Why “Writing into the Dark” is like improvising on stage

I know, I’ve been going on and on about that book „Writing into the Dark“ (Amazon-affiliate link) by Dean Wesley Smith in the past few weeks but this has been so exciting for me, and eye-opening. And while I’ve only started using this method, and while I can’t say if this really works, it does feel very right to me.

So, in case you don’t remember, that book is about writing without an outline, without a plan, and without character sketches or anything. Basically, you sit down and write your story. Even if it’s a novel.

What you don’t do – and that is pretty important – is write a shitty first draft. You do not sit down, vomit words onto the page and leave them like that. What you do is sit down, tell a story as best as you can, go back and look at it every few hundred words, and when you’re done you’re done.

Now for most writers that sounds totally crazy. Doing it like that would surely mean that either you end up with an amorphous blob of a story that has no structure, or you end up agonizing about every comma and words and never finish.

Interestingly it seems that a lot of the most prolific, successful, and beloved writers write like that.

I find the notion very appealing because I haven’t had much succes with any other method. When I sit down and just write as fast as I can, I usually get through the whole story but it will be sloppy and disconnected and full of things that don’t move the story along in the least. If I outline I end up staring at the page for days or weeks willing myself to do it, and then I write very short stories that I find stilted. And revision is something I tend to avoid at all costs, so much so that revising any single novel so far has taken more between six months and two years.

Now most of what you read about writing tells you that you need to do the sloppy first draft, and then you need to revise the crap out of it to get a good book. But then that only works if you actually revise.

When I told my husband about the „Writing into the Dark“-thing he said, „That sounds like improvising.“ And of course he was exactly right. Writing the shitty rough draft is like noodling around at home alone just to pass the time. „Writing into the Dark“ is like improvising on stage. You just start somewhere, and then you throw yourself into it, and you never quite know how it will go. But because you’ve done this a lot you know that something interesting will happen, and since you’re on stage and know that people are listening you put in a little extra effort to make it enjoyable and entertaining for the others too. But you don’t think about them much, mostly it’s about you and the music, and this special moment that will never come back again ever.

And it works.

I’ve been working as a musician for quite some time, and I love free improvisation. There are a lot of musicians who are scared of it, and often when I encourage students to try it they say, „But what shall I play?“ and of course the answer is, „Whatever you like.“ I’ve always been like that. Improvisation was not part of my music lessons at all, and then I started listening to jazz, and I read a book about it, and it said that the musicians were making it up on the spot, and that just blew my mind. And when a teacher of mine put a drawing of a mountain in front of me and said, „Play this.“ I picked up my recorder and did.

Now you might get all huffy and say, „But what about structure?“ and „What about foreboding?“ and „How do I know the ending?”

Well, that’s the beauty. For one, when you improvise in music you usually make the structure without even realizing it. You start somewhere, and you realize that that was interesting, and you follow that thing, and then you feel like you need something else, and you try that. If that doesn’t work you try something else. And then at one point, all of a sudden, the piece will be over. There will be your ending, and you didn’t even plan for it.

If you watch people playing completely free on stage you will always see it. They are deep into the music, and someone will start something new, or even more interesting, someone gets ready to start something, and the realize that it doesn’t fit. And everybody is totally into it and playing along, deeply immersed, and then something happens, and they all play, and there it is. The ending.

That’s usually when the performers look at each other in wonder, and they laugh a little. Because it was a surprise to them too. But now that it happened it felt exactly right.

Now if you try something in music that doesn’t work you can’t really take it back. Music happens in real-time, you make it and it’s out there. But in writing the beauty is that you can step out of time. You can go back and change things. Or you can hop to a part that’s further along and write that first if you want. Nobody will ever know.

As for the fear of ending up endlessly searching for the perfect wording in the first paragraph? Knowing myself, that will never happen. I can barely stand to read something again for typos. And one has to trust oneself.

So I’m telling my creative mind to get it right the first time this time, and for once I can’t wait to sit down and write. My subconscious isn’t sulking because I have it write all these words only to toss them out later. The part of me that loves story is bouncing up and down in my mind with excitement saying, „Tell me what happens next!”

It feels great. I hope it will make for a better story. If it doesn’t I will at least get more practice because I will write faster and more.

