Emotional Roller-coaster

As you and the story you’re writing go through time together, do you find yourself on the same type of emotional roller-coaster as with a personal relationship? Do you feel elated by positive events and dejected by negative ones? I’ve been through the process enough to detect a repeatable pattern. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Let’s follow through as I experience the highs and lows of writing a story and getting it published. This is my relationship with a single story, so the line will overlap with other stories in various stages.

Emotional RollercoasterGetting a story idea is enjoyable, having it mature in my mind while I imagine the possibilities, the characters, the plotline, the settings, and some of the dramatic scenes. It’s a good feeling to go through that, because that imaginary, unwritten story is as good as it’s ever going to be. Once the reality starts and I put words down, the story never reaches the exalted heights of perfection that it achieved when just a dream.

Still, putting words down has a gratification all its own. I feel I’m making progress, producing product, assembling widgets on my keyboard / word / sentence / paragraph assembly line.

Until I get stuck with writer’s block. Here I mean the minor writer’s block I’ve described before, where I can’t get out of a plot hole, or I need a character to act contrary to his or her motivations, etc. Although temporary, this is a real downer. I don’t always experience this, (as shown by the reddish line) but there’s usually some drop-off in enthusiasm as the glow of the original idea fades a bit.

Reaching THE END of the first draft is a definite up-tic in satisfaction for me. The mad rush of getting words down is over. It’s good to know I can start the reviewing-editing-improving phase.

For simplicity, my graph only shows two drafts, but there may be more, with minor wave crests for completing each one. I get to the highest emotional state so far when I consider the story done and submit it for publication. “Here, Dear Editor, this is my newborn! Don’t you love it as much as I do?”

That emotional high fades, as they all do, while waiting for a response. Usually I’ve begun another story by then, so I get an overlap with a similar-looking graph displaced in time.

My graph depicts two paths here, one showing a rejection. Despite my earlier advice to look at rejections positively, I still find that hard to do. Rejections stink. Maybe not as much now as my first one, but still…

An acceptance of a story is a very high emotional state, especially the first time. It’s time to celebrate, indulge, and surrender to the grandeur and magnificence of me.

No one can maintain a very high or very low state forever, so I do descend from the grand summit as I get through the rewrites and signing of the contract, though these are not unpleasant.

The launch of a story is another sublime pinnacle of emotional ecstasy, and that’s no hyperbole. “For all human history, readers have awaited a story like this, and today, I, yes I, grant your wish and launch this masterpiece, this seminal work of ultimate prose, so you may purchase and read it. You’re quite welcome.”

After the story is launched, you’ll get occasional uplifting moments, such as favorable reviews, or book signings, etc. These are never quite as exciting as acceptance or launching, but they’re gratifying anyway.

I’ve not gotten through all these stages with a novel yet, but I suppose a novel’s graph is longer in time, and has many more ups and downs than that of a short story.

Also, your mileage may vary such that your graph looks quite different from mine. Leave me a comment and let me know about the emotional stages of your writing experience.

Remember, when on a roller-coaster (emotional or state fair-type), it sometimes helps to raise your hands in the air and scream. Whee! Here goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 26, 2014Permalink

12 Reasons to Change Your Name

Pen NamesAs a writer of fiction, you might choose to be published under a name other than your real one for a variety of reasons. The use of pen names, (or nom de plumes, literary doubles, or pseudonyms, if you prefer) is not uncommon. Although I’ve blogged about one reason for pen names before, I figured I’d provide a more comprehensive list of reasons today.

• The first three on my list have to do with Branding.
1. To separate your books into different genres or types or styles. For each name, readers know what to expect.
2. To give the reader the impression the book is an autobiography. You can adopt a character’s name as your pen name, as Daniel Handler did by choosing Lemony Snicket as a nom de plume in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
3. To share the same pen name with other authors, making it seem like a book series was written by one person. With the Tom Swift series of children’s books, several authors wrote under the single pen name, Victor Appleton.

