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Writing into the Dark: How to Write a Novel without an Outline

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  381 ratings  ·  84 reviews
With more than a hundred published novels and more than seventeen million copies of his books in print, USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith knows how to outline. And he knows how to write a novel without an outline.

In this WMG Writer’s Guide, Dean takes you step-by-step through the process of writing without an outline and explains why not having an outline
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ebook, 75 pages
Published May 10th 2015 by WMG Publishing, Inc. (first published May 7th 2015)
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Leonard Gaya
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a short manual for beginning writers, written by a pulp fiction writer and former poker game professional. The least I can say is that it goes against what many other writing manuals profess as an ultimate truth, namely: that fiction writing must be planned in advance, that outlining the plot is essential and so forth (there are all sorts of methods out there on that topic, especially focusing on screenwriting techniques).

Dean Wesley Smith takes the opposite view, the “panster” view, as
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David
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'm a firm believer that what works is what works when it comes to writing. There is no right way, there are simply tools, and some tools work better for some than for others. The podcast writing excuses and Brandon Sanderson's lectures are what drilled this belief into me, most likely.

So while I have nothing against discovery writing or "pantsing," I take issue with the way this book presents this style of writing and fails to address the strengths AND weaknesses inherent to it.

Smith makes
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Shawn Scarber Deggans
May 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hey, this is how I write

It's actually nice to get affirmation that you're doing it right. What I've always called Looping, Dean calls Cycling, but they're both basically the same process.

I've tried multiple times to outline large complicated novels only to find I can't complete them. Same goes for short stories. The moment I plan too much, the playful part of my brain gets bored and wants to give up on the 'work.' It's nice to see a process explained that takes advantage of the playful part of
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Sebastien Castell
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, non-fiction
I've actually read this short book on the art of writing a novel without relying on outlines or other machinations three times now. That, as much as anything, tells me it's a book I value and that the advice inside – unlike that of so many fiction guides –is both more valuable and warrants returning to now and again.

One advantage Smith has over so many other would-be writing gurus is that he can actually back up his claims through his own work: over two hundred novels published (over a hundred
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Pistacchio
Aug 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: ebook
I think this is a terrible book. I don't like judging books as "goods", but 5$ for a book that I read in like 2 hours is frankly outrageous. I kept reading it hoping to find the "Ha! That's the catch!" moment and when I got to 80% on my Kindle the book finished and the rest 20% is basically advertising for another book of the author.

Apart from that, this is one of those books with a couple of ideas that you can express in three pages, but the author writes and rewrites and rephrases them over
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John Smythe
May 27, 2015 rated it liked it
A few good ideas, nothing bad. It's really more like a few long blog posts than a book though.

The biggest problem with this book, as with a lot of Smith's otherwise excellent writing advice, is that he uses nonstandard terminology. You have to read carefully to understand what he's really saying. For example, he recommends no rewriting and revising. However if you read between the lines he describes his own rewriting and revision process. What he's really recommending is rewriting and revising
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James Caldwell
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you're a newbie writer, be careful with this one. The author gives a lot of advice on his process, but he delivers it as though it's a must, despite saying there's no wrong way. He had some interesting things to say about discovery/seat of the pants writing, though what I don't like is that he tells you to revise as you go, but that's just not possible for a lot of writers, myself include. I hate doing it since it bogs me way down and I lose momentum. Also, I enjoy rewriting.

This may be
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Erin Bomboy
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
I only picked this up because Dean Wesley Smith's wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is one of the smartest cookies around. I've found her advice to aspiring writers to be thoughtful and well reasoned.

I'm afraid Writing into the Dark did nothing for me, and at $5.99, it felt like a ripoff, for what is essentially a long blog post plus a pitch to purchase another book.

