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Monday, December 22, 2008

Writing Rules

I've got a printout of Heinlein's Rules of Writing tacked on the wall near my monitor. I picked it up somewhere long ago (I want to say it was one of those bonus issues of Writer's Digest but I could be wrong). It's a good formula to follow.

Whilst rummaging the Intarw3bz, I came across a disagreement with one of those rules. James Patrick Kelly writes about writer's workshops and notes:
...workshops are not for everyone....Nor are workshops for followers of Heinlein's Third Rule for Success in Writing: "You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order." There's no point in workshopping non-negotiable's dishonest to decide beforehand that no matter what transpires during the critique, your story is perfectly salable and you're not changing a goddamned word.
Got me thinking.

Seems to me what Heinlein's trying to say here is: "Don't revise your story to death. Get it written and get it as good as you can. Then get it out to market. Otherwise, you risk falling into the trap of taking out a perfectly good section because you think it's not needed only to put it back in again because, hey, it actually worked the first time around and what was I thinking?!"

Rule #3 works for me.


  1. Yes, but Heinlein's rule is aimed at writers

    a)who know exactly what they're doing and don't need a workshop

    2)who are selling regularly and ~think~ they have nothing else to learn from a workshop

    At a professional workshop called Sycamore Hill a well-published and award winning writer (and a friend of mine) was heard to complain, "Why are we talking about these stories? They're all obviously going to sell."

    Because selling isn't the ultimate goal. Writing as well as you can is.

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

    I can see your point, particularly the comment from your writing colleague.

    I believe that the revision process is important for all stories, and I agree with you that the idea is to get better.

    At the same time, I also believe that once you've finished all possible revisions, the story should be set aside as "done." What I'm referring to in the post is the endless tinkering with superficial parts of the story. For instance, changing the main character's name from Jim to Joe only to change it back to Jim. Not because there's any impact to the story, but simply because you (the writer) thought it would sound better.

    I believe this is where Rule #3 applies.

  3. With regard to workshops:

    I believe that anyone who attends a workshop ought to do so with the mindset that the stories you'll be writing will be revised countless times.

    That's the point of a workshop.