• You may have reasons to shield your true identity.
4. To keep your real name in reserve until you’re a more established author. Eric Blair used the name George Orwell for this purpose, though it’s not clear what he was waiting for!
5. To protect your reputation. As a don at Oxford University, C. S. Lewis got published under the names Clive Hamilton and N. W. Clerk for this purpose.
6. To maintain your privacy. Enough said.

• There may be problems with your real name.
7. To choose a name more appropriate to the genre you write in. Pearl Grey chose the pen name Zane Grey for his Westerns.
8. To present yourself as the other gender. As a woman, you might feel your military adventure novels would sell better with a man’s name as the author, and similarly for you men who write romance novels.
9. To enable readers to more easily pronounce your name. Face it, some names are difficult to say.
10. To distinguish yourself from someone else. Your real name might spell or sound like another person (or thing). The British statesman and author Winston Churchill always wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill (I know, not much of a pseudonym) to avoid being confused with the then-famous American author Winston Churchill.

• Sometimes the publisher has reasons for suggesting a pen name.
11. To enable several of your stories to appear in the same magazine. Thus Robert A. Heinlein became also Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong to avoid the appearance that a single author was monopolizing that issue.
12. To keep from saturating the market. If you write very fast, publishers might fear the public will see your name too often and tire of your novels too quickly. For this reason, some of Stephen King’s books were published under the name Richard Bachman.

Sure, there might be additional reasons for using a pen name. You don’t really need a reason, after all. It’s a personal choice and nobody’s business except yours and the publisher’s. (You’ll want your publisher to know your real name so they send those huge advance and royalty checks to the right account!)

Other good sites or blog posts that list reasons for pen names include this one, this one, and this one.

Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering, my real name isn’t—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 14, 2014Permalink

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

December 8, 2013Permalink

Prioritizing the Markets

What’s that?  You say you’ve finished writing a story but you’re not sure which market to send it to first?  It can be confusing, selecting among all the markets listed on Duotrope and Ralan and other similar sites.

Every writer makes these choices differently, so I’ll just share my method and the reasons for it.  As always, you’re free to do as you wish.

First, prepare yourself mentally for the probability—the near certainty—of rejection.  I’ve already discussed how to deal with rejection.  My purpose now is to get you to make a prioritized list of markets you intend to send the story to, with the understanding that, most likely, the story won’t be snapped up by the first one.

Market Priority ListHow do you make this prioritized list?  If you wrote the story in response to an announced anthology, then the anthology would top your list.  After that, I recommend going in order of highest-paying market to lowest based on searches of sites like Duotrope or Ralan.  Each market on the list should be appropriate, in the sense that they’re asking for stories of the type that yours is.  Don’t waste your time or some editor’s by sending to a market for which your story isn’t suited.

Why am I suggesting the order be based on payment?  I suspect some of you are objecting that, as a beginning writer, your story couldn’t possibly be good enough for the highest-paying markets, so why start with them?

My response is—have some faith in your story.  I’ve said before that editor’s reasons for rejecting your stories have everything to do with how the story clicks with them, how it matches what they’re looking for, and the quality of the writing.  Their reasons have nothing to do with you personally.

The flip side of that should be obvious.  An editor’s reasons for accepting a story have to do with the same criteria, and the writing quality is the only one of those criteria within your control.  They don’t necessarily know you’re a raw beginner.  It’s every editor’s dream to latch onto a beginning writer who shows considerable talent; they all want to be in at the start of a best-selling author’s career.  All famous authors started out as beginners, tentatively sending out their work and wondering if it was good enough.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you sent your story to a semi-pro, or token market, not knowing that a pro market would have accepted it?  That’s why I say to aim high, then with each rejection, work your way down.

Later, as you gain experience and have some publication credits, you may establish relationships with one or more markets.  At that point, those publishers may well move to the top of your market listings.  Considerations other than payment alone may drive your priorities.

I welcome your comments about the advice I’ve offered.  If you follow it and get your first story approved at a pro market, one person you should be sure to thank is—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

A Path Not Taken

Want to be a published author?  Curious about the best path to take?  In this post, I’m going to suggest you not do what I did, and instead I’ll offer a short cut.

which-way-29941281444641fqVCFirst let me retrace my steps for you.  In the mid-1980s, I had a great idea for a story.  Way too big for a short story, this had to be a novel.  I’d never thought of being a writer, and the notion scared me a bit, but the idea wouldn’t let go.  I studied writing—read books about writing, joined a writer’s group, went to writer’s conferences, joined a critique group.  And began writing.

I stayed enthusiastic about my novel, but only about the writing of it, the first, second and third drafts.  The more I wrote and rewrote, the more scared I got of the next phase, finding an agent and sending my novel out.

In 1999, I took a brief break and wrote a short story called “Target Practice” which I submitted, and it got accepted in the anthology Lower than the Angels by Lite Circle Books.  That should have been a clue I was on the wrong path, but I went back to working on the novel.

Around 2004 or 2005, I abandoned that first great idea novel (yes, after 20 years of work!), and started a different novel.

In 2006, with the second novel about one quarter finished, I resumed writing short stories.  This time I got serious about actually submitting them.  After many rejections, I started getting published.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see where I went wrong.  I should have started with short stories and worked my way up to novels.  It’s distressing to think of the time I wasted, and how much earlier I might have gotten stories in print.

On the other hand, it’s possible that the two decades of work on a now-abandoned novel was time well spent.  One could claim those years contained my 10,000 hours, the time required to develop genius-level capability.  It’s also true that my first novel might have actually gotten published had I bothered to submit it, and might have done well.

Certainly there are cases of authors getting their first novel published and seeing it become a best-seller.  But these are rare enough that I believe a better strategy for most writers is to start with short stories.  Crawling should precede walking for most people.  That method allows you to become familiar, more quickly, with the whole writing-submitting-publishing-marketing process end to end.

There you have it.  Advice, as I say at the top of my web page, straight from Mount Olympus.  Please don’t do what I did; don’t waste twenty years on a low-percentage strategy.  Don’t follow that first path trod by—

                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe

What the Web Wrought on Writing

We still live near the dawn of the Internet Age, of course, so it’s perhaps a bit early to assess the web’s impact on writing.  But here goes, anyway…

First, it’s instructive to recall the past technological developments that aided fiction writers, or allowed them to better connect with paying readers.  Here’s a partial list:  libraries, bookbinding, printing presses, mass production of paper, mail delivery, bookstores, dictionaries, typewriters, computer word processors, and eBooks.  Each of these innovations aided storytellers in significant ways.

(By the way, I’m aware of the difference between the ‘Internet’ and the ‘World Wide Web.’  Even so, they’re intertwined enough that I’ll use the terms interchangeably.)

I would argue the Internet’s impact on writing is (and will be) as great as any of those previous technologies.  It’s true, those who created the Internet did not have authors specifically in mind.  But some of the Internet’s attributes have eased the processes involved in the writing business:

  • Span.  The Internet covers the world; and to a greater extent every day, it is spanning all of human history; and encompassing a larger fraction of all human knowledge.
  • Search and Retrieval.  Internet search engines provide a way to sift through the vastness and find desired, specific information, no matter how obscure.
  • Permanence.  To some extent, the Internet represents a permanent record.  I believe the way data is stored and backed up renders far less likely a tragedy such as the destruction of the ancient Alexandrian Library.
  • Speed.  Everything you can do on the Internet, you can do fast, much faster than using the mail, or hunting through a library.
  • Availability.  The Internet is within reach of nearly everyone, and at very low cost.

In short, the web eases the way people connect to information and to other people.  The sudden ease of those connections has been a boon to writers.

