To trunk or not to trunk, that is the question

I am a big believer in Heinlein’s rules. According to those rules, once a story is written you should keep sending it out until it sells.

I think this makes a lot of sense. First off, writers aren’t the best judge of their work. So if you think a story is rotten and you trunk it before anybody sees it, then nobody has a chance to see if it is really as rotten as you think it is. Second off, you’ve already done the work of writing the story. That work will certainly never generate any money if the story is sitting in your closet under your dirty socks. Unless you plan to rewrite it at some time in the future (which may or may not violate another of Heinlein’s rules, depending on the context), then it doesn’t hurt you to keep sending it out there, while you are working on writing better stories. Even if it only gets you $10, that’s $10 you wouldn’t have otherwise.

So, by this logic, you should never trunk a story. However, I would like to present a few mitigating circumstances.

First, one of the stories I’m considering trunking is the first story I ever wrote. Even if I’m not the best judge of my work, I think I can say objectively that it’s not my best. I have also received detailed comments in rejections that I happen to agree with. These comments point out some major holes. As it currently stands, this story may never be publishable, at least by the types of people I would like to be published with. And I didn’t just decide that before it ever saw the light of day, I gave it quite a few tries (13 tries at the time of this post, to be specific).

Second, postage is not free. Each (snail mail) submission costs some small amount. If I send it to 20 more places before selling it for $10, then I would have been better off just cutting and running now. Now, money is not the only motivation to sell a story, so just because you might lose money doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop sending it. However, this leads into my third point.

Finally, I have my reputation to consider. Okay, that was sort of a joke. But in reality, there are magazines I would be proud to be published in, and there would be magazines I wouldn’t be proud to be in. My goal isn’t to be published just anywhere; if that were the case I would just put my stories up on my own website. My goal is to get into pro markets. I would not be satisfied if a story garnered 200 rejections before eventually being published in some fortheluv magazine for a couple of contributer’s copies. That would tell me that, at least for that story, it was not good enough. I can tell myself that all day long and save on the postage.

The thing is, if I really believed in a story, I would push forward no matter what. Some of my stories I really believe in. There are a few that I don’t. So that makes it a little harder to keep looking farther and farther down the market list.

So should I trunk it, or not? I’m leaning towards yes, but I might need a few more rejections to make up my mind.

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Finding the Time

It’s been a long time since I had a post on writing. There’s a reason for that.

Ever since Oliver was born, my writing output  (never fantastic) has literally dropped to zero. For two months I didn’t write a word. That’s not to say I gave up or forgot about it, but I simply did not have the time, even an hour or two. One kid was okay, but two kids are rough.

Every day I get up early and stumble downstairs when Evie wakes up. We are solid, running-around-like-chickens-with-our-heads-chopped-off busy until I leave for work. Even still I get to work at least an hour late every day. Factoring in the commute, by the time I get home, I’m usually late for dinner. This is assuming that my amazing wife somehow had time during the day to actually come up with something for dinner, and I don’t have to make it when I get home. So by the time I walk in the door, dinner is already at stage Orange, if not stage Red. We get that going, we eat, (sometimes) clean up, and then immediately I have to do Oliver’s bath. As soon as he is done, I hand him off to Sara and start on Evie’s bath. After reading her a story and tucking her in, I can sit down for the night…or not. Because then it’s time for laundry, dishes, etc.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying that, with two kids, every minute of my day is accounted for, with no time left for other pursuits (writing included). And on the very rare occasion that I do get a minute, I do have other things that I like to do. So even those rare moments are subdivided. Especially since my writing is still on the downlow, so I don’t do it when other people are around (this pretty much rules out weekends).

Okay, so everybody has challenges. That’s good, because that’s what I want to talk about in this post.

First off, I readjusted my goals. I decided that I wanted to complete a minimum of 4 stories this year, one for each quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. I thought this would be an easy goal, especially since the first of those stories was already 1/2 done. Well, here we are, almost done with the quarter, and I haven’t quite finished the first quarter’s story. So, it’s going to be a bigger challenge than I thought.

Second off, I had to cut some things out. This is why I haven’t updated the writing section of my blog in a long time. I’d rather spend that time (if this fictional time were to materialize) writing fiction. Note though, that I didn’t stop updating my blog altogether. There are a few reasons for that. First off, I love my blog, so stopping this would be trading one thing I love for another…what’s the point of that? Second off, I can sometimes blog when I can’t write (for example, when I’m out of the house). Third off, I see the blog as important to my writing, both as practice and for the social aspects.

Third off, I had to be inventive. I had to evolve. I had a major discovery the other day: at the moment, the best time for me to write is on business trips. I was gone for almost a week the other day and, between the plane and the hotel, I managed to knock out something like 1,600 words, even though I was pretty busy the whole time. Previously my writing style was between 100 and 300 words a day, maybe once or twice a week. Slow and steady. Now, that no longer works for me, and I’m doing big bursts all at once. And I plan to continue in this fashion, until something changes.

One interesting thing that came out of this, is that it somewhat forces me to follow Heinlein’s rules, something that I believe strongly in. If I only have a few minutes to write, and if I’m going to meet my goals, then I seriously do NOT have time to go back and edit stories. That time can be for new work, and new work only.

So, as usual, life throws you curves. You can either quit, or roll with the punches. And if I can’t write new stories, at least I have been able to keep the old ones in the mail…

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.