Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So Say We All?

Robert Heinlein's Rules for Writing originally appeared in his 1947 essay, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction." He stated:
  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.
#5 can strain any writer's patience, but I've seen my own work benefit from such persperistence. As for #3, I think there's definitely value in revising one's work; but I take Heinlein to mean "rewriting" as "overhauling" a story in a major way once it's finished -- something we should probably avoid for our own sanity. We could keep tinkering with our work beyond the grave, I'm sure!

What do you think? Do you take issue with any of these rules? Can you think of a few that Heinlein should have added?

26 comments:

  1. "Take issue with" is putting it a bit strong, but for myself I disagree with #4, although I can see that to ignore it smacks of self-indulgence.
    I think I'd add 'honestly' to #1

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    1. Honestly is good -- or: You must write hard!

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  2. These four rules sure look right to me. I even agree with #3. (I seem to revise less than many writers I know.) I might add a #6. "You must not spend your precious writing time writing things that mean nothing to you."

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    1. Or social-networking excessively? That's where I struggle: I HATE promoting my work. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

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  3. I think #5 rings with me - I tend to look at some stories as practice runs and that maybe they're not market worthy, but it seems to be a fine line between the story you like and what others think is publishable.

    I also think #2 is a must. And I agree with Sandra about #1.

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    1. The more we peruse the work that's published by various markets, the more we can say with confidence that there's a place for every one of our stories. It just takes time to find the right one.

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  4. I'm guilty of failing at all of them from time to time. But I carry on and do my best.

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    1. That's the good news: there's no pass or fail here, just us getting our work out there -- eventually.

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  5. Heh, looks like we were sharing a brainwave this week, Milo.

    In fact, I plugged W1/S1 in my own Heinlein's Rules post from Monday.

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    1. Very cool, Michael! We ran these last year, and they were a great discussion-starter. Thanks for the plug -- the more W1S1ers, the better!

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    1. With or without rinsing first? =]

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  7. Seems like pretty solid rules to me. Though even with an editor's comments, I hesitate to rewrite. Sometimes the editor's comments 'click' but other times, I can see they completely missed the point. So I think that rule should be taken with some salt, too.

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    1. I'll rewrite when they give me a chance to resubmit -- if they're showing that much interest, I figure I've got a real shot. But you're right; we have to be careful with how much salt is in our diet. =]

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  8. Heinlein was pretty spot on.
    Hard work and persistence is definitely key.

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    1. In the words of the indomitable Steve Ramey: Persistence + Perspiration + PERSPERISTENCE!

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  9. I have a mild issue with #3 in that it doesn't acknowledge the importance of a good workshop/beta reader in the process. In my experience stories seldom emerge on first (or even second) draft having achieved their full power. I believe a big part of "finishing" what you write should include several revision passes based on your own and reader comments. The Heinlein rules seem to suggest writing something, dumping it into the marketplace, waiting for an editor to comment (good luck with that), rather than writing, garnering reaction, revising, then sending out to market.

    That said, I suspect Heinlein created his rules to help writers overcome one of the most pernicious failings of beginners. Only by sending work out do we begin to conquer our fear of rejection. Revising without end can become a sabotaging technique. It certainly did for me. However, as an editor I see so many stories that would benefit by revision (not line edit so much as restructuring of story experience). Better I see these stories than they sit in a drawer for years, but even better if a good writers group could help sort out these issues before submission.

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    1. Excellent points, and eloquently stated. I'm blessed to have a wife who's interested enough in my work to be my #1 reader, and with her help, I keep improving my craft.

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  10. YES! Printing these out, and since I can't staple them to my forehead, will pin them up next to my computer.
    Thanks!

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  11. #3 is the one I struggle with the most. I always write a first draft, let it sit for at least a couple of weeks, return to it with a revision, and then send it out to beta readers. This is where the fun begins.

    I've submitted a few of my stories for critique on AbsoluteWrite. In each case, the critiquers brought up very good points. I then incorporated all of their suggestions, and in each case I was told by at least one person, "Your second draft is better technically, but I think I like the first version better."

    Then I get confused and I don't know whether to revert back the original or do something in between, and I can't progress on that story. Frustrating.

    I can see value in Heinlein's #3, but as Stephen points out, I know no editor would accept my pre-critiqued version. It's almost as if we must find the perfect balance between changing enough to get published and changing too much so as to destroy the story.

    Aaaahhhh!!!

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    1. There's also a point where we have to believe in our story enough despite what others might say. There's an editor out there for every story we write; we just have to find them.

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  12. >You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
    I think rewriting/revising is a neccessary part of growing into your writing ability. I need at least 3 - 4 drafts before a short story is ready to hit the market. Some stories need more. Maybe it means I'm not as sharp as Mr. Heinlein. Doesn't meant I can't publish. I will, but I'll do it my way, with revisions until the story is right.

    >You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
    There are some stories that just don't need to be read by anyone...

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    1. But I've found that even my worst stories have something worth salvaging -- either characters, worlds, or situations that may later appear in something much better.

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    2. That's why I never delete them. I do like to take the tidbits that inspired the story or that still appealed to me. But I spewed out a lot of C R A P while figuring out how to write short stories. No one else needs to suffer through that. :D

      Call me a scavenger if you must. hee.

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    3. I threw away a lot of my early work growing up, and I kind of wish I kept more of it -- just to cringe at now and (hopefully) realize I've grown somewhat as a writer.

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