Here are some ways the web has improved several steps of the writing process:

  • Research.  It is far easier for writers to research specific topics using the Internet.  There are gaps in the web, of course, and problems with accuracy of information, so trips to the library remain necessary on occasion.
  • Co-authorship.  E-mail makes it easier to collaborate with another writer when both are contributing to a book.
  • Critiquing.  It’s no longer necessary to find other writers in your local area to get your manuscripts critiqued.
  • Market searches.  Websites like Duotrope, Ralan, and Doug Smith’s Foreign Market List make it much easier to compile a prioritized list of ideal markets for each of your stories.
  • Submitting.  Most markets take online submissions, either through e-mail or their own online form.  Much faster and less costly than mailing.
  • Publishing.  As with many other businesses, the Internet has allowed people to quickly form small businesses operating out of their homes.  This has resulted in a proliferation of publishers.
  • Advertising.  The advent of websites, blogging, and social networking has opened up new ways for authors to reach readers.
  • Book-shopping.  For readers, the Internet’s search features and various online booksellers have eased the process of browsing for the next book to read, no matter how obscure the reader’s interests.
  • Reviewing.  Online bookselling sites have made it easy for anyone to post a book review.  These reviews help other readers make their purchasing decisions.

The Internet has helped writers in every way except one.  It won’t write your book for you!  And maybe that’s a good thing.  Still writing my own stories, I’m—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

 

September 30, 2012Permalink

Writin’ for Nuttin’

Should you always write to be paid, or should you (at least sometimes) write for free?  Here I’m talking about complete fictional stories, not blog articles or story excerpts.

The answer for you will depend on your situation.  I’ll offer some guidance, some basis on which you can make your decision.

There are those who say you should never write for free, and their reasons are compelling.

  • Writing is effort, and you deserve to get paid for it.  In one sense it does look like writers are producing something from nothing, but the product is something, after all.  Considerable effort went into the product, and work should have its compensations.  Of course, payment is more related to value as perceived by the purchaser than to the effort expended by the author.
  • You have to eat.  How much of your life’s precious time do you really have to expend on doing stuff that has no return?
  • Other authors get paid; why shouldn’t you?  Let’s face it—all else being equal, getting paid for your work beats not getting paid.  Since there are readers willing to pay for well-written stories, why shouldn’t you be one to meet that need, and reap the benefits?
  • Readers perceive free fiction must be inferior.  You get what you pay for, the old saying goes.  If you give away your stuff, they’ll think it can’t be any good.  No matter your personal reasons for writing for free, you can’t directly control this aspect, since it’s a reader perception issue.  Perhaps slowly over time you’ll build an audience as readers realize your stories are high quality despite being free, and tell their friends.

Still, there are valid reasons for giving away your stories, and some of these may apply in your case.

  • Name recognition.  Given that today’s readers rarely choose stories from authors they don’t know, you need to give an incentive for them to know you.  From there you can build an audience willing to pay for your work.
  • Writing as a hobby.  Some folks associate income with work, and work with drudgery.  They associate the word ‘hobby’ with fun, and don’t want to contaminate their fun hobby by turning it into a chore.
  • Less chance of rejection.  I think the so-called “for the love” markets are easier to break into.  However, this reason for giving away fiction is starting to become obsolete in an age when writers can skip the editor/publisher route entirely and publish eBooks directly, and charge for them.
  • Writing as a favor.  Perhaps you’ve become friends with an editor or publisher, and perhaps you owe them a favor for some kindness they’ve shown you.  Nothing wrong with sending them a story for which you ask no payment.
  • For charity.  Here the reader still pays to read your stuff but proceeds go to some deserving assistance organization rather than to you.  Nothing wrong with that.

You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons depending on your particular situation.  In my own case, I have written a couple of stories and submitted them to a “for the love” market.  I hope to include them in an anthology that I’ll charge for, so maybe I’ll make some money from them.  I wrote a story intended to go into a different anthology for which proceeds would go to charity.  That anthology fell through, though, so I will attempt to market that one and get paid for it.  Generally, now, I write for money.

Please let me know what you think about writing for free, and what your experiences have been.  Of course, you can always read—for free—the blog entries of—

                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

September 23, 2012Permalink

A Format for Every Market

You prepared your manuscript with care, followed the market’s submission guidelines, and sent your story along.  Sad to say, it got rejected, but you got over that and decided to send it to the next market on your list.  Now you’ve found the new market requires stories submitted in a different format.  In fact, it appears there are almost as many manuscript formats as there are markets!  What’s the deal?

