Appendix C: Rules of Writing from Masters

In today’s Journal

* Imortant Updates
* Appendix C: Rules of Writing from Masters
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Imortant Updates

In tomorrow’s post, you will see the vastly updated TOC of Writing Character-Driven Fiction. The current book is around 44,000 words. (Writing the Character-Driven Story was only 17,000.) I’ve added the difference (27,000 words) to my Nonfiction numbers below.

I’ve finished writing the book. Only cycling and getting my first reader’s input remains, and I’m in no rush. (Yes, I’m cycling. I suppose it’s my Writing Instructor character. Conscious-mind editing is too exhausting.)

The ebook version will release in March or April.

I intend to also publish it to paper. I’m toying with the idea of having it printed in a format that will fit into a binder. (Thanks, Dave.) Mostly because I don’t much care for monopolies, like Bowker. I’ll never understand why writers rale against Amazon, who is not a monopoly, and let Bowker go cleanly.

If I do that, the print copy will be the same thing you get if you buy the ebook from me and print it yourself (except my version will be printed on both sides of the paper). Either way, both my cost and the cost to the reader will be lower, and the information will make a great binder-ready reference.

Of course, if I do that the paper version will be available only through me. I’ll update you further as the time draws near.

A New Story

“The Rabbit and the Priest,” the eighth story in an interconnected series of ten magic realism stories, went live yesterday on my Stanbrough Writes Substack. If you enjoy magic realism, you probably don’t want to miss this series of stories.

To subscribe, click the link above and then the Subscribe button at the end of the story. You’ll receive a new short story every Friday, and it’s free.

Below the Subscribe button, there are other short stories you can read in most genres. Enjoy!

Appendix C: Rules of Writing from Masters

I’m not going to spew a bunch of extra stuff here. It should go without saying that I believe the “rules” in this appendix are good ones to follow. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have included them here.

One note—please don’t be so closed-minded that you see (for example) Robert Heinlein’s name and automatically assume the rules that follow apply only to science fiction.

I’m not joking. I’ve seen writers literally cross their arms over their chest and refuse even to read Heinlein’s Rules because they don’t write science fiction.

All right. Without further ado, here are Rules for Writers and Writing from people who know: long-term professional fiction writers.

Heinlein’s Business Rules of Writing

These were originally published almost as an afterthought in an essay in 1948 when what we think of today as “traditional publishing” was just beginning to come into its own. (Yes, traditional publishing hasn’t been around forever.)

I have updated these for the new world of self-publishing. What follows each rule is my addendum.

1. You must write.

Writers write. Thinking about writing is not writing. Revising, critiquing, rewriting, researching, and attending conferences or seminars is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Only putting new words on the page is writing. Writers write.

2. You must finish what you write.

This doesn’t mean you have to go back and dig up all those things you started and didn’t finish. But it DOES mean beginning today, Finish What You Write.

3. You must not rewrite except to editorial order.

For this one, Harlan Ellison added a proviso: “And then only if you agree.”

After you’ve finished a story or novel, follow your process. I recommend giving it to a trusted First Reader (trusted meaning s/he will tell you the truth) and ask that person to read naturally and point out anything that distracts him or her (typos, wrong words, inconsistencies, etc.)

The best first reader is not another writer. The best first reader is an avid reader, preferably one who enjoys your work. When you get the story back, apply any corrections you agree with and then submit it or publish it. Then write the next story (see Rule 1).

4. You must put it on the market.

Today, this means submit it for publication or publish it outright.

This actually goes to marketing. The cover and opening of your story sells that story. The ending of you story sells your next story. The best thing you can do to market your work is write another story. Then write another one. Then another one.

5. You must keep it on the market.

If you submit a story and it’s rejected, stick it into a new envelope and send it to another market. Or publish it outright. If you publish it, leave it up even if readers don’t automatically stampede to buy a copy.

If you get disappointed and take it down, then readers can’t buy it, can they?
If you need to update the cover or revise the sales copy as you become more adept at those skills, that’s fine. But once a story is published, leave it up.

Ray Bradbury’s 7 Rules for Writers

  1. Write with gusto.
  2. In quickness is truth.
  3. Write who you are.
  4. Don’t write for money or fame.
  5. Feed the muse daily.
  6. Don’t be afraid to explore the attic.
  7. Surprise yourself.

And remember, as Bradbuty also said, plot is only the footprints left behind as the characters run through the story.

In other words, in an authentic story plot is not something that can be outlined or planned in advance.

Ernest Hemingway’s Rules for Writers

  • Use short sentences.
  • Use short first paragraphs.
  • Use vigorous English.
  • Be positive, not negative.

There are exceptions to all rules (except, in my opinion, Heinlein’s). Hemingway’s short story “After the Storm” begins with this, in direct violation of his Rules 1, 2 & 4:

It wasn’t about anything, something about making punch, and then we started fighting and I slipped and he had me down kneeling on my chest and choking me with both hands like he was trying to kill me and all the time I was trying to get the knife out of my pocket to cut him loose. (Notice the lack of punctuation and how the emotion of the sentence runs.)

The point is, Write.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for Writing Fiction

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them, in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Harvey Stanbrough

I am not a master, but it’s my book (grin).

  • To be a fiction writer, you must write fiction. “Write” is an action verb. To write is to put new words on the page.
  • THAT you write is important. What you write (the individual story or novel) doesn’t matter at all. It’s only a few minutes’ or hours’ of entertainment, nothing more.
  • The characters in your creative subconscious, not you, are living the story. Write what they give you, nothing more, nothing less.
  • Do not allow your fearful, critical, conscious mind to force you to engage in tactics that delay your writing. Those are constructing outlines or character sketches or world-building or other activities that convey to your creative subconscious that you do not trust it.
  • Do not allow your fearful, critical, conscious mind to force you to engage in tactics that delay your publishing. Those are critical revision, seeking critical input, critical rewriting, or other activities that convey to your creative subconscious that you do not trust it
  • Write with the same explosiveness with which you burst into the house to tell your loved one what happened during your trip to the store. See? You tell stories every day.

Next up, the updated table of contents for Writing Character-Driven Fiction

Talk with you again then.

Of Interest

Monalisa Foster Monalisa is a new subscriber to the Journal. Check out her website.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1390
Writing Character-Driven Fiction  27,000

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for February……………………. 40199
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 157803
Fiction since October 1……………… 460858
Nonfiction for February……………… 59120
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 91080
2024 consumable words…………… 248883

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 4
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 86
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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2 thoughts on “Appendix C: Rules of Writing from Masters”

  1. The Heinlein thing is funny. I’m not a writer of Science fiction by and large. The closest I’ve come is writing a few Star Wars stories and while they can be classified as Science Fiction, they are more akin to Science Fantasy as is Star Wars itself.
    That being said, Heinlein’s rules apply to all forms of writing. I write Fantasy, historical nonfiction, historical fiction, westerns and so on, and his rules work for each one seamlessly. The writers who are foolish enough to ignore them because ‘they don’t write Science fiction’ are missing out on something which could drastically improve their writing output and quality.

    You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would) how many writers I’ve come across online who lump in research, editing, and revising, with writing. I don’t know if its just a habit (I know I used to do it too before I clued in that writing is putting words on the page. No more, no less) or if its a way to make themselves feel like they’re writing all the while they aren’t.

    • Hi Matt, Yep, “ts a way to make themselves feel like they’re writing all the while they aren’t.” And it makes them feel like “a writer” even though they aren’t writing.

      As for Heinlein’s Rules, of course you’re right. Welcome to my world, where otherwise perfectly sensible people go wildly off the rails when it comes to writing fiction. When it comes to climbing the sheer rock face of a mountain or sky diving, they’re fine, but faced with putting words on the page, they’re a trembling mass of fear.That’s how strongly imbued the myths are in society.

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