Heinlein’s Rules

From the infamous science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein (“On the Writing of Speculative Fiction”, 1947) (commentary by Madison Leigh):

Writing Rules

1) You must write. Well, duh. But it is surprising what percentage of aspiring writers forget this rule… You must put your butt in the chair and put words on the page. Lots of them.

2) Finish what you start. Yes, writing is good, but you won’t get very far if you do not finish your work. Having 50 novels started, or even ALMOST completed, is worthless. Having one completed novel will get you where you want to be. If you have a hard time finishing what you start, ask yourself why? And then MAKE YOURSELF FINISH. Even if what you have seems like utter crap. There is something to be said for finished crap. Some of the best stories out there used to be finished crap. But if you don’t finish the crap…well, then it is nothing and never will be.

3) You must refrain from re-writing, except to editorial order. This one here confused people. No, Heinlein did not mean just type something out and voila, complete, send it out. EDITING, going through, making sure it makes sense, making sure everything works, sure. But if you find yourself doing more than five drafts, STOP. Especially if you keep going back and forth between things, and the story starts to morph back into what it was in the beginning. Don’t endlessly fiddle around with things in the story. If a market is interested in your story, and it is a good story, they will tell you what to fix. Once I had a story published and the editor asked me to change the whole ending of the story, because she knew it was a good tale, it just wasn’t an exact fit for her magazine yet. Editorial order–so I fixed it, and she printed it.

4) You must put your story on the market. Your story won’t be published if you don’t send it out! Don’t procrastinate. Mail that sucker out!

5) You must keep it on the market until it has sold. And keep on mailing it out! And out! And out! Rejection is a part of every writer’s life. It means nothing, other than that the story was not right for that particular market. Try, try again… The story has nothing better to do than travel around! And when you do get it back, unless you get some very specific comments on it, don’t touch it! Immediately send it out to the next market on your list, that very day. Make that story work for you.

6) Start working on something else. Lots of folks forget this one… As soon as you send something out, it’s done! It’s gone! Start working on something else. Refer to rule number 1. 🙂


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