Heinlein’s Rules of Writing


If you don’t know who Heinlein is, you obviously don’t read SF. I regret to say I have yet to read any Heinlein, which could be considered blasphemy by many. In any case, he was an influential writer and he had a few little rules that even to this day seem to be rather relevant. This also is going to address a comment by Jameel regarding ‘constant fiddling’, where you are always making changes rather than progressing the story. So pay attention:

  1. Rule One: You Must Write
    Sounds obvious doesn’t it? The problem is that too many people, including myself at one time, say they want to be writers, but never actually get anything done. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write!
  2. Rule Two: Finish What You Start
    This one I have problems with and I think a lot of writers do too. Sometimes you’ll write something and suddenly be extremely bored with it. Are there others of you out there that have that problem? To put it simply, though, you can’t publish anything if you never finish anything.
  3. Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except To Editorial Order
    Apparently creative writing teachers hated Heinlein for this rule, but when you think about it it makes sense. You shouldn’t write something, and then continuously rewrite it every time someone mentions something in it or doesn’t like a piece. Otherwise you’ll just do that forever and never get anything done. Remember, not all revisions are good. Sometimes you can revise something and make it worse!
  4. Rule Four: You Must Put Your Story On the Market
    Duh! You can’t get published if you don’t do this. One thing to consider doing once you start submitting is to try to keep a relatively steady stream. Write it, submit it, write something else, submit that, and if something comes back rejected, resubmit it elsewhere.
  5. Rule Five: You Must Keep It On the Market Until It’s Sold
    Well I’m sure there is some leeway to this. If you’ve submitted something to everything imaginable and have 500 rejections on one story, I think it would be safe to say that you’re not selling that story. That doesn’t mean to give up. New markets spring up all the time and one of those might take your story. You also can’t let rejections discourage you too much. Some of the most popular authors were rejected hundreds of times before getting anywhere. Also, when you get a rejection, take that story and submit it elsewhere right away!
  6. Rule Six: Start Working On Something Else
    Once you submit, don’t stop writing. Get right back into it and write something else. Period. If you don’t write then you’ll spend a long amount of time sitting around waiting for your acceptance or rejection. So write!

So, in theory, following these rules will do you some good. I know a few that I need to follow! What do you all think of these rules?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

3 thoughts on “Heinlein’s Rules of Writing

  1. Goodness, I have the same problem with #2, which makes the rules after harder to do.
    So, what I’m resolving to do now is finish what I do and start submitting. I have 4 short stories I want to polish up and get out there and I’m working on a new novel. So, hopefully things will work out :). I think Rule Two is one of the hardest. Once you get a thick skin from rejections the ones about submitting are not really that big of a deal.

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