While this might be helpful to beginner writers who are struggling to birth that first novel, virtually nothing is useful to a more
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Margaret Killjoy
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Maybe one of the reasons I liked this book so much is that it confirmed the writing style I gravitate towards naturally, especially the discussion of "cycling" as a way to edit-while-you-go and build up momentum.
Delaney Diamond
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book for us pantsers! It's okay to not outline, to edit as you write, and write out of sequence. I smiled as I read this book and it validated my process. There's a method to the madness. :)
Lynn Hortel
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Too much money for what it is. But it killed the last idiotic notion, for me, that my process is wrong, and I must plot to be professional. What I do is pretty much described here. I gave it a 4 for validation.
Wayland Smith
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Writing for publication/submission can be hard. Not necessarily the writing part (that varies a lot), but the process, and standing up to rejections, and hearing so many different things from different people. Sometimes, something fill me with enthusiasm about writing all over again. Often, it's going to a convention/seminar. Sometimes, hearing just the right thing.

I've met Dean W Smith a few times. He's always an inspiring speaker about writing. And the more I hear him talk specifics, the more
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David
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Short but effective and valuable

There aren't a lot of books about writing quickly without an outline, so this is a really handy (albeit quick) overview of the process according to one guy who's produced a lot of novels with it. (A LOT OF NOVELS. LIKE DOZENS.) His approach is unique, so it might not work for everyone, but I'm glad he explains it, since it contains many odd, counterintuitive elements I would never have considered on my own, such as cycling through the manuscript while writing,
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Katrina Hart
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Writing into The Dark Author Dean Wesley Smith.. Is a real insightful read into how the critical mind affect the creative and how that in turn can affect writers when they are writing with or without a plan.

I think it's also a great reminder to just let that creative voice win sometimes. And never to stop trying out new ways of writing..
William Aicher
A decent guide, albeit very short. Basically, think of it as "how to pants your novel."

Knocking off a star because roughly 30% of the pages in this book is a "sample" of another one of his books.
Jeremy Howell
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Useful as validation more than anything else.

This is a book for and about pantsers. The method Dean describes here for plunging forward without extensive outlining, and instead "cycling" through what you've written as you get ideas, is largely my natural method of writing. I've been struggling with following popular writing advice that's become gospel since the Nanowrimo method blew up: Outline, write forward and dry heave the words if you have to, never look back until it's done, fix it all
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Valerie Steimle
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This writing approach is very different. With the idea of typing into the "dark" with no plan or outline, this might be challenging to some writers and very daunting. Mr. Smith explains that using the creative voice in our heads, we can be better story tellers. The critical voice tends to outline books the creative side just goes with the flow of the story in our heads.

Mr. Smith explains why this is a better way to write although he does profess that there is no right way to work through a
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C.A. Newsome
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A Writing Book for the Rest of Us

Every bit of advice I've seen on writing advocates outlining. It's never worked for me. My stories emerge as I immerse myself in them. Finally, advice that focuses on writing without a roadmap. Half of this book is about giving yourself permission to do this. The other half is advice to engage your creative side and improve your result. It's pricey for the length, but well worth it.
David Hayden
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent guide to discovery writing and cycling. I highly recommend it for the quality of the information. Even more so since so few books discuss writing without plotting.
Jessica Booth
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Well. That was brief and also strangely repetitive. To summarize, writing into the dark is choosing a character and a setting, and sitting in your chair until you have a novel. You’re allowed to correct as you go, but not write a second draft. If only I had the confidence of this man, I too, would have shelves of self-admittedly mediocre novels to my name.
Marika Charalambous
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you are a seat-of-the-pants writer, this book is your tiny little Bible. Or if you're not sure whether you're a pantser or a plotter, read this book and you'll find out soon enough. Loved it, and I wish there were more books like it; alas, most writing books are about outlining.
Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
No-nonsense advice for writing once and not looking back.
Katia M. Davis
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Carolyn McBride
I do believe this short book has stopped me going mad. I do not say this lightly. I also think it is written for people whose brains work in a certain way, those who think in pictures rather than words, like mine. If you can't think in pictures, or concepts, then you might think this book is some form of alchemy, but if you get it, you get it.
It is a quick, easy read that makes sense. There are a few repetitions in it, but I'll excuse them because I related so well to the contents. If you are a
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Victoria Osborne
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
I don’t normally do this, but I feel I must. There is a very dangerous book out there, and I am positive that beginning writers should steer clear.
I realized not long ago that there were very few blog reviewers that covered writing books. I read a lot of writing books and I put many theories that I read into practice.
I am a plotter. The detail of my outlines is reflected in the complexity of my books. I am currently writing three series. So depending upon the book depends upon the outline.
The
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Alexandria Blaelock
A nice quick read that explains how DWS writes what he calls "into the dark" (without a plan) and why. He argues that he (as a writer) and readers are bored with books that follow a plan because they are predictable. And I have to agree - I always prefer ends that I can't see coming!

