All apologies to Keith Jackson.
I almost blogged on Heinlein’s Rule #3 on Christmas Day, because I figured everyone would be in good cheer and keep their daggers hidden.
Right at the front. A couple of things:
- I recognize that of all of Heinlein’s Rules, this one is the only one that is not universally true. Do I think that if you rewrite your story once or twice or however many times you cannot succeed as commercial fiction writer? Of course not.
- This is my favorite, most liberating of all of the rules.
Okay. Have you put the daggers away? Great.
Robert Heinlein wrote his business rules for writers in the 1940s. Heinlein, of course, was a popular writer of science fiction. Harlan Ellison also was a popular writer. He famously tacked on an adder to this rule that went something like this:
“And then only if you agree.”
Despite all of the claims to the contrary. I believe both men meant what they wrote.
Why is this my favorite rule?
There is probably something in the attitude of it. I like the big middle-finger to the whole “writing is re-writing” doctrine. Outside of that I’ll give you three reasons:
- Remember how much I dislike spoilers and outlining? How enjoyable do you think I find going back through a story to “polish” it?
- I find the mindset change of I’m going to write this thing right the first time. When I don’t give myself the out of a “shitty first draft”, I waste a lot less time. I also think the artist in me respects the work much, much more, and is less likely to shutdown on me.
- Voice is by far the most important element of fiction to me. I also believe it is the easiest to cultivate. All I really need to do is leave it alone. All of that “polishing” removes all the voice that make my prose uniquely mine.
So, I write without an outline (well I have a little bit of a reverse outline that I note as I go), one draft, and don’t rewrite before sending it to a reader. I don’t leave myself little notes on what to go back and fix. I fix it right away. I don’t bracket things I need to go back and research. I get my butt up out of my writing chair, and go do the research I need right then and there (I write on an Alphasmart Neo with no internet connectivity).
Then, the beauty of this new world of publishing? It is much easier to keep a stiff upper lip with Ellison’s adder. If I don’t agree with either my first reader or my copy-editor, I can move on. In truth, I could do that in the traditional publishing world, too… if I’m willing to chance the “tough to work with label.”
*One bit of re-writing that could be claimed I do… I upload my files from the Neo to my word processor, and then turn spell check on and fix those before handing over to my reader.
If you’re interested in what all this rebellious Heinlein’s Rules following looks like, I’d love for you to read either of my books:
Everything is Broken. First in the Fuzzy Koella Mystery series.
North Country Girl. Fuzzy’s return.