 8.
    There's so much info...I learn something new each time I pick it up.

    By the way, the coffee's on and smells yummy. Just what I need to get started. I'm headed to the coffee pot.

  4. Good deal, I see Debby has started the coffee and yes, it does smell wonderful!

    Since it's going to be in the nineties again here in Colorado, I'm opting for a nice cool breakfast.

    We've got berries galore and a variety of yogurts, and blender in the corner for those hankerin' for a smoothie.

    Panera bagels and whipped cream cheese.

    And don't for get the juices!

    Vince, I'm with you. When working on a book for a longer amount of time, my mind wanders and begins to gather information and ideas for the next book.

    This is great, except for rule #13 (I'm feeling like Gibbs here, LOL) that states you must finish your project.

    Hey, God gave you those ideas! Don't waste 'em!

    Anyway, I think if you can incorporate your new idea into your current WIP, it gives old ideas a new boost and it helps set up the next book if you you're looking at a series.

    Thanks Vince!

  5. I love reading the seekerville notes of these great writing books. LOL. Thanks for the insights in this one.

    I think I’ll have to concentrate on two points at the present time. First, Follow your feelings – I love getting permission to give in to my emotions – at least when writing. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should not’s of writing towards publication – especially inspirational publication. I have to remind myself that I need a completed manuscript before I really start worrying about all the other stuff. I can’t do more than write from the heart and see where that leads me.

    Second is build self-esteem. Competent – in some things. Confident not so much. Successful? Well my dog looks at me adoringly when I bring home the kibble and treats. :-)

  6. I will say it's "don't demand too much". I see my progress in one area and then whoops, look, I forgot a previous lesson. I want to see everything improved and staying at that level, so I feel a lot of frustration when it's not.

    I'm learning that when I have those moments when all the words look like garbage, I have to shake it off and move on.

    Thanks Audra. Your meetings sound great! I also reccommend that Self-Editing book.

  7. I feel like the Israelites wandering through the desert with no destination in mind. Since I submitted my novel to my agent, I've been experiencing this frustrating limbo-like restlessness. I think my biggest problem has been NOT keeping my own counsel. When I share my story thoughts and receive less than enthusiastic responses, my confidence wavers.

    I need to stop my whining, do more praying, and practice BIC--butt in chair. I can write the story and let my agent or editor determine if it's worthy of publication.

    Thanks for a great motivating post, Audra. :)

  8. Great post, Audra! Thanks for reminding me that Swain's book sits on a shelf not four feet from where I'm sitting--and all I need to do is pull it out for a re-read. That may be a fun thing to do on a holiday weekend between stretches of writing. Like a little reward. A certain # of pages wins me the right to read a chapter! :)

  9. I loved this-- seems God always gives me just what I need when I need it and this time Audra, you wrote it in easy bite sized pieces for me to take in.
    I struggle with #1 & #2 -- I am my own biggest critic (some of that 'gargoyle' post is echoing in my mind here) & when I offer up my latest efforts, I think I just hear my own criticisms verbalized and it just stops me cold. I have to develop a much thicker skin & sense of persistence.
    Thank you for the book highlight Audra... will order it from Amazon now.

  10. oooh, just checked his book.Bad idea for me to read a full chapter between writing stretches this weekend--they're fairly long and don't want to leave my writing for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. So maybe a section of a chapter, then a longer reward in the evening when I'm winding dowm my writing day.

  11. Wow, what a wealth of information, Audra, and served up in a way I can actually taste it ... one bite at a time! Love it!

    Unlike Vince, who gets tired of the long WIP and wants to start a new project, I am one who has problems with point #10, Incorporate present interests. You know, one of those anal types who will NOT move on until they feel good about what they've written before, so I tend to labor over it and NEVER want to start anything else until it's done. NOT GOOD!! So I will definitely try to "incorporate" more free range in my writing from now on.

    And my other problem is Lisa's problem -- BIC (butt-in-chair) syndrome, which is not a problem when I am driving hard on a book, but the rest of the time, I tend to dawdle on e-mails and other things that steal my BIC time. Also NOT GOOD, at least if you want to write more than one book in a year ... :)

    Great post, Audra, and very timely.


  12. Kav, aren't we all in the same boat? Competent yes; confident no.

    We devour workshops, books, lectures, online classes to learn our craft, then sit down to a WIP and all that great knowledge gets peppered with *I'm not so sure.*

    Been there, done that. Actually still do it every time I sit down to write.

    Hang in there, Kav. YOu're not alone.

  13. Hi Debra! I'm the worst at giving myself a break. The ideas sound so wonderful as I'm typing my fingers to the bone, then the next morning, eh, not so much.

    Remember writing is a process. One step at a time. Patience.

    Wise words. Maybe I should follow them : )

  14. Lisa, Julie, I'm with you about BIC!! I find so many distractions that are mega important. Then at the end of the day, I look at my word count and shake my head.

    And THAT'S why I write at my laptop which DOES NOT have internet, and have to move across the room to my desk top that DOES have Internet.

    Sometimes it works; sometimes not.

  15. LOL, Glynna! I don't think I recommend snacking on Swain's book!! When you need a break from creating those pages, take a walk around the block!!

    As a group, complete with discussion, we took 2 hours to discuss this chapter. What I've highlighted here claimed maybe 20-30 minutes.

    Actually, since we started dissecting Techniques of the SElling Writer, it's helped me to comprehend more of the points Swain makes.

    I love discussions. Gives a whole new perspective on the old at time.

  16. "Separate creative impulse from critical judgment."

    This would have to be the one.

    My inner critic sometimes won't let me leave a spot till it's perfect, and still, on the next round of drafts, it gets changed anyway.

