Dr. Jerry Pournelle on Writing and Heinlein

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Welcome
* Topic: Dr. Jerry Pournelle on Writing and Heinlein
* The Magnetic Drive
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Muhammad Ali

“Unless you wrote your book exclusively for your own satisfaction, once your creative vision is on the page, it’s time to zoom in on how the book works for readers.” Lisa Poisso, Resident Writing Coach at Writers in the Storm (Um, I suggest asking how the book works for which readers? Is any reader’s opinion more valid than any other reader’s opinion?)

“I can repeat Mr. Heinlein’s advice to writers. If you pay attention to his dictums, you don’t need to know much else.” Dr. Jerry Pournelle, upon being asked his advice to new writers

Welcome to David and any others who have joined us recently. I hope you find the Journal helpful. Anything I can do to help, feel free to email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

Topic: Dr. Jerry Pournelle on Writing and Heinlein

Per Wikipedia, Dr. Jerry Pournelle died in 2017. He “was an American polymath: scientist in the area of operations research and human factors research, science fiction writer, essayist, journalist, and one of the first bloggers.”

In fact, he was an accomplished writer of “hard” science fiction, SF that adheres strictly not only to the laws of physics as we know them, but to extablished principles of science. You can read more about him on Wikipedia at the link above.

For now, here’s an essay by Dr. Pournelle. I don’t recall where I first found it (years ago), and for some stupid reason I didn’t cite the source at the time.

I’ve edited the essay only by reparagraphing it to make it easier to read, and in one place I replaced a lower-case letter with an upper-case letter [in brackets]. Here’s Dr. Pournelle:

“In my experience it takes around half a million to a million words before you get to a point where you’re no longer thinking about what you’re writing and how you’re doing it and the technique and where to put your fingers on the keyboard and all of the other mechanics of writing and grammar and style.

“You’re thinking about the story and telling the story without thinking ‘I’m writing.’ You’re just writing it. When you get to that point, then you’ve got a chance.

“And until you get to that point, maybe you do, but probably you don’t because you’re building it brick by brick, and building brick by brick usually doesn’t make for a very good building, especially if you didn’t know what it was gonna do and you keep adding bricks hoping that eventually it’s gonna look like something you want.

“The other advice I would give new writers is advice Mr. Heinlein gave me a long time ago, and it was to serve me well: If you’re going to choose grammars and styles, choose good, standard, grammatical English and what we used to call ‘high-grammatical style.’

“Don’t experiment, don’t write experimental spellings, don’t try to write phonetic spellings. In other words, don’t try to improve the English language; use it as correctly as possible, and the reason for that is simple:

“[T]the number of people who will be irritated by your writing in good standard grammar is very low. The number of people who will not want to read it because you wrote in some non-standard experimental grammar is very high.

“There are people who think it would be politically a good thing to change the impersonal pronoun in English from he to she. Sounds like a good idea, but it’s dreadful reading. It’s very hard to read stories that use little gimmicks like that.

“Just regular high-style and good grammar, and if you don’t know good grammar — boy, there are a lot of people who think they know how to write who cannot spell and do not know the basic elements of English grammar — go learn them.

“Get a good grammar program, get a good spell-checking program, get a good grammatic-checking program. Try to fool the grammar program. It will tell you things that you know is bad advice. Fine. Try to fool it into thinking it’s good.

“When you get to the point where you can write by all the rules, and you can follow all the rules even though they don’t lead to anything you like, now you are permitted to go play around with the rules and break them and do things to make your work more dramatic and more effective.

“But if you don’t know what the rules are in the first place, how do you know whether what you’re doing is a good thing to do or not?

“Mr. Heinlein essentially made that speech to me 40 years ago. I pay it forward here.”

As perhaps a fitting addendum, here’s a free copy of Heinlein’s Rules.

The Magnetic Drive

I’ve long believed the secret to traveling the galaxy and even approaching light speed will eventually be tied to magnetism and the ability to fine-tune magnetic attraction and repulsion.

Doing so would enable a generation ship, for example, once it escapes Earth’s gravity, to slingshot its way through the galaxy by simultaneously increasing its magnetic attraction to a distant celestial body while reducing its attraction (or increasing its repulsion) to a celestial body in its wake.

It would be both pulled and pushed through space without the necessity of any other form of propulsion. My main use of the (for now) fictional technology was on the generation ship The Ark in The Journey Home books, Future of Humanity (FOH) series.

For current, modern-day applications of this rudimentary principle, see the first two items in “Of Interest.”

I might be off for a few days to jumpstart my forthcoming novel.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Chinese Researchers Test Cars That Hover Over Road Using Magnets” at https://futurism.com/the-byte/chinese-researchers-car-hovers-magnets. Fascinating.

See “Train Powered by ‘Veillance Flux’ Could Travel 620 MPH” at https://futurism.com/startup-train-620-mph.

See “15 Book Promotion Ideas…” at https://www.amarketingexpert.com/2022/09/13/15-book-promotion-ideas-that-help-drive-sales-engagement/.

See “…When Author Marketing Goes Against Your Nature” at https://www.amarketingexpert.com/2022/09/15/what-to-do-when-author-marketing-goes-against-your-nature/.

See “False Start On Buffet Book!” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/false-start-on-buffet-book/.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1030 words

Writing of (novel, tentative title)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX

Total fiction words for September……… 3277
Total fiction words for the year………… 69708
Total nonfiction words for September… 13900
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 142130
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 211838

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 67
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Along with discussing various aspects of the writing craft, I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. WITD is “the only way” to write, but it is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun.