The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Writing in the Dark

        Halloween is a time when kids go out walking in the dark going to strangers' homes in hopes of receiving a reward for their efforts.  Blogging is like writing in the dark hoping that someone out there will take a look and validate the blogger's efforts with a comment or by becoming a follower.  The kids have the advantage of having a door to knock on and they can tell if the lights are on or off to give them an idea who is participating in the event.  The payoff is immediate and the reward is tangible.  The bloggers are writing or whatever they may be doing and just tossing it out there hoping that someone is going see what they are doing.
        Writing in the dark is not like dancing in the dark like the great Fred Astaire (I will get back to Fred one day, but not today). Writing in the dark might be a little closer to what Bruce "the Boss" Springsteen is talking about in his song "Dancing in the Dark" but still really not exactly the same. Neither is it like walking in the dark -- as I've said before you can usually see where you are going in the typical sense of walking in the dark.  However, without some light it's rather difficult to write or read. No fair using the argument that you "write" on your computer with the lights off -- the screen provides the light. Personally, I've got to have the lights on when I'm on the computer or it gives me a headache. The bottom line is I'm not talking about lighting.  When I talk about "writing in the dark" I am speaking metaphorically -- but I think you probably knew that.
         We're taught in any class that teaches about writing to start with an outline. Writing teachers encourage the writer to start out with outlines, notes, chararcter studies, time-lines, and other organizational methodology. Then from all of this organization the writer starts the writing process.  Organized thought and presentation is vital to creating a coherent and easy to follow product for the reader. Usually a writer wants to put across a point or tell a story and in order to do this one point must lead clearly to the next. But a question to those who are writing a blog:  How do you approach writing in the case of blogging?
          I would imagine that some writers out there carefully organize their thoughts, especially if they are trying to convey something complex or technical perhaps. Others, like I have been doing, might approach their writing efforts much like they would in, say, writing a letter to a friend.  Basically it's a randomization of free form thought in the form of written word, stream of consciousness with doses of free association.  I have a point in what I'm trying to say, but I may wander considerably while saying it and maybe even change the outcome as a result of thinking it all through.  Most blogs are fairly conversational and that's probably what most people are looking for.  Am I right or wrong on this point?  What would you say?
          But here's what I'm talking about:  Creative writing like novels or short stories -- is it better to approach them organizationally with an outline, etc or just randomly, letting the stories play themselves out organically and pruning them later with editing?  I am curious to know what works for other writers.  Do you write the story as you have planned it or does it just come to you while you are writing it?  I would imagine there is some of both involved, but which method is most effective for you and how well does it work?
            Today I was reading in a  blog by Jennifer Hudson Taylor, , about a writing competition, or perhaps a better word would be challenge, called National Novel Writing  Month (see ).  Jennifer was asking readers if anyone had ever participated or was thinking about it.  I too would like to pose this question.  I was intrigued by the idea and am thinking about signing up. I think I like the approach of writing in the dark for this one.  According to the rules, you can start with an outline and character studies and such, but you cannot start the actual writing until November 1 and must finish by November 30 at which time your completed product would have at least 50,000 words.  In order to truly challenge myself I think I would  not think too much about what I will do but just start on November 1.  To me that would be the real spirit of completing a novel in 30 days.  I am going to start pondering this and try to decide in the next few days so I can get signed up.  What the heck.  If anybody else is participating please let us know how it's going and what your thoughts are on the subject.
          So in the mean time I'll keep writing in the dark and tossing it out to you.  And maybe in November I'll be writing in the dark a whole lot.  Out go the lights.  Knock, knock!  Who's there?  Trick or treat!  You want candy?  No I want comments, lots of comments.  And please sign up to be a follower of this blog as well.  Thank you!


  1. >>[I am curious to know what works for other writers. Do you write the story as you have planned it or does it just come to you while you are writing it? I would imagine there is some of both involved, but which method is most effective for you and how well does it work?]<<

    rLEE-b ~
    When writing anything, I always have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with it first. I once read that Joseph Heller wrote ‘Catch-22’ by just writing the first sentence that came into his mind and then building upon it, allowing the story to create itself. I’d like to try that someday, but my mind is so analytical that it would be an unnatural method for me and I suspect I’ll just end up with a mess.

    So, I always have a pretty clear idea of points A and Z and sometimes a few letters in between, usually just a mental outline (would that be an “inline”?) and I fill in the spaces between the “Letters” or “Plot Points.” But for me, the most enjoyable or satisfying part of writing is the “magic” that occurs while I’m filling in those spaces between Beginning (A) and Ending (Z). Along the way, totally unforeseen things almost aways present themselves – analogies, wordplay, puns, a unique or funny phrase, a previously unrealized connection between two things, etc. When these ideas suddenly present themselves by flashing into my mind from seemingly nowhere, that’s when I’m having fun with the writing. I don’t particularly enjoy the “act” of writing, but the payoff for me is when some imaginative or clever thought explodes into my mind while my fingers are clicking on the keyboard, and then I get to go off and explore that new idea which seems to have come from God because it was previously unseen by me.

    Back when I was writing reviews for, one day I decided I was going to write a review for a product called “O'Keeffe's Working Hands hand crème.” When I put the blank piece of paper on the table in front of me, all I knew in advance was that I really liked the product and I was going to title the review “I’ve Got To Hand It To Them...” Beyond that, I had no idea what I was going to say. So I wrote the title down and then just started writing. In about 5 minutes the entire review was completed and required almost no rewriting at all. I just stood back, laughed and thought: Where the heck did THAT come from? In this case, the entire piece of writing was “magic”, rather than it containing just a few bits of magic within a preconceived trip from A to Z. Although this wasn’t my favorite review which I wrote, in a way, it was the most fun, and I always referred to it afterwards as “my magic review.” (Maybe I’ll post it on one of my Blogs someday.)

    Anyway, for me, writing really is like taking a road trip: I always know where I’m starting from and where I intend to end up, and there are a few things I expect to see along the way, but the highlights of the trip are usually those unplanned things that happen on the way, the things I couldn’t foresee that I would experience. Sort of like the time a friend and I were driving from N.Y.C. to L.A. and intending to see the Florida Keys during the trip. Although we did reach L.A., we didn’t see The Keys because we got sidetracked by our curiosity along the way and wound up lost one night, on foot, in the Okefenokee Swamp and surrounded by alligators. At one point, we feared we might have to sleep overnight in there. The story we were able to tell later was much more exciting than it would have been had we driven right through Georgia and straight to The Keys.

    ~ Stephen
    <"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
    so a fool repeats his folly."
    ~ Proverbs 26:11>

  2. Mr. McCarthy:

    I think you and I are basically on the same wavelength here as your method sounds much like the approach I usually take. We are not writing textbooks or complex tomes that require great organizational and logical approach. Let's hear a big cheer for randomness with purpose. I see these writing kits and how-to approaches on writing this or that and that may be good for those who can't get their thoughts together or are just plain afeared of thinkin'. I believe there's even some software that basically writes for you. In fact judging from some of the books on the market I think some authors may be already using it. Why waste your time writing if your computer can do it for you? Heck, what's wrong with some imperfection anyway. There's no such thing as the absolutely perfect written work (well, unless you're God streaming the Holy Bible into his vessels -- oh, but not to get into this controversy here). Besides perfection is in the mind of the perfectionist anyway.

    I like your road trip analogy --it's one that I've used myself. But someday I-- when I have the money, the time, the freedom, and the fearlessness-- I would like to just get in my vehicle and start driving with no particular destination in mind. Just go where whimsey takes me and end up wherever seems like the logical stopping point. May be irrational, but. If I decide to indulge in the Natiional Novel Writing personal challenge, this seriously may be my approach. I'm thinking I might just start on November 1 with a title, a character, and a first sententence and see where we go. Chaotic mess? 100 hours of my life wasted writing crap? Successful commercial product that will make me rich? Or 50,000 words of unreadable nonsense that would make me a laughingstock if anybody ever read it? Doesn't really matter. It's my time that I would be using.

    Maybe I'll go out and get a couple of cases of liquor at Costco and pretend I'm Hemingway or Kerouac. I doubt it, but it might make a good story. And me drinking that much would probably piss my wife off. And I probably would feel good after I did it anyway. I'd end up like that dog with his vomit that you always quote except I'd be returning the site to clean up the mess.

    I'll have to give all of this some thought. But anyhow thanks for your thoughts on the matter. As always they were well expressed and entertaining to read.


  3. Post script--

    Oh,and I meant that I WOULD NOT feel good after drinking that much alcohol. Not that it would make me feel good to piss off my wife.

    So much for randomly writing rapidly (alliteration - heh, heh), that's what a novel in a month would probably be like.

  4. >>[...when I have the money, the time, the freedom, and the fearlessness-- I would like to just get in my vehicle and start driving with no particular destination in mind. Just go where whimsey takes me and end up wherever seems like the logical stopping point.]<<

    rLEE-b ~
    I would LOVE to take a trip like that also. I already possess the "fearlessness", but I lack the time and money, and it would take plenty of both to do it right. I'm sure I'll be either raptured or (more likely) martyred by Uncle Sam long before I've had a chance to go on a "Freewheelin' Road Trip" of that nature.

    Brother, I see that after about two weeks of blogging, you have acquired more Followers to your Blog than I have after a year and a half of blogging. I don't know how you're doing it, but GOOD FOR YOU!

    Yak Later, rLEE-b.
    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McCarthy


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