    Then, after I've focused so long on this one scene, I lose sight of what I was trying to convey, requiring me to go back and read what was going on.

    Something in my current WIP is wrong...I think that's why..i'm so caught up in fixing it, but it's not ALL there yet.

    Audra, do you have a personal check list?
    If so, can you share?

  17. Audra, excellent post!! Makes me want to study Swain's book again. I haven't been successful silencing the internal editor. Perhaps we are who we are and trying to write like someone else, even someone savvier may not work for all of us.

    I love Panera bagels! Thanks Audra.


  18. Hi Audra, Wow ninety degrees. Its nippy here at Tahoe this morning. So thanks for the coffee and bagels. I'll warm mine up in the toaster. I'm also bringing some hot chocolate, graham cracker chocolate is yummy and so is the raspberry hot chocolate.

    The book you're giving away is a must for every writer. What a great gift.

    Your points are well taken. I needed to hear some of those this morning. I'll get out my copy and revisit. Thanks again.

  19. Not sharing your excitement...I have a firm policy not to let anyone see a book until the first draft is done.

    I usually don't do it then either, until I've done some editing. But when the story isn't fully developed, a particularly true situation when you're a seat of the pants writer, opinions from others can majorly turn the direction of the book. You can lose your way.

    So yes, let a critique group at it once it's done, but that first draft is too fragile to let anyone else get their hands on it.

  20. This was an extrememly helpful post. I really need instruction like this. Thanks!


  21. Audra,

    Nice post. I particularly like the part about finishing the book.

    And speaking of books, I already have today's prize, so please don't include me in the drawing. Thanks.

  22. Oh, Audra, I love this. I won't read the book (I'm such a slacker), so thank you SO MUCH for putting it here, encapsulated for my thin brain because it's wonderful.

    And I love Herman Wouk. He's one of my favorite authors and I love telling bone-headed people they're Commander Queegs...

    Some of 'em actually 'get it'.

    Sorry, I would never really SAY that to people. But I might think it. A lot.

    Wouk is great, but I like the common sense of this list to the 'nth' degree. It's like a therapeutic butt-kick.

    Thorough, pointed, yet gracious.

    I could use help on that last part.

    Food coming. Working. Hoping someone started coffee.

  23. Thanks for the post, Audra, very good points!

    The advice to take a break is something I struggle with. I always think I'll take a break the next day and then in the morning I'm back at the computer typing away.

  24. These are wonderful tips! I'm working on building self-esteem. I'm so focused on my weaknesses and how to improve them I lose sight of my strengths and get discouraged.

    This is perfect timing, BTW! I'm starting Novel Track today!


  25. Hi Pamela! That whole turning off my internal editor wracks me up, too. I become my own worst critic, chase the ideas around for so long, I end up writing a book so far from my original intent, I scare myself.

    The book is great. I think you'll really enjoy it.

  26. Kelly and Janet, it seems like so many of us are stumbling over the internal editor problem.

    Why is it I can run off at the mouth and speak unthinkingly at time, yet not be able to write that way??

    So not fair!

  27. Blogger erased my comment!!! GRRRR!!!!!

    Anyway, I'm far too busy editing and writing to let it make me too angry! It was really brilliant too, all about the Novel Track thing that ACFW is doing this month. If you haven't joined, you should! Today is the first day!

    Thanks for the tips, Audra!

  28. I have to say, I tried to read this book by Swain and I just couldn't do it. My mind wandered and I couldn't get into it. I might not be having so much trouble with my new WIP, though, if I would read it!

  29. Hot chocolate works, Sandra! I just plopped some ice cubes in it, LOL!

    I think just about everyone has Swain's book, but we take it for granted. These past meetings have been a real eye opener for me.

  30. Mary, I used to critique with 10 people once a month. Each used a different colored ink.

    I completely lost my voice.

    I need to run through my first draft and revise some before I ever think of sharing with folks!

  31. Audra-- "I become my own worst critic, chase the ideas around for so long, I end up writing a book so far from my original intent..."

    That's it exactly!!!!
    My ideas morph and before I know it, the book I originally started is a muddled mess and I've lost my way.

    Feels great for someone to understand exactly & pinpoint the cause. NOW I can work on it.
    Thank you!!!

  32. I'm a firm believer in "not sharing your excitement" about your WIP whether it's a short story or book.

    I know several writer's who "talk their stories to death" but never actually complete a manuscript. I think it's because they lose their enthusiasm.

    I don't like to share the idea while I'm writing it because like others have stated, someone will wrinkle their nose, or shake their head or suggest something all together different, then I begin to doubt my idea.

  33. Mary, anything I can do to help : )

    Walt, finishing a book is always the scariest part. I wonder if I've included all the important details, or what if I write it this way?

    Niki, good luck on Novel Track! Let us know how you're doing and remember, finish your goal!

    Kirsten, I'm a take a break when I need it type. And usually life happens so I take that break at maybe not the most convenient of times, LOL! Oh, well, you take what you get, I guess.

  34. Rose! By all means! Don't talk your manuscript to death or you might not finish it AND THEN you might NEVER get published! Right?

    Folks, listen to Rose! Our most newly published Seekerville friend!!!!!

  35. Ruthy, glad to help you out. Anything for a friend, LOL!

    Techniques of the Selling Writer is a very dense book. Full of great information, but like Melanie, I have a hard time wading through it. If my writing group hadn't decided to dissect it month by month, I don't think I ever would have noticed all the nuggets of wisdom buried deep down inside, Ha!

    Ruthy, you just keep writing as you do and let the rest of us worry about Dwight Swain and all the other how-to books.