And I can tell you that the feeling of bouncing with excitement because I get to tell a story is marvelous.

buy fewer books challenge

The state of the “buying fewer books challenge” in January

Yeah, that went well. You can now all say that you thought so but –

I did buy fewer books.

Not as few as I had planned on but less than usual.

I can now say that the marketing strategy of giving away book two for free to get someone to buy the whole series actually does work. Ahem. On me.

I have come to love Sarina Bowen’s books and while I no longer receive the BookBub newsletter every week I did subscribe to news from certain authors. So I saw that book two in the Ivy League series was free and downloaded it. Seems I was in a romance reading kind of mood, and since one of my rules is that I can get books in series I already started (ahem) I then went on to buy an read every single book in the series plus the novella.

That series ties in with the „Brooklyn Bruisers“-series so I bought the first one of those as well, and read it. And then I stopped myself and only got the sample of the next one in that series.


Not what I meant when I made those rules.

But then my goal was to buy fewer books, and that I did.

I had pre-ordered the new C. J. Cherryh book in the Foreigner-series, so that was okay, and I bought the next one in Estelle Ryan’s series. I’ve been reading my way through that series for months now, so that was okay as well. Apart from that, I bought about half a dozen Sarina Bowen books. I read „Target“ by L. C. Mawson which I really liked, and went on to sign on to her mailing list and get a bunch of other books by her for free.

I tried reading „It all starts with food“ in German from the library and gave up, so I bought that one in English, I bought „Your Best Year Ever“ which was allowed by the rules (haven’t finished reading it yet, though), and I bought „The Spider’s Web“ because it’s a book by an online friend, and I really liked the beginning.

All in all, I read seventeen books, a lot of them through Kindle Unlimited. Twelve fiction books and five non-fiction. I would have thought I read more non-fiction, that’s interesting.

So not quite what I wanted but I’m okay with the whole thing. It’s a start.

I did not expect not to read „Emergence“, the book I had been waiting for for months. But that’s what often happens with the „new! shiny!“ of new books. Which is why I decided to buy less new books and read more of the old ones.

We’ll see how that goes in February.

buy fewer books challenge

And I’m trying the ‘not buying books’-thing, again

Yeah, I know that this is at least the third time. In a row no less, and it has never really worked before.

The first time I decided to only buy books by certain authors, and nothing else. Next up I discovered Deborah Geary and bought all her books because I wanted to binge-read them. And then the year went downhill from there.

Last year I tried a version of the challenge that was a little less ambitious. Didn’t work either. My budget software tells me that I spent about 70 Euros per month on books. I own enough books, all books that I am still excited to read, to last me for a year. Maybe longer.

I was already committed to this when I read the last post on Raptitude but he says it all much better than I could. Especially the part where he describes the high one gets from buying a new book. And then it sits there on the enormous pile of other books, books that I couldn’t wait to read when I bought them, same as that new one.

Since I do crave the newness I am leaving myself an out, I will stay in Kindle Unlimited. In the last two months I have been finding more and more interesting books on there, and I have been reading a lot of them.

So the rules will be:

  1. The only new books I am allowed to buy are ones that are new ones in a series that I already have bought.
  2. I am also allowed to buy „Barking up the wrong tree“, „Unlearn Your Anxiety and Depression“, „The Emotion Thesaurus“ and „Shadow Rising“. I thought about buying all of those right now before my challenge starts on January 1st but then decided against it.
  3. I am also allowed to read as much on Kindle Unlimited as I want to.
  4. I won’t click on any links to books even if they look really interesting.
  5. I won’t download any samples.
  6. I won’t get any free books unless they are already in my ‚buy later‘-collection.
  7. I unsubscribe from the BookBub newsletter.
  8. I will read the excellent books that I couldn’t wait to read that are already on my e-reader and my shelves.
  9. I am allowed to buy the books I already pre-ordered but I am not allowed to pre-order any more books. If they are in a series I usually buy I can buy them just before reading them.

I hope that this will reduce the piles of unread books, and also reduce the feeling of overwhelm. And re-introduce me to the joy of the books I already have here. I also might re-read a book or two, something I used to love. There are books in my library that I used to re-read every year but I don’t do that anymore.

I will report back on how the whole thing goes.

This will be interesting.