As for how; pick a character and a setting and start writing - what do they see, what are they thinking and so on. He also includes advice including how to:
*Get started again when you get stuck
*Go back and
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Elizabeth
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
While I think Smith probably overstates the case of never outline and never rewrite, this book could be a tremendous help to those who have trouble finishing (or starting) their work. When reading this book, it's important to remember that he is an extremely accomplished author with over 30 years of experience. His creative mind has been very well trained in crafting stories that work. I would never debate that the process he describes works well for him, and it is definitely a method worth ...more
K.M. Carroll
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great food for thought

Writing into the dark is just writing a story without an outline. Following the logic of the story and characters. Not worrying about the ending or the beats or whatever. Dean lays it all out, rather like a magician showing how a trick works. If you're burned out on outlines and beats and rewrites, Dean will teach you how to write a book in one clean draft. This is professional grade stuff, here. You won't find it on most writing blogs because only authors who have written
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Juli Monroe
Jun 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scribd, 2015
Short but great information. Smith made me realize I had thoroughly internalized the belief that I had to keep moving forward when writing a draft. His section on cycling showed me a different way and basically gave me "permission" to do what I had been doing, but now I'll do it more and better because I'm not feeling guilty about it. That tip alone made the book worth the price, and there were additional tips beyond that one.
Robert
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great ideas

I have always "written into the dark", it is the only way I can without getting bored. Dean has some amazing insights that I had never thought of until reading this book. The book was loaned to me by a writer friend who knew I would find the ideas useful. If you are a writer, or want to start writing, then this is a great book to start with.
Amy Laurens
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Short but confidence boosting

Very short for $6AU but nevertheless a good confidence boost. I wrote one novel 'into the dark' back in the day and it was tremendous fun. I feel like I've matured enough as a writer that I'm probably ready to give this another go.
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Pen Names
Edward Taft
Dee W. Schofield
D.W. Smith
Sandy Schofield
Kathryn Wesley

Dean Wesley Smith is the bestselling author of over ninety novels under many names and well over 100 published short stories. He has over eight million copies of his books in print and has books published in nine different countries. He has written many original novels in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller,
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“Truth: When you are writing new words, you are never wasting your time. Never. Here comes a dirty word. Better cover your ears. Practice. There, I said it. Imagine walking up to some poor kid who is practicing a musical instrument and telling that kid he is wasting his time by practicing. He needs to only play concerts or nothing at all. Can’t imagine that? Yet when your critical voice tells you that you might be wasting your time, that’s exactly what you are saying to yourself. You are saying your writing must always be special, that it can’t be done to practice. Yeah, believing every word you write is always special will freeze you down into making writing work and then fairly quickly stop you completely. And again, that’s what the critical voice wants. Critical voice does not want you writing or taking any chances. Period. And writing into the dark? Wow, what a chance that would be. Far too much of a chance to take because your writing is “special.” Your writing must always be perfect and maybe you had better add in just one more rewrite to be sure. And maybe one more rewrite after that, because rewriting isn’t wasting time. That italics part, folks, was a sarcastic attempt to show you just how stupid those thoughts are. If you believe all of that was advice, you are beyond my help. Truth: The biggest waste of time in writing is rewriting. Period.” 0 likes
“When I have a chapter finished, I jot down who the viewpoint characters are, what they are wearing, what happened in the chapter. So as I go along, I outline each book as I write it. I never outline ahead of the writing, but after the writing is done. That keeps the creative side of my brain in control of the writing.” 0 likes
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