In truth, there are some standards shared by a few markets.  These include William Shunn’s “Proper Manuscript Format,” Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Manuscript Preparation — Introduction,” and, for ebooks, Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide.  But in general each market has its own quirks and differences.  Some markets (bless ‘em!) don’t really care; they just want to read your story!

In what ways are the formats different?  Some markets like a single space between sentences. Some prefer two.  Some take submissions in MicroSoft Word only, some in Rich Text Format (rtf), and there are still a few taking only mailed submissions (that’s snail-mail, with the stamps and envelopes).  Some want lines double-spaced, others single-spaced.  Then there the various ways to indicate you want a word italicized in the final text; some markets say that underlining indicates italics; some say_underlining before and after_indicates italicizing the words between, and some say italics means italics.

Why so many formats?  Because there are so many editors, each with his or her own pet peeves and preferences.  None of them want to be bothered to reformat most incoming manuscripts to suit their preferences.  Would you?  It’s easier to just mandate that writers do that before submitting.

From a writer’s standpoint, it would be desirable if all markets agreed on one standard format.  What’s keeping that from happening?  After all, we have standards for all kinds of things, from the spacing of railroad tracks to the shape of electrical outlets.  Unlike the cases of train tracks and electric sockets, there’s little incentive for standardizing on a single manuscript format.  In the first place, the only entity in the entire writer-editor-publisher-reader chain who is inconvenienced is the writer.  And writers aren’t the ones paying into the process.  Nor do they tend to complain enough about the problem to band together to take any kind of concerted action.  Moreover, that level of inconvenience to writers has (so far) not exactly resulted in a shortage of submitted manuscripts.

So the problem persists.  What is the solution?  As I see it, there will only be one standard format when the incentives in the system change someday.  A writer shortage would do it, though that seems unlikely.  More probable is the emergence of a dominant standard that gains more and more acceptance until pressure mounts on the few markets that don’t change.  If writers then shunned those non-compliant markets, those markets would have to change to survive.

In the meantime, get used to creating multiple versions of your stories as you send them to various markets.  Sorry, just the way it is.  Remember your Dad telling you life ain’t fair?  He was right.  You can leave a comment and complain about it to me if you want; I’ll sympathize.  In your experience, what’s the market with the strangest format?  Always curious about such things, I’m—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

 

September 16, 2012Permalink

Who Polishes the Diamond?

You see it in the submissions guidelines for almost every market–“Submit your best material,” or words to that effect.  If not stated, it’s implied, since they’ll just reject manuscripts containing too many editorial errors.

I’m speaking here of the traditional method of getting short story fiction published, dealing with editors.  However, the answer is the same even for self-published works.

Some writers chafe at the requirement to submit your best material.  “Why are they called Editors,” these writers ask, “if I’m the one doing the editing?”

Such writers think their job is to cleave the diamond shape out of rough stone, cut each facet almost flat, and then hand the gem over to the Editor who works it against the polishing wheel.  Finally the Publisher displays the brilliant, gleaming diamond in his store.

Advocates of this view say they can’t really be expected to get every little detail right.  It’s hard enough to be a writer without being an Editor too.  How is a writer supposed to be prolific and also submit perfect manuscripts?  If the writer is spending all that time with editing third, fourth, fifth drafts, she’s getting less real writing done, isn’t she?

Let’s look at the matter from the editor’s point of view.  I’ve never worked as an editor, so I’m guessing here, but all the editors reading my blog will tell me if I’m wrong.

There is some process involved in the decision to accept or reject an incoming manuscript.  I suspect editors judge stories against the following criteria at least:

1. How well does the story fit with the publisher’s needs?  Is it compatible with the magazine or anthology?

2. How original is the story idea?

3. Can this story sell in today’s market?  Is it in line with, or just ahead of, an emerging trend?

4. What is the quality of writing?  I don’t mean the minor editing issues, but instead an assessment of the writer’s talent in storytelling, choosing words well, creating compelling characters, setting a scene, advancing a plot, use of tension and suspense, etc.

