HEINLEIN’S RULES

Five Simple Business Rules for Writing

 

CHAPTER SIX

 Continuing with the third rule.

Rule #3: You Must Refrain From Rewriting Unless to Editorial Order.

I wanted to go at this rule one more time to make sure I’ve been clear. Most of the time, in this modern world, rewriting is when you do a sloppy first draft with the intent of “letting it sit” (dumbest thing I have ever heard) and then “fix it” later.

That assumes, of course, that your story is broken.

And that you have suddenly gained a vast amount of new skills since doing the story the first time.

I will often get comments from writers in workshops when I say, “Great job. It works fine.” The writer wants to know what is wrong. If I don’t say anything is wrong, nothing is wrong.

That kind of thinking, of always thinking something is broken, comes directly out of this myth that everything must be rewritten because it is clearly broken.

If you tell your creative voice to do it right the first time, the story won’t be broken.

It might not work the way you feel it should, but it won’t be broken and some readers might think it works just fine as is.

 

Cycling

 This modern world of computers has allowed us to use a wonderful new method of writing fiction. That’s called cycling.

The first thing you must understand about this new method of working in creative voice to create a clean story the first time through is that you, the author, are the god of your story.

You are unstuck in time in your story.

You could write the last line, the first line, a middle line, and then jump around filling in gaps.

The intent is to make a story that the reader will start into on page one, word one, and end up at the last word.

BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO WRITE IT THAT WAY.

This is the hardest concept for a new writer to grasp after English classes. English teachers talk about the complexity and all that of fiction and all of us thought that the authors must have been really brilliant to start from that first word and put all that nifty stuff in at exactly the right moment.

Nope.

You are the god of your own story, you can jump around all you want in your story and do anything you want.

As long as you do it in creative mode.

In the old days, writers would add in pages, or hand-write in sentences in earlier pages that needed to be added because of something that came later in the story.

I would often have a page that was numbered 3a that came right after page 3 in my story.

In our modern world of computers, we can cycle back in creative mode and just add in or take out what we want when we want.

How I do it (and it turns out, many other professionals I have talked to are the same) is that I write about 400 to 600 words (into the dark) and then bog down.

I instantly jump back to the start of those 400 words and run through them, adding in a detail, reading it, touching it, until I am back to the blank page with some speed and I go another 400 to 600 words.

Then I cycle back about 500 words and do it again.

If you graphed it, it would look like I am moving forward and then jumping up out of the timeline and circling back into the timeline of the story and then going forward again.

I’ll repeat until I get to the end and the story is done and clean because I have looked at most of it twice. (I talk a lot more about this method in the book Writing into the Dark.)

I do this all while my creative voice is in control.

I average about 1,000 words per hour of finished story with this method, which always includes a five-minute break every hour.

Rewriting has been made easy with computers. That is the huge problem.

But cycling isn’t rewriting, it’s just using the computer tool to do what writers have always done. Jump around in time in our stories.

So remember, just because the reader will read a story from word one to the final word doesn’t mean you have to write it that way.

 

Editors

Let me describe the types of editors there are in this new world just to be very clear.

Traditional Editor.

This editor is hired by a magazine or a book company to put together a magazine or a book line. They have very specific things they are looking for and will often ask you to touch up your book, do a pass through the book to help it fit their book line or magazine better.

That’s the kind of thing Heinlein was talking about with the last part of Rule #3. These editors can write you checks for your work.

 

Book Doctors/Developmental Editors/Content Editors.

All of these types of editors you pay are scams. (With the exceptions of major writers with long careers helping out younger writers for a fee.)

Granted, many of these book doctors have their hearts in the right place. I understand that. They want to help young writers, but the book doctors (or developmental editors or whatever you call them) have no credentials and could no more tell what makes a better book than your neighbor down the street. (Actually, feedback from your neighbor might be better.)

So they are actually hurting young writers instead of helping them.

Do not pay these book doctors. Just trust your own creative voice, your own art.

And focus on learning how to tell better stories over years by how-to books, taking classes, and listening to writers who have forty or fifty novels published.

In other words, learn from those a ways down the road that you want to walk and never grovel and pay someone with no credentials.

 

Line Editors

Line editors are editors who look for consistency in your story and your words. They look for clarity. Great line editors are extremely rare and most writers can get by without them.

Often great line editors are also buying editors for magazines or anthologies. John Helfers is a great line editor and he often buys for anthologies and edits a volume of Fiction River for WMG Publishing every year.

 

Copyeditors

Every indie writer needs to hire a copyeditor. You can find them in services and locally from newspapers and such. Copyeditors look for nits, mistakes, wrong words spelled correctly.

Great copyeditors are priceless as well, but you must, as an indie writer, hire one. No manuscript should go into print without a good copyeditor looking at it.

I am posting this book on my blog in rough form. It will be run through a copyeditor before it sees electronic and paper print.

Copyediting is not rewriting. Copyediting is simply finding the last wave of mistakes and cleaning as many of then out as they can find.

But no book is perfect. None.

We all do the best we can and release and move on.

 

Summary of Rule #3

Heinlein was basically trying to help writers learn how to write a story, do the best they could, release and move on.

Forward.

Always face forward.

Think of your writing journey as a walking trip. When you write a story, you are walking forward, helping yourself by learning and practicing and creating more stories that might sell and get you readers.

But the moment you stop and turn around to rewrite something, you have stopped your forward momentum and actually walked backwards to hurt your fiction.

Forward.

Always face and move forward.

The modern world has developed this fantastically powerful myth that all writing must be rewritten to be good. And no writer coming into fiction writing is immune from the pressure of the myth.

Writing is an art.

Good stories come from the creative side of our minds. To tell good stories, you must train that creative side to let go and play.

Write the story, finish the story, release the story. Rules 1-3.

It really is as simple as Heinlein said.

But in this modern world, it is really that hard.