The ‘rules’ below stem from an essay Heinlein wrote in 1947 on the art of speculative fiction writing. Point 3 generates some debate these days. I’ve even heard it referred to as ridiculous. I’ve added my own comments under each rule.
1. You Must Write
It sounds obvious but there are a lot of wannabe writers out there who will talk a great masterpiece but never actually get anything down on paper. Thinking up stories is great fun, but if you're serious about writing you have to put pen to paper.
2. You Must Finish What You Write
Oh, I can identify with this one - see here. I've managed to address this issue with my own writing, and it was something that needed addressing. Having thirty or forty unfinished stories is not good for you as a writer. It represents a lack of discipline. I know it can be difficult. Some stories are harder than others, but you need to get it down from beginning, to middle, to end.
3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting Except To Editorial Order
I've heard this rule referred to as ridiculous. I think that statement takes the rule too literally. One issue I used to be plagued with was rewriting my work endlessly...before the story was even finished (See rule 2). I think that's what Heinlein was saying. At some point you have to let the work go. I also think that Heinlein was saying "Believe in yourself". Don't re-write elements of your story that you totally believe in because the friend next door says they weren't sure about chapter 2 or the last paragraph on page 6. If you believe in your work then the only other view that counts is that of a publishing editor, and you do need to listen to them.
4. You Must Put The Work On The Market
Boy do I agree with this one. I've met some really talented writers but you'd be surprised about how many don't put their work out there. It's fear of rejection which I totally understand. I think it took me three years from the day I started taking writing seriously to the day I sent a short story to a magazine. The story got rejected. What's the big deal? Am I publicly humilated the next time I walk out of the house? Sure the ego takes a dent, or let's put it another way...the ego gets a reality check. You know how good your writing is at this stage. You pick yourself up, you dust yourself down, and you try again. Which brings me nicely to Rule 5...
5. You Must Keep The Work On The Market Until It Is Sold
It's a simple message - Don't give up. Perserverance pays off. If a magazine turns down a story it doesn't necessarily mean it's not publishable. It could mean you haven't researched the magazine properley and it's not for them. There are many successful novels that were rejected out of hand by one publisher only to be picked up by another. Let's just say that the same work does get bounced by multiple publishers / markets. Ok it's time to admit that the story needs work. Well, work on it. Try to figure out what's wrong with it. Are the characters cardboard cut outs? Is the plot too thin or too cliched? If it's a magazine rejection buy the next couple of issues to see what stories they did buy. Compare your rejected work to the accepted works and learn from the experience. Perserverance is an outstanding attribute for a writer. Embrace it wholeheartedly.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Take care and happy writing,
M J Wolfson - That's me.