5. How much editing will be required to bring this story up to the quality level needed for publication?

Only one of these criteria deals with the amount of editing to be done.  But your story could clear just over the threshold of acceptance in four categories and still be rejected.  I hear your objection already.  Yes, it’s possible your story could exceed the threshold in the first four categories by far so the editor decides to accept it even though the diamond needs considerable polishing.  Do you want to count on that for every story?  Every market?

I’m sure Editors would rather do the sort of editing that improves the manuscript’s quality, mentioned in item 4 in the list above.  Suppose, instead, she is dealing with matters of basic English–leaving out punctuation, wrong word choices such as farther/further or continuous/continual, wrong verb tense, subject-verb disagreement, overuse of the author’s ‘pet words,’ sudden point of view shifts, weak verbs, etc.  She must conclude the writer is not serious about his craft.  The decision to reject is much easier in such cases.

I’m not saying I’m perfect in this regard, but my message is:  don’t make it easy for the editor to reject your stories.  As a writer, you are both the diamond cutter and the diamond polisher.  Those of you who self-publish have both roles by definition, so you must polish well.  So get polishing, writers.  Your prospective readers want to see your diamonds sparkle!  So does–

                                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

Heinlein’s Rules

In his 1947 essay “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction,” science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein stated five rules for writing fiction.  Here they are:

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.

He went on to say that he didn’t much fear the new competition he’d face from putting these rules out in the open, since he figured half of those who claim they want to write won’t complete step 1, and half of the remainder wouldn’t finish step 2, and so on.  Those of you working out the math should forget it–all those halves are just approximate.

Heinlein’s rules are repeated all over the web and there has been much criticism of them.  Some have said they sound too harsh, like Drill Sergeant Heinlein is shouting all those “MUSTs.”  To those folks I’d ask–If your aim is to get your work published, which of those steps do you think you could skip, or kinda half-do?  Really.  Look back over them and tell me which rule could be softened in its wording.

The main criticisms target rule 3, “You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.”  Some assume Heinlein is telling writers to send their first draft out on the market.  I doubt Mr. Heinlein meant that.  I think rewriting the first draft until it’s acceptable is implicit in rule 2: “You must finish what you write.”  It’s not likely to be really finished after a very rough, rapidly-scribbled first draft, even though you’ve reached “The End.”  Heinlein means that you must declare the work finished and then refrain from the temptation to waste time endlessly trying to perfect the work, unless an editor has asked for revisions and you agree to them.  As Heinlein also said elsewhere, “They didn’t want it good, they wanted it Wednesday.”

My own quibble with the rules concerns their order.  As written, they are single steps to be executed in sequential order.  The only loop in the process is within the final two steps, which basically say to send the manuscript out, and when you get a rejection, send the work–unchanged–to another market that same day.  So if all the other steps are in sequential order, Rule 3 makes no sense as written. You haven’t sent the work out yet, so how could you have received a request from an editor for a rewrite?  I say Rules 3 and 4 should be swapped.

The great writer Robert J. Sawyer has suggested adding a 6th rule, “Start Working on Something Else.”  This is likely aimed at those who think their first story will make them famous and so wait breathlessly for word from the editor about acceptance or rejection.  If you’re truly a writer, you can hardly wait to tackle the next project, so that’s when you start it.  Unfortunately, Rule 6 would then be the only one focused on some other, next work while the rest of the rules concern a single story.  Still, I concur with the intent, though I might have phrased it as, “Think of another story to write and go to step 1.”

I like Heinlein’s Rules.  I think their commanding tone is a stentorian call summoning you to action and perhaps to greatness.  Don’t think of them as overly harsh commandments that doom you to misery for the slightest deviation.  They’re an invitation; get out there; don’t talk about it–do it!  And they’re also a promise; follow these rules and you will get published.  It’s hard to think of more inspiring words for a beginning writer.

Please let me know what you think.  Also, remember that Heinlein wrote his rules about 65 years ago.  Perhaps 65 years from now people will still be debating words written by–

                                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

 

January 29, 2012Permalink