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State of the Book

2017 in review and goals for 2018

I tried to look back at the year, and went through all my notebooks to find my goals, especially my writing goals, for 2017.

Seems I never quite committed to anything.

Now I’m always on the fence about goal-setting. I hate not reaching them but if I don’t set any I can’t see if I failed or succeeded.

I did find something I wrote on ravelry on December 8th 2016, though:

My plan is to use December to plan the third in the trilogy (wrote the first draft of the second in November), then I want to revise the second, and then we’ll see.

I definitely want to revise all three of them into something publishable. I hope I can get there eventually.

And while it did take me a little longer to plan that novel (it always does, I need to plan differently – or write faster) that is pretty much what I did. I wrote the first draft of the third novel, revised the second, and then got sort of stuck.

I’m still waiting to hear back from the person who is reading novel one. I gave it to her at the end of August, and it seems she has been busy.

Right now I am in the middle of finishing this year’s NaNoWriMo-novel, the first in a series of paranormal mysteries. So far I’m liking it but it’s slow going. There was some health stuff, and other projects, and so I haven’t spent a lot of time on it. I’m pretty sure I can finish the rough draft until the end of the year, though.

My hopes for 2017 had been to finish and publish the trilogy. That didn’t happen. So I am making goals for 2018 this time. Here they are:

  1. Get all four novels in progress finished, and as publication-ready as they can be.
  2. Overhaul all three websites (personal blog, writer blog, teaching website).
  3. Save enough money to publish at least one book.
  4. Find a critique partner.
  5. Find beta readers.
Now that I’m looking at those goals I can already see a potential problem in there. When I wrote „save enough money to publish at least one book“ in my mind that was the same as actually publishing it. But there are more steps involved, aren’t there? Finding and editor or two, having cover art made and a cover (I’m guessing but that’s probably about ten more steps in itself), formating the whole thing, uploading and such.
I am also not quite sure about the beta readers. But I should try it. Anybody volunteering?
I do have high hopes for next year but then I’m such an optimist. I always have high hopes for everything. So I’m raising my glass to the next year a bit early, and am hoping that I’ll actually manage to put the work in so that this can happen.



NaNoWriMo 2017 – Day 27: Win!

Wow. Writing my 1,800 words today was astonishingly hard. But I did it, 600 words in the morning, and the rest in the afternoon. So for now I rest on my laurels

NaNo 2017 Winner Badge


This has been the hardest NaNoWriMo ever for many reasons. First I was sick, and there were endless health troubles with my mother and mother-in-law, and there was the furniture-building for my son’s room, and health stuff galore, and not to forget the chucking of the novel after a few days, and the start of another.


But I did it. And you can too. Or come near, or not so near but at least you will have written something.

I will get back to semi-regular updates, I think. For now I will take a day or two off, I am rather exhausted at the moment. I will go to bed real early tonight, and my husband and I already had a celebratory glass of champagne.

After my short break I will sit down and plan out a bit more of my NaNo-novel. And I hope to finish it all the way in December.

I will keep you updated. Thanks for reading and joining in my journey.


NaNoWriMo 2017 – Day 26

Well, that went well, all in all. I almost finished but in the end I was just too tired in the evening.

It was particularly hard to write because I was so full of self-doubt that I wanted to throw the towel completely. After the days before when I had enjoyed my story, and the writing, a single comment by someone regarding something else I had written seemed enough to give up completely.

I didn’t, though. I gave myself permission to write crap, sat down with my timer and wrote.

All afternoon, with breaks, and then I made pizza pane, and watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then I wrote some more, and then I went to bed and wrote some more.

My goal was 10,000 words, and that’s what I got. 10,949 to be exact for a total of 48,259.

I tried finishing the 50K because that was my next goal, finish NaNo on Sunday evening but I just couldn’t do it. My wrists had started being sore at around 8,000 words, and I had a headache, and I was so tired that my eyes started crossing so I stopped.

But, and that’s really important. Even though in the beginning of that day every word felt like I had to shove it on the page with force, even though writing felt like the last thing I wanted to do, and I hated every second of it, only half an hour later or though I was back in love again.

And I’m pretty sure I will manage the 50,000 words until the end of today. Maybe even before breakfast, we’ll see.