Heinlein’s rules

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

To follow them or not to follow them, that is the question. These rules are a hot topic among writers. I think everybody agrees with most of them, maybe all of them except for #3. 1, 2, 4, and 5 I think tend to be pretty logical, but ole #3 feels like the exact wrong answer. In general, the people I’ve come across who follow the rules tend to be professional, earning writers. The people who tend to complain about #3 tend to be wannabes (no disrespect intended of course, I am as much a wannabe as anybody else!)

For me, I mostly took them as I take any advice: with a grain of salt. I figure that system works well for many people, many very good, very talented people (Heinlein not the least of them) but I’m not them, I’m me. So I learn as much as I can and I apply what I can. However, I came across something on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog that clued me in to something very important about rule #3.  (Side note: if you are a writer and you don’t read Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It might be the best one out there).

I think what feels wrong to people about not rewriting is that they think, “Well, I’m no Heinlein. My stories aren’t good enough to sell after the first draft. Fine and well for important authors who have a Name to fire and forget their stories.” But then I had my “ah ha!” moment. I realized that rule #3 wasn’t arrogance about not redoing the story, it’s all about moving on to the next one. It’s easier to start from scratch and write a better story than to try to fix an existing story into a better one. So Heinlein’s not saying your story is so good that you shouldn’t ever try to fix it, he’s saying don’t waste your time trying to fix it, just write a new (better) story.

It’s like that old ‘evolution of man’ picture.

When you first start out, you think this picture depicts one story, and each step along the way is one iteration on that story. In reality, each step is a new story. You, the writer, are evolving, not the story.

To put it another way, each story you write will hopefully be a little bit better in some way. If each story is your best story to date, there’s no point in rewriting a story. It’s already your best story anyway, and the next story is probably going to be better. And, let’s face it, some stories can’t be fixed.

So, in summary, keep working, keep improving, and don’t look back. You will improve, not the story. That’s the secret to Heinlein’s rules.

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One thought on “Heinlein’s rules

  1. Pingback: To trunk or not to trunk, that is the question « Is this thing on?

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