To elaborate, this is a quote from a question regarding this that I have found:

"(Dean Wesley Smith) basically advises 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?"


5 Answers 5


It's possible "writing into the dark" would work, it all depends on how much of the structure of storytelling an author has internalized.

Like it or not, the vast majority of published stories follow a common structure, with a plot that progresses through different phases of the story. The turning points of the story tend to occur very close to certain percentages of the story; for examples see the Three Act Structure.

If you know all of that, and you know how to write descriptions, setting, realistic dialogue and so on, then you can know, by approximately where you ARE in the story, what kinds of events, scenes, and action you should be writing about next. So sure, you could make it up on the fly.

A story can begin with our main character in her normal world, doing normal things. We need to make up who she is, what she's doing, how she interacts with others, etc. We need to introduce her setting, and define reader expectations. We need to decide if there will be fantastical elements; if so we need to introduce them early.

Around 10%-15% of the way through the story, our MC has to encounter the Inciting Incident. We'll make that up when we get there; but we want it to look like an everyday problem she can solve easily enough. But that isn't going to work, and the problem will escalate.

And so on. If you have written a lot of stories, even with plotting, or weeks of pre-work, you can internalize the rules of how you write stories, and come up with them on the fly, but following your internal "blueprint" of what kind of scene or plot development you need to write next.

Kind of like an experienced tour guide that truly knows all about the fifty landmarks in her city could give a good tour of them even if they were visited in some random order. At each stop, she knows what to talk about, and how to link it to things already visited, or soon to be visited.

I don't recommend it as a starting place. Just like the tour guide, if you don't always know exactly where you are in the city and what to do there, you may end up just wandering into dead ends that don't work, and don't seem to have anywhere to go.

I have been a discovery writer for 30 years, I DO know story structure, and I still can write myself into dead-ends, and have to scrap pages and pages, and come up with something else. Typically only about half of what I write actually makes it into my final novels; but that's okay. I accept that inefficiency in the name of producing good art.


I knew Dean Wesley Smith when he ran a little used book store while working on becoming a writer and going to law school. Further, I was a member of a critique group ("Clarion style") with him for a time.

I can tell you that he does, in fact, write this way (or did, forty years ago), and apparently was, before he went to self-publishing online as an exclusive market, able to sell the resulting work. I can't testify to whether he ever rewrote, but the advice not to do so is far older than Smith's blogs and videos; I'm pretty sure he got it from Robert A. Heinlein, who started writing science fiction after receiving a medical discharge from the Navy in the 1930s, with a young wife and a mortgage. "Don't rewrite" was one of Heinlein's sternest admonitions to writers.

As for "writing into the dark" I can verify he did that when I knew him; I've read partially completed manuscripts of his that were "stuck" because he wasn't sure how to get his characters out of the corner he'd written them into. Given he's been making a living as a writer for decades, I'm inclined to believe that whatever methods he advises work for him.

As another answer has noted, however, what works for one writer may not work for another. Personally, I'm not capable of "writing into the dark" because my mind runs so far ahead of my fingers that before I can define characters and setting, I have the broad strokes of the story in my mind. Another writer I know preplots in detail. Still another works in a combination, and then does extensive rewrites to fix contradictions and holes.

What works for you is what works for you.


All three answers have good insights. In answer to part of the poster’s question (“Is there anyone here who actually writes like this? And how successful have you been in doing this?”), yes, I have done this sometimes. I used to write a humor column that was regularly published in a couple of small free papers, and sometimes I would start with nothing more than a funny title and plunge into writing and just let the nuttiness flow, making up the story as I went along. Much more often, for fiction or nonfiction, I do as the question suggests: thinking through the story before starting to write.


It works for the very few people who are A Stephen King. It does not work for the masses of wannabees who think they can write like Stephen King by pantsing with Smith's approach or other variation of pantsing.

  • Is there a way a writer can tell whether they are a Stephen King or just a wannabe (i.e. whether the method will work for them)?
    – F1Krazy
    Dec 30, 2019 at 19:49
  • You would have to try it and see. I tried it, and I failed. I started using planning and organizing and was later a professional writer at work and was published in over a dozen national magazines and newspapers from writers digest to washpost.
    – user42563
    Dec 30, 2019 at 19:51
  • But Stephen King does rewrite. His first draft is usually just a rough draft. After that, he goes over it and does a second draft. So he is not really doing what this guy Dean is saying; he claims that you mustn't rewrite.
    – user394536
    Dec 31, 2019 at 10:43

There's plenty of writing advice out there none of which will guarantee you a place in the promised. Beyond a comprehensive school education you cannot really learn to write. However, you will, over time, learn how you write.

Popular Methods

"Write every day.": Sorry, doesn't work for me. I need to have my creative groove on. If I write when not in the mood then I'll end up deleting it at some point.

"Multiple Drafts / Editing.": Not something that really works for me. I wrote it. I know what it says so I fail to see the words on the page.

"Outlining.": Not a fan. If I know what I'm going to type before I type it . . . nah, copy-typing is boring as hell. I quickly lose interest. The task becomes a chore.

For me, the writing process is an adventure. I experience the story before attempting to put it into words. However, I have learned that I am extremely smart and in possession of a very quick mind. The result of this is that a complete novel can be all done in around 25,000 words. In my mind it is fairly obvious why the character quite her bar job and left town in chapter 3 . . . but other's may not get it.

I find myself writing huge inserts, I can easily add 90 - 100,000 words to an original.

Dean Wesley Smith's method probably works for Dean Wesley Smith in the same way Stephen King's method worked for him. You need to find a method that works for you.

And finally, DO NOT FEED THE MACHINE. Methods sold by Dwight Swain, Robert McKee, Blake Snyder and the like didn